By Jenny WhalenApril 20, 2015
To effectively combat climate change, "we must set ambitious goals, but be creative about the mechanisms we use to achieve them," advised Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp, '78, at the 2015 Environmental Law and Policy Program conference.
Krupp, who delivered the conference's keynote address on April 16, defined these mechanisms as the laws and policies that pass with the support of diverse coalitions.
"No bill, no matter how perfect, helps anybody if it doesn't have the votes to pass," Krupp said. "Having the power of the law on your side gives you a real chance to change things for the better to have a profound and positive impact on the world."
Developing a strong law to reduce carbon emissions, for instance, will require broad support across the political and economic spectrums, he said.
"The future belongs to people who care deeply about climate change," Krupp said. "Eighty-five percent of Americans under age 30 want something done about the problem. Political parties will have to respond to this emerging constituency as a matter of survival."
Although global emissions have dropped over the past decade, leading to a sense of optimism for the future, Krupp said much work remains to be done to address the threat of climate change. In the United States and overseas, this includes tightening caps on carbon emissions, diversifying energy production, reducing unintentional discharges of natural gas, preventing deforestation, reducing the worldwide consumption of meat, and reforming antiquated rules that restrict the adoption of solar, wind, and geothermal alternatives.
Essential in addressing these concerns, Krupp added, is the creation of a new legal framework that strategically builds on the basis of state and local laws, lends itself to integration with those laws, achieves what is necessary at the lowest possible cost, and provides for a process that is transparent about the fair distribution of cost.
He shared a story from his Michigan Law mentor, the late environmental law Professor Joseph L. Sax, to stress the importance of building such a framework in advance.
"Before the start of Earth Day in 1970, Professor Sax spent time cataloging all of the reasons why environmentalists couldn’t get anything through the court system," Krupp said. "He wrote a bill, but he assumed it wouldn't have a prayer if he sent it anywhere. Then the first Earth Day happened and a Michigan legislator called Joe Sax for something to present. The law passed and became the basis of Michigan environmental law."
The lesson, he said, is to always be prepared when a window of opportunity opens and, on occasion, help open that window in the first place.
"What does it take to make a law? It needs a push, a genuine call to action from ordinary citizens. Leadership. Votes," Krupp added. "Our most important task is to change the politics of the climate change issue. We need to expand our coalition and welcome new voices to the debate on how best to solve these challenges. We can't just accept the laws in statute books. We need to go out and create the laws we need."
(VIDEO: Fred Krupp on his work at EDF and time at Michigan Law.)
The April 16-17 conference, Competing Visions for a Sustainable Future, was the University of Michigan Law School's fifth ELPP conference. It featured experts on climate change, energy policy, urban development, conservation and human rights, grassroots sustainability efforts, and corporate environmental leadership.
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