Our Environmental Rebels: An Average American Law Professor’s Perspective on Environmental Advocacy and the Law

Peter Manus

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Every generation discovers for itself that we humans are one with the natural environment. Our parents learned it in the schoolmarm prose of Rachel Carson, and our grandparents learned it in the farmer-philosopher musings of Aldo Leopold or, reaching back further, in the fire and brimstone preaching of John Muir. Today, we learn about the nature-andus connection in folksy yarns spun  out by our lanky buddy from upstate, Bill McKibben. A lady scientist in sensible shoes, a wild-bearded mountain man, a New York runaway in flannel and jeans—the style of any particular environmentalist who captures a generation’s attention says a lot about the self-image of that decade’s readers, but less, perhaps, about the American public’s ability to raise our consciousness of the human-nature symbiosis in the long term. Sure, our most poetic nature writers get us to look around ourselves with more attention than we usually put toward looking around ourselves. I pick up an essay by Annie Dillard and for days stumble around as she seems to, acutely aware of each earthly detail like some clumsy, profound child in a world of pulsing lizards, brown swollen rivers, and eerie eclipses. But it doesn’t last. Somehow my realization of the natural environment leaves me. And when that surge of superawareness wears away, it’s pretty thoroughly gone—gone enough that I have to wonder if it were an illusion in the first place, like one of those born again stints college kids can  go through before hanging it up and applying to law school, at which point they put down the Bible immediately and for good. It seems that some people are just not wired for long-term religious faith. Likewise it seems that most of us are pretty unsuited for anything approaching true environmentalism.
40 New Eng. L. Rev. 499

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