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Climate Concerns

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Sophia Chang/New University

On Friday, April 1, relevant characters in the fight for ecologic justice participated in “A3: A Conference on Climate Justice.”

The event was put on by UC Irvine’s Environmental Law Society and featured a panel of noted professors, lawyers and activists including Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hawai’i Maxine Burkett, Dean of UCI’s School of Law Erwin Chemerinsky and Neil Popovic, UC Berkeley lecturer and partner of Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton law firm in San Francisco.

According to Chemerinsky, law students came together to conceive of the idea for the symposium. They also invited all speakers to the event.

From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the experts discussed social injustices that marginalized entities as a result of climate change. Each participant brought forth their own perspective under the broader blanket subject of rising temperatures and ecologic justice.

Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science and Law at Pennsylvania State University Donald Brown was a keynote speaker who focused on the importance of taking responsibility and prompting discourse at every level.

“A big issue here is the question: what is our fair share and who will pay for the damages?” he asked on Friday.

Some members of international government, he said, are suggesting that separate nations should divvy up costs to pay back according to historical responsibility. In other words, whichever countries have used the most fossil fuels in the past should be required to refund the most.

Brown stressed the need for talk — the United States, he commented, must start actually discussing this topic in order for anything to get done at all.

America has been well-known world wide to be a large contributor to the depletion of natural fuel and resources, he continued.

“Adaptation costs could be astronomically high. No one is talking about it here, and if the U.S. is worried about cost, we had better wake up to this issue,” Brown said.

He ended on an equally sober note, prompting citizens to probe deeper into the subject of ecologic justice.

“The U.S. is being manipulated by fossil fuel interests and the environmental community is being tricked as a result of it,” Brown said.

Next, Chevron resource engineer Udak Ntuk touched on a more location-specific level by speaking on the environmental and inherent social problems plaguing Bakersfield, an area less than 150 miles from Irvine.

Ntuk is a member of Sustainability Bakersfield, a multi-ethnic effort and environmental coalition in partnership with a group called Green For All. According to their website, the goals of SB are to “[improve] the lives of all Americans through a clean energy economy.”

For Bakersfield in particular, there is an especially sticky series of events that have directly affected the area’s economy, citizens and environment.

“Bakersfield is the No. 2 most toxic city in America,” Ntuk said. “The lack of water due to drought leads to unemployment and more dead trees that cause fires and pollution. This also leads to more cases of asthma and other respiratory illness.”

Despite these issues, Ntuk insists there is a way out.

“Everyone has something to offer,” he said. “Citizen action is key to getting out of this.”

Green For All is currently working on the High Speed Rail, which is scheduled to be implemented within the next six years, which Ntuk claims will be an enormous boon to the entire state of California. As for Bakersfield, the group is working closely with Cal State Bakersfield and other benefactors to create jobs and work on more specific projects such as a large community gardens.

Bank of America Climate Change Research Fellow, UCLA and UC Berkeley School of Law lecturer Ethan Elkind followed a light lunch with a presentation focusing on the Hopi tribes of Arizona.

The Hopi employ traditional methods of farming in their self-sustaining society. Recently, however, their farming has been threatened by the hand of climate change, Elkind claims.

“They rely on the environment for their food,” he said. “Farming is also critical to ceremonial, religious and clan obligation aspects of culture.”

With less rainfall, there is a serious diminishment in crop yield, leading to decreased edible native vegetation. In addition, invasive wildlife that also seek compromised feed create problems that lead to even more food shortages.

“We need resources for assessments and planning; we need help charting a future,” Elkind said. “We need to protect existing, local resources, local water supply, promote retrofitting and realize we are all connected in this.”

For Neil A.F. Popovic, Cal lecturer and lawyer in San Francisco, issues of climate change were brought to his attention by the Inuit people of Alaska and Canada.

The United State’s failure to control greenhouse gases caused changes in the Inuit’s environment including reduction of sea ice and reduced quality of snow, which led to change in weather and change of animals present. They argued that this was a threat to human rights and that the government was not protecting these rights.

This led the community to bring their suit to the firm and since then, Popovic has been involved with the case on a pro-bono basis.

“What we’re looking at here is litigation as a way to address climate change and human rights issues,” Popovic said. “We can recognize certain harms that come from environmental degradation and affect human rights.”

This is a widespread issue, he continues, that goes beyond a domestic level. It is a problem felt by many, bringing about the humanitarian aspect of this issue.

“The way it affects people really resonates with others because they can identify with it and can imagine how it feels,” Popovic said.

This promotes dialogue, something that all participants can safely say is a key to bringing about awareness.

“This isn’t litigation in the normal sense, it is a much more diffused process,” Popovic said. “Victories aren’t identified by judgment in one’s favor, rather it is by stimulating policy change and talk amongst citizens.”

There were many more salient arguments and angles brought to the table by all virtuosos involved, but the overarching idea was to tout as much discourse as possible.

“Everyone should be talking about this to spread awareness,” Chemerinsky said. “The symposium showed that global warming is a serious problem … The effects on people — from weather changes, food shortages and changes in what is habitable space — are tremendous.”