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Brooklyn Law School professors talk climate change in Trump era

April 14, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Law School professors Gregg Macey (left) and Samuel Murumba discussed climate change, the environment and international human rights during the latest Legal Lunch. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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The incoming presidential administration has meant a slew of changes to the way the government operates, and perhaps no field has seen greater changes in the first 80 under President Donald Trump than how the government deals with climate change.

Brooklyn Law School (BLS) professor Gregg Macey, who teaches in environmental law, called the changes depressing and opened Thursday’s Legal Lunch by talking about the Doomsday Clock, which has moved to just two and a half minutes from midnight, the closest it’s been since the 1950s.

“Recently, after the election, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists added climate change to its consideration for how it should set the clock, and as a result it’s as close to midnight as it’s been in a generation,” Macey said. “Here are their words — the probability of global catastrophe is very high.

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“Why is it very high?” he asked rhetorically. “Nuclear proliferation continues, we have hair trigger arsenals of 5,000 warheads apiece, we have threats of bioterror, we have threats of novel technologies, but mainly the move this time was because of climate change.”

BLS’s Legal Lunches are a series of lectures, which are free and open to the public that examine presidential powers and the law. Last Thursday’s Legal Lunch featured a discussion with professors Macey and Samuel Murumba on climate change, the environment and international human rights under President Trump.

“Climate change is one of the most profound human rights issues of our time and human rights organizations now recognize this,” said Murumba. “If we don’t get climate change right, the rest of human rights will be moot.”

Macey opened the talk by providing context of the situation that Trump entered into when he took over the Oval Office. He talked about the Paris Accords and the history of the U.S. in the context of dealing with climate change, going back to 1965 when former President Lyndon Johnson warned Congress of the dangers of fossil fuels.

“A nation that from the 60s to today has haltingly and slowly been trying to do something to deal with this issue, we finally get to the Obama administration who announced his own climate initiative and said our children and our children’s children are going to be upset with us if we don’t act,” Macey said. “So he set out within the existing authority to do whatever was possible within the existing legal framework.”

Macey then went on to talk about what he referred to as the “five pillars” of Obama’s climate change policy. The pillars included use of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Power Act, fuel standards for motor vehicles, energy efficiency standards for industrial equipment and appliances, a focus on methane gas and how the government treats information on climate change.

“So Obama is doing everything he can within the existing legal framework and then Trump gets to work and he begins to dismantle all five pillars in 80 days,” Macey said.

In an attempt to lighten the conversation, Macey outlined some lessons learned already under Trump — which is that many of his actions have been done through executive order, which don’t override existing law, meaning some climate change legislation is still on the books. He did warn that Trump could go away from executive orders and, with the Republican Party, begin to address changes through passage of new laws.

Macey then challenged students to seek out unlikely allies if they are interested in finding jobs to help out with climate change.

“There are a lot of groups that you should be working with that you need to think about when it comes to things like climate change and environmental security,” he said.

“The military is among the most concerned about climate change than anyone. Insurance companies have to deal with the effects of climate change on their portfolios and even pension funds that are going to have to deal with the carbon bubble are going to be looking to hire people like you.”

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