This article is adapted from the 2015 Lloyd K. Garrison Lecture on Environmental Law that I gave at the Pace University School of Law on April 1, 2015.


This article is based on the 2015 Pace Garrison Lecture that occurred on April 1, 2015. Fittingly for a talk given on April Fool’s Day, this article focuses on tricksters. It posits that framing climate change as one incarnation of a mythological trickster can give us a better cultural narrative framework for thinking about environmental, natural resources, and energy law and policy in a climate change era. The trickster narrative can helpfully displace the dominant engineering framework that informs most of American10 environmental, natural resources, and energy law and policy and open the way to a more productive policy context based on ecological resilience and resilience thinking.

Part I of this article will examine the general importance of cultural narratives to society and law. Part II, in turn, examines the narrative that has dominated U.S. environmental and natural resources law and policy since the middle of the 20th century, a narrative that this article refers to as “Humans as Controlling Engineers.” In Part III, this article examines the cultural narratives that have emerged in the United States to date as responses to climate change, concluding that they all either continue the “Humans as Controlling Engineers” narrative into a climate change era or promote human helplessness (and hopelessness) in the face of climate change impacts. A much better cultural narrative, Part IV argues, is the narrative of the trickster—a narrative that has been unusually (compared to the rest of the world) but emphatically missing from European-derived American culture. Viewing climate change as the 21st-centure trickster would not only help Americans to contextualize the many complexities of climate change but would also help to create a cultural context that can promote resilience thinking and the unavoidable necessity of transformation, both social and ecological.