At this point in time, environmental law faces the task of drawing a budget for living within our resource means, and this budget will be tightly stretched. It must provide energy, water, food, and materials to a growing population; it must cope with the depletion of formerly abundant resources; and it must act both to mitigate climate impacts and adapt to the changes already manifesting. To do this, the budgeting must consider resources and uses that have previously been considered insignificant and that have not received attention in terms of ownership, allocation, or governance. Thus, the future of environmental law will involve charting individual property expectations in previously unconsidered resources: society's cast-offs, scraps, and leavings.
The history of environmental law has involved defining and refining expectations in property and resource use. Environmental law has addressed the resource impacts of development, set parameters for further resource development, and resolved conflicting uses or claims to resources. In each of these ways, environmental law has served to establish and adjust expectations. Thus, in a generalized sense, environmental law can be described as the governance of resource use with a particular attention to the impacts on the human and natural environment.
The future of environmental law will be a variation on this past. It will still involve defining and refining expectations, only this time for a fresh set of new resources, ripe to be utilized. Well, at least for a semi-fresh set of new-ish resources, but certainly ones that are ripe to be utilized. This emerging resource stock is cobbled from formerly insignificant discards and leftovers. For example, new resource stocks can be found in wastewater streams used as water and energy sources, roofs and backyards assembled as power and food production spaces, and foregone consumption considered to be an alternative to increased supply. Distributed generation, nega-watts, reclaimed sewage, conserved water, vacant-lot farming, and rooftop gardens: these are the new resource base, and a major role for environmental law will be in figuring out how to manage them for their maximum potential benefit.
Recommended CitationMichael Pappas, Distributed, Nega-, and Reclaimed: Setting Expectations in the "New" Resource Base, 32 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 471 (2015)
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