Document Type



This article describes the emerging field of sustainable development law and examines whether it is up to the challenge it faces. In a world of finite resources overrun by sprawl, threatened by climate change, short on fuel, and long on greenhouse gas emissions, the law must keep pace. After discussing what sustainable development law is, the article considers the relationship between change in society and the evolution of legal principles, strategies, and practices, particularly with respect to land use, property, and natural resources. Documented in this review is the steady change exhibited in the common law applicable to the ownership, use, and preservation of natural resources, the rapid spread of zoning in the early 20th century, and the current explosion of climate change litigation and regulation. Based on these and other examples, the first half of the article demonstrates that the law can and does evolve in response to crises in society, particularly when lawyers, judges, professionals, and policy makers are trained to understand that law is an instrument for positive change. The article then turns to why law schools matter by drawing lessons from the author’s personal experience at Pace University School of Law.