The current global economic system, which is fueled by externalizing environmental costs, growing exponentially, consuming more, and a widening wealth gap between rich and poor, is misaligned to meet the climate imperative to rapidly reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). Amidst this system breakdown as we reach the end of the Industrial Age, the new economy movement has emerged to provide an alternative approach where ecological balance, wealth equity, and vibrant democracy are central to economic activity. Laws are the fundamental infrastructure that undergirds our economic and political system. Environmental law is typically conceived as a set of rules that establish pollutant limits for specific waterbodies, protect an identified species, or direct an industry to use a required technology. Although necessary, these types of law do not address the fundamentals of our political economy, and the most dramatic failure of environmental law is seen in increasing amounts of GHGs and global climate disruption. In order to develop a new economic system that is aligned with a climate and economic justice imperative, we need laws that will facilitate the new system and discourage the old. This chapter discusses systems thinking and systems change, highlighting leverage points to achieve change. It gives an overview of the new economy movement that has emerged to provide a new narrative, and using a systems lens, identifies areas where the law needs to evolve to facilitate building a more sustainable, equitable, and democratic future.
Browse by title
Melissa K. Scanlan
Diana R. H. Winters
The regulation of food in the United States is exceedingly complex. Local, state, and federal regulation coexist, and common law remedies supplement positive law. Strata of regulation are necessary because patterns of production and consumption vary by region and demographic, while federal regulation provides regulatory uniformity across the United States. A system that permits decentralized policymaking, such as the American one, can be a leverage point for change. Recently, several state and local governments in the United States passed laws to address gaps in and perceived problems with federal food policy. Despite, or perhaps because of, their transformative potential, these state and local actions on food policy raise questions about where lies the proper balance between the uniformity and predictability of a national system and the flexibility and responsiveness of local regulation. This chapter discusses some of the problems with the food systems of the United States and the repercussions of these failures, and then explores several more local solutions by looking at this recent state legislation. These laws include a Vermont law mandating the labeling of genetically engineered ingredients, a California law regulating the use of medically important antibiotics in animal feed, the strictest in the country, and several California humane treatment laws. There have been legal challenges to some of these laws in areas where these state actions encroach upon another regulatory authority, whether that of another state or of the federal government. These areas of tension highlight questions about the decentralization of food policy in the United States, including who gets to make policy decisions and the content of these decisions, but these spaces of conflict can also be sources of productivity for the development of food policy. While focused on the United States, the interaction between national and subnational regulatory units in the field of food policy is a matter of relevance to the global community.
Kevin B. Jones and Mark James
Solar power is booming across the US, as PV panel costs fall and interest in clean and distributed energy grows. In Vermont, net-metered solar electric generation has grown dramatically over the last seven years due to state and federal policies incentivizing net metering. At the state level, Vermont established group net metering policies creating a stable source of revenue that its banks and credit unions have relied on to approve financing to purchase solar projects. The federal residential investment tax credit (ITC), providing a 30 percent credit for Solar PV generation, further supports solar ownership. While solar ownership has grown, some policymakers and advocates are concerned that the benefits of net-metered solar are not fairly distributed throughout the economy. This chapter explores trends in renewable energy development and how clean distributed energy may disrupt the current utility model. The chapter also explores current state and federal policies for solar development and how they can be used to promote meaningful community ownership: a model that supports the local economy while reducing carbon emissions. The chapter concludes by exploring strategies for scaling up Vermont‘s community solar model to support the goals of a new economy.
For environmental law to contribute to a more egalitarian and cooperative economy, it will have to be recast in a way that gives a central place to the organizing concerns of environmental justice: the distributive effects of environmental law and policy, and the constitutive question of which problems count as environmental, and whose conception of a good life in the natural world environmental law advances. This chapter locates that goal within two developments that have shifted the field more generally: the renewed recognition of the depth and importance of inequality and the emergence of “the Anthropocene” as a characterization of a transformed relationship between human beings and the rest of the planet.
Edited by Melissa K. Scanlan
James Gustave Speth
Our environmental organizations win many battles, but we are losing the planet. Forty-six years after the first Earth Day, we find ourselves on the path to a ruined planet, not one sustained and whole. The hard data on climate, biodiversity, water and more are truly frightening. Clearly, more of the same environmentalism is not going to do the job. We have had huge growth in the size, sophistication and resources of our leading environmental groups. So, clearly, something new is needed – a new environmentalism that offers hope of finally turning the corner before it is too late. To discover this new approach, we have got to ask again: what is an environmental issue? The answer puts us on the search for a new more joyful economy.
This chapter argues that as taught and practiced law has been made socially irrelevant, undermining its potential to generate and sustain paradigm-shifting change. Although the legal academy has adopted a more practice-ready pedagogy, the fact remains that legal education and its substance is stubbornly unchanged, divorced from other disciplines and communicated in a traditional parlance intended only for other legal professionals. The result is that most people do not understand the value of the law in their daily lives because the barrier to legal information is too high. The rise of legal design and transdisciplinary collaboration, however, provides a radical reimaging of the law as centrally relevant. Legal design requires that legal solutions are designed with the end user in mind. Moreover, legal design integrates the law into social products. This is “Legal Democracy” because the law and the empowerment it represents is made broadly available. The food movement provides a real-time example of legal democracy in action, including the work of Janelle Orsi and her Sustainable Economies Law Center, the food projects of Stanford’s D School, and the legal products created by the Food and Agriculture Clinic of the Vermont Law School. This chapter explores legal democracy and its roots in legal design, communications and technology and then provides examples of legal democracy at work through the legal solutions generated by the Food and Agriculture Clinic. Finally, it explains how this approach to the law has the capacity to scale healthy food systems and support vibrant local and regional economies through cataloging and disseminating innovative legal and policy solutions.
Mary Christina Wood
The current environmental regulatory system promotes a destructive and unsustainable economy. While environmental statutes supposedly aim to control harm inflicted by the industrial economy, in fact they perpetuate destructive economic activity by regularly authorizing permits to pollute and destroy. Corporations and profiteers controlling the bureaucratic apparatus use the law to drain the natural wealth of communities for their own profit. On those rare occasions when environmental regulation successfully halts destruction, the resulting narrative presents an impossible “jobs v. environment” conflict that undermines environmental law in the broader political milieu. This chapter sets forth a legal paradigm called Nature’s Trust that draws upon the public trust principle to support both economic prosperity and ecological integrity. The public trust is an ancient doctrine, manifest in every state in the United States and in many countries throughout the world, including India, Kenya and the Philippines, to name a few. It requires government to act as a trustee with respect to the natural world and its elements. A fundamental component of democracy, the trust empowers citizens to hold government accountable for ecological protection. It also forms an inherent constraint on a private property regime that empowers colossal destruction. Finally, the Nature’s Trust paradigm reformulates the role of the corporation in modern society, recognizing imbued fiduciary limitations arising from state charters.
New economy advocates, including Gus Speth, look to transform the corporation from an enterprise designed primarily to provide profits for shareholders to one concerned about a broader set of values and stakeholders. Such a shift ideally would help us prioritize people, place and planet. Perhaps those who bring leadership to businesses that focus on social and environmental concerns – social entrepreneurs – can answer the call by reorienting the corporations they create. Such efforts to transform individual firms could inspire widespread change. The timing is good for such a transition, as social entrepreneurs have promising new options available for broadly soliciting like-minded investors and organizing their business enterprises to include social goals. Yet, due to distrust of the existing system, some may not explore these opportunities. Not attuned to mainstream matters, they may be unaware of the recent legal changes that make it easier for them to engage within the existing financial and corporate governance systems to fund their enterprises and to organize them with a social or environmental mission in mind. These recent legal developments are significant. Now in the US, those seeking to fund an enterprise can forgo a complex, time-consuming full federal registration process with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) while still reaching out to solicit a wide group of potential investors. This general solicitation can take place in a variety of media including advertising online through crowdfunding portals. The ability to bypass the full SEC registration process is the result of recent legal reforms that streamline how businesses can raise money through the offering and sale of securities. These legal reforms impact social entrepreneurs because the law covers the methods they might use to attract funding. Unlike donations made via crowdfunding, which are not subject to the securities laws, investments with an expectation of profit could be. This chapter provides background on securities laws in the US to contextualize the legal changes and proposals. Then it details how three recent legal developments at the federal and state levels can aid the startup or expansion of social, community and environmental business enterprises. These are (i) advertising unregistered securities offerings to the public with sales just to accredited investors; (ii) investment crowdfunding of unregistered securities to an unlimited number of non-accredited investors; and (iii) state law changes permitting benefit corporations as well as one state’s law to smooth the path for investing in local solar energy businesses.