BU Law Lecturer Pamela Hill (’77) breaks down the complex subject in Oxford University Press book.
In addition to teaching seminars on climate change and environmental justice, Hill guides students in the Environmental Law Practicum as they complete projects concerning subjects such as clean energy and water regulation for two environmental law organizations in the Boston area, the Conservation Law Foundation and Alternatives for Community and Environment.
As a senior lawyer at the Environmental Protection Agency for more than 30 years, Hill’s career spanned the arc of the development of environmental law in the US. She is uniquely positioned to explain the complicated issues of environmental law to a general audience. “I wrote this book because I decided that environmental lawyers have the responsibility to explain these concepts to the public,” she says.
Environmental Protection considers not just risks to the environment and their potential solutions, but how those risks and solutions interact with economics, politics, and other societal concerns. Each chapter is structured as a set of questions and answers that begin by defining basic terms and concepts before moving on to more advanced material. The book covers topics such as environmental laws in the United States and globally, ecosystems, climate change, environmental justice, and environmental protection and the economy.
One of the issues the book explores is the values divide in environmental policymaking between human interests and broader ecological interests. Should we, without controls, do things that are economically important without paying attention to the ecological consequences? “It’s a big tension, historically,” Hill says. “Do you site a power plant on a river and introduce heated water that will kill the fish because you need the power? Do you run a highway through a wetland because you want commuters to have an easier ride to important jobs?”
Many chapters offer practical solutions to the problems discussed, from how air quality can be improved to what more can be done to achieve environmental justice. The final chapter considers whether individual action is effective in protecting the environment. In short, the answer is yes. When you decide to walk an extra half of a mile to work or on an errand rather than driving, or when you vote for politicians who support green initiatives—these things contribute not only to reducing pollution and shifting politics in favor of environmental regulation, but they also model behavior for neighbors and children. “In teaching my class last year after the election, that question came up a lot, especially in terms of climate change,” Hill says. “And the answer is yes, every bit helps.”
Although she has spent her career as an environmental lawyer, as she was researching and writing the book, Hill became very aware of the depth of the environmental crisis, and the urgency with which we need to work to solve it. Action needs to be taken not just on climate change, but on plastics in the ocean, nanopollutants, and pharmaceuticals getting into the groundwater.
“The accumulation of the detritus and byproducts of the industrial revolution and industrial progress is overtaking the planet in a way that is very serious,” she says. “This book was a call to action. I want every reader to walk away from it and understand that this planet is at risk, and have real, solid information to propel that action.”
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