I have several research projects in various forms of development. While diverse, they share the common theme of investigating new paradigms with potential to shift existing conceptualizations of the natural world and our role in it.
The End of Sustainability
“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”— Albert Einstein
Together with legal scholar Robin Craig, I working on a book currently titled ““The End of Sustainability: Why Climate Change Demands a New Narrative,” in which we argue that the time has come to move past the concept of sustainability as an environmental goal. The continued invocation of sustainability in policy discussions ignores the emerging realities of the Anthropocene, which is creating a world characterized by extreme complexity, radical uncertainty and unprecedented change. From a policy perspective, we must face the impossibility of even defining — let alone pursuing — a goal of “sustainability” in such a world. In addition articles on End of Sustainability, the book is currently under contract with University Press of Kansas for their new Environment and Society series.
Lessons from Valles Caldera National Preserve
“Managers from other agencies have asked me how we justify the amount of money we invest in our science programs. I tell them to think about all the money we save in litigation costs.”— Jorge Silva-Bañuelos, Supervisor of the Valles Caldera National Preserve
The Valles Caldera National Preserve was the largest and most ambitious public land management experiment in the United States’ history. Congress created the Preserve in 2000 as a wholly owned Government Corporation managed not by a federal agency, but instead by a Board of Trustees. The management paradigm was unique. In addition to the familiar requirements of multiple use and sustained yield, the Act included a mandate that the Preserve become financially self-sustaining. This experiment ended in December of 2014 when Congress passed a law transferring management to the National Park Service.
I’ve written a law review article that examines the Preserve’s experiment and attempts to answer the question—what did we learn? Lessons include: (1) the challenges of having a corporate identity while also complying with laws pertaining to federal agencies, (2) the ways in which NEPA can inform management via iterative processes, (3) successes in science-based of adaptive management, (4) the challenges of running a “working ranch” in the American West, and (5) opportunities to protect cultural resources and honor the religious and cultural practices of living native communities. Absent among these lessons is a clear answer regarding whether public lands can be made financially self-sustaining. The Preserve’s neoliberal charge was thwarted for many reasons, including our cultural beliefs about public lands and the role they play within the American imagination.
Law, ontology and the new materialism
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain
Law forms within the context of an ontology that assumes materiality (“the world”) and epistemology (our approach to knowing the world) are two separate things. Quantum physics tells us otherwise. The emerging paradigm of new materialism collapses ontology/epistemology, subject/object and nature/culture (among other) binaries in ways that have all kinds of implications for modes of legal geography that place an emphasis on the iterative and citational nature of socio-spatial performances and their complex assemblages (Braverman, et al. 2014). A lot of “trouble” has been caused by the mechanistic, Newtonian worldview that has been resoundingly destabilized by quantum physics. What would law look like in a world that embraced the dynamic, agential view of matter that more accurately describes the new materialism?