By Jaime Ciavarra • Photos by Claire
Surrounded by a throng of eco-conscious
crusaders, Al Gore, environmental rock star, warns
of a ticking time bomb.
Polar ice caps are melting, tick.
The earth’s temperatures are rising, tick.
Carbon emissions continue to swell, tick.
The planetary emergency that the former vice
president of the United States has been relaying
to classes, colleagues, and Congress for the past
three decades is uniquely fitting for the audience
sitting before him on this cold spring morning.
The nearly 300 students at the Dorothy Marvin
Betts Theater on GW’s campus are eager to
delve in and devote their careers to environmental
law, a field that Gore says is essential to combating
humanity’s greatest crisis.
“It is a challenge to our moral imagination
to understand exactly what we’re in the
process of doing,”
GW Environmental Law Association Board Members
Bonnie Vanzler, Jamie Long, Alex Menotti,
Rebekah Reynolds, John Costenbader, Deborah
Attwood, and Lorene Delson join GW President
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and Dean Frederick
M. Lawrence in welcoming former Vice President
Al Gore to GW Law. “[Gore] has made
it his mission to teach people to say ‘carbon
emission’ as easily as they might
say ‘baseball’ or ‘apple
pie,’ ” Trachtenberg said.
Gore says about the scale and speed of global
warming. “Law,” he adds, “gives
us the ability to enforce principle and embody
Gore, who has achieved celebrity-like status
with his Academy Award-winning documentary An
Inconvenient Truth, was the riveting conclusion
to a four-day conference hosted by GW’s
student-run Environmental Law Association in March.
The 17th annual National Association of Environmental
Law Societies event attracted nearly 400 students
and faculty members from more than 50 law schools
across the nation to learn about environmental
efforts. High-profile policy experts, government
officials, and scholars led the sessions, including
former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
Carol Browner and Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson,
JD ’78, a green city pioneer.
During a mid-conference networking lunch,
environmental law students chat with practicing
attorneys about career opportunities.
The discussions were rich, students say, and
the ideas stimulating.
“Conferences teach…in a different
way than classes ever could,” says John
Costenbader, a second-year GW Law student and
event organizer. “No longer do I see the
environmental heroes at our conference as distant
legends, but rather as regular human beings with
a common interest as me.”
“The Goracle,” as Gore is nicknamed
by ardent fans, took his hero-like status in stride
as he argued his major themes and solutions for
the environmental crisis that scientists first
began studying in the late 1950s.
Neil Proto, MA ’69, JD ’72,
speaks about the evolving role of law students
in today’s legal environment during
the panel on “Law Student Activism.”
Proto, now a partner with Schnader Harrison
Segal & Lewis, is the former chairman
of Students Challenging Regulatory Agency
Procedures, or SCRAP.
Humans are dispersing 70 million tons of global
warming pollution into the earth’s atmosphere
every 24 hours, Gore said during an hour-long
presentation, wearing down the protective ozone
layer and causing catastrophic changes that will
lead to further biodiversity loss, dwindling fresh
water supplies, extreme weather, epidemics, and
the deterioration of the earth itself.
“The scale of the crisis and the speed
with which it is overtaking our civilization are
both completely without precedent. That in itself
poses a particular challenge,” Gore says.
“Because there is no precedent in understanding
how large it is or how rapidly it is unfolding,
we don’t really find it as easy to draw
upon historical examples of other similar challenges.
This is what economists would call a discontinuity
in the course of human civilization.”
Necessary changes in the way we burn and use
energy are difficult to implement, yet achievable,
he adds. Gore told the crowd of future lawyers
that he supports the development of new eco-friendly
technologies, taxation on wastes like carbon emissions,
a capping—as laid out in the Kyoto Treaty—of
the amounts of carbon emissions emitted, and a
direct regulation of what technologies are allowed
and how they are used.
From left to right, Joe Kruger, policy director
of the National Commission on Energy Policy;
U.S. Congressman Wayne T. Gilchrest; and
Debra Jacobson, JD ’77, GW professorial
lecturer in law, discuss their views during
a panel on global warming legislation.
Gore’s message during the Sunday presentation
reinforced the event’s in-depth panels and
speakers that tackled everything from global warming
legislation, to recent Supreme Court decisions,
to international challenges facing the United
States in environmental legislation. More than
30 environmental experts, scholars, and policy
makers led the dozen or so sessions over the four
days, which included a banquet dinner and a viewing
of An Inconvenient Truth.
The GW environmental program has grown in numbers
and popularity since its inception in 1970, and
Dean Frederick M. Lawrence says the event for
GW was “yet another piece of a distinguished
record in environmental law.” Students planned
the details of the conference for more than a
year. Some said the nation’s capital—the
center of U.S. politics and policy making—was
an especially fitting location to champion the
latest environmental efforts.
Students Alex Menotti, Katie Armstrong,
and Rebekah Reynolds present Al Gore with
an Environmental Law Association T-shirt.
“Climate change, the largest focus of the
conference, is a global issue,” says 3L
Rebekah Reynolds, president of the GW Environmental
Law Association. “Being in D.C., where national
and international decisions get made, is significant.”
GW Law’s location also played a role in
snagging the most experienced and revered environmental
leaders, many of whom practice in Washington,
Reynolds says. Political will was also evident.
“Run for public office,” urged Congressman
Wayne T. Gilchrest (R-Md.), a member of the House
Subcommittee on Fisheries and Oceans who spoke
on a global warming legislation panel. “The
dynamics happening now in Washington are better
for the country.”
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, JD
’78, spoke during the conference’s
banquet dinner about pioneering a Green
Program that has helped the city meet environmental
goals. Here Anderson talks with National
Association of Environmental Law Societies
Executive Director Dan Worth (center) and
Tulane University Law students Andy Jacoby
and Mary Reichert.
Armed with newfound knowledge, and inspired by
rigorous debates, law students walking out of
the Gore talk said they were ready to take on
the onerous mission that is saving Mother Earth.
While they say the bomb is ticking, students
and Gore stress that changing the planet’s
course is entirely attainable.
“There is a moral imperative associated
with this,” Gore says. “[Future generations]
will ask one of two questions: ‘Why in God’s
name didn’t you act?’ or ‘How
did they find the courage to make a difference?’”