Environmental History

Lessons of the Little Ice Age

What can we learn from the climate disruptions of the previous millennium?

The Little Ice Age wasn’t actually an ice age, but it was a period of markedly colder temperatures that began in the 1200s and lasted into the mid-1800s, with the 1600s a particular low point. It was a time when London winter fairs were regularly held on the middle of a frozen Thames river, glaciers …

CONTINUE READING

Happy Birthday, NEPA!

NEPA turns 50 today. Its passage was the beginning of modern environmental law.

Welcome to 2020.  Before we start worrying about the year ahead, it’s worth taking a look backward.  Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, usually called NEPA for short. When he signed NEPA into law, President Nixon said: “It is particularly fitting that my first official act in …

CONTINUE READING

The Decade in Review

Like many humans, the Twenty-First Century’s teenage years were stormy.

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  That pretty much sums up the ten years from January 2010 to January 2020. As the decade began, Barrack Obama was in the White House and the Democrats controlled Congress but were one vote short of a filibuster-proof majority in the House.  Under …

CONTINUE READING

Holmes, Brandeis, and the ‘Great Ponds’ Debate

Some issues are perennial, like property rights v. public rights in water.

I suppose most of you, like me, have never heard of the Watuppa Ponds.  But in 1888, a battle broke out over the legality of their use to supply drinking water for a nearby city.  The issue closely divided Massachusetts’s highest court, and led to a heated debate in the recently launched  Harvard Law Review …

CONTINUE READING

The Forgotten Environmental Legacy of Jimmy Carter

Carter saved millions of acres of wilderness, signed the Superfund law, and began the renewables revolution.

Many people today know Jimmy Carter as an ex-President who has strongly advocated for human rights. His Presidency is probably best remembered for the Iranian Hostage crisis. His post-presidential career was at least as notable as his time in the White House. Historians find his presidency flawed by micro-management and lack of rapport with the …

CONTINUE READING

Reviving LBJ’s Vision

Maybe What We Need is a Green Great Society

Talk about a Green New Deal is rife these days, but perhaps what we should be talking about instead is a Green Great Society. Actually, Lyndon Johnson’s vision of the great society was green from the get-go, so maybe we could just call for a renewed Great Society. What the Great Society is known for …

CONTINUE READING

EPA’s Mission: The Original Understanding

Guess what? EPA’s core mission wasn’t cutting regulatory costs.

What is EPA’s mission? To what extent is minimizing regulatory costs part of the core mission, as the Trump Administration seems to believe? Does the Trump/Pruitt/Wheeler view comport with original intent? History makes it clear that the  answer is no. The title of the agency itself suggests that the core mission is protecting the environment, …

CONTINUE READING

What’s New Under the Sun?

New Book Demonstrates the Hidden History of Climate Science

It’s a great regret of mine that I did not study the history of science either as an undergraduate or in graduate school. Then, it seemed to me like an arcane, recondite field — almost bizarre. Boy, was I wrong. Now in my rapidly advancing dotage, I recognize how it touches on so many of …

CONTINUE READING

The Truth About Environmental Originalism

Scott Pruitt advocates environmental originalism. It means the direct opposite of what he thinks.

Scott Pruitt has taken to talking about environmental originalism – going back to the original intent of our environmental laws. But he’s got the original intent completely backwards. The statutes weren’t intended to protect jobs or grow the economy. They were intended to protect the environment, with cost at best a secondary consideration. This is exactly …

CONTINUE READING

Mr. Jefferson’s Bridge

Anticipating modern environmental views, Jefferson viewed nature as a public trust.

This being the Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to talk about Jefferson’s relationship with nature. A revealing example involves some land he owned between Lexington and Roanoke.  Two years before the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson purchased 157 acres of land  from the King.  He bought the land because it contained a remarkable feature — a 200-foot …

CONTINUE READING

TRENDING