Here’s an interest environmental law tid-bit: What is the only modern, wealthy country without an environmental impact assessment law? Singapore! Even though the state has an efficient environmental governance system, for example being on the forefront of illicit wildlife trade interdictions, there is a notable gap in its environmental law system.
I have been taking advantage of one of the the many bike share companies here in Singapore. The picture is of an Anywheel bike. It’s been incredibly convenient – bikes are unlocked with a smartphone app, and the app keeps track of the bike’s whereabouts via GPS. And even though public transportation is quite well designed, having a simple means of transportation for shorter distances has been very convenient, especially in this tropical heat and humidity. The government also encourages use of bikes (and electric scooter) by allowing people to ride on the sidewalks and setting aside special bike lanes on the sidewalks in some parts of the city. One of the great benefits for a tourist like me has been the ability to avoid the street and cars. Singapore follows the British in driving on the left side of the road, which has led to me having near-accidents in the past when I have been in this part of the world.
The company that I have been using, OfoBike, charges Singapore $1 per hour, but a minimum of 50 cents per use. One downside: sometimes, it’s not easy to find a bike if one is away from certain areas. On the flip-side, unlike docked bike shares, one can leave the bike close to one’s destination (but in a legal bike parking area), rather than having to finding a bike dock. Overall, for me, thumbs up for this mode of last-mile transportation.
Postscript: I spotted this on my morning run. Mmmh – probably not good bicycle parking practice.
Our “Business and the Environment” course had the opportunity to visit Singapore’s Supreme Court on Wednesday. Fascinating to hear the story of this legal system and how this country’s judiciary has been taking active steps to market its system across Asia, especially as a preferred forum and choice of law system to resolve commercial disputes. We also had a chance to observe part of a criminal appeal that was taking place in the High Court. One of the most interesting aspects of our visit was the back-story to the architecture of the building Supreme Court building. The top floor is designed to resemble a space ship (a flying saucer) and symbolizes the institution’s forward-leaning future-oriented perspective.
It’s been hot but exciting to be in the heart of Southeast Asia. After a day’s worth of lectures on business organizations for the “Business and the Environment,” the students have been been exploring Singapore. On Tuesday, our post-class excursion was to check out the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant – the Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, a Hainan chicken rice Hawker stand at 335 Smith Street. We ended up at the newer, air-conditioned restaurant, where the price was less than $3 USD for the signature chicken rice meal. My personal review . . . Not bad, but I am not sure that the meal was Michelin-star-worthy. But either way, it was an interesting experience.
We had a great start to the “Business and the Law” course, on the campus of the Singapore Management University. Our classroom is just across the street from the main building of the SMU Law School. The surrounding is marked by lush tropical vegetation even though we are in the middle of a city; or, as Singapore describes itself, “a city in a garden.” Our course kicked off with a delightful orientation dinner at Violet Oon Restaurant at the National Gallery. The food itself was already a cultural learning experience — Peranakan cuisine, associated with the unique culture and food of the descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled in the Malay archipelago several centuries ago and assimilated into the rest of the population.
Over the past few days, we have already had an engaging set of lectures by Professors Maartje DeVisser and Gary Wong about Singapore’s history and legal systems, Professor Jack Teo on the basics of business organizations, and Professor Lin Heng Lye about environmental law in Singapore and Asia. One of my reactions – we are lucky to have gotten these great experts and teachers for the course!
The Juliana v. United States case was brought by 21 children against the United States government over the failures of the United States in adequately addressing climate change. The lawsuit alleges that the United States, in allowing the production of fossil fuels to continue, violates the life, liberty, and property interests of the children. The plaintiffs are seeking a concrete plan by the United States government in halting and reversing the effects of climate change. So far, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Trump administration’s writ of mandamus and allowed the case to go to trial. Trial is set for October 29, 2018 in Oregon. [Thomson, Amy. “These Teens Just Won a Victory Over the Trump Administration in Court.” Mother Jones, 13 Apr. 2018, http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2018/04/these-teens-just-won-a-victory-over-the-trump-administration-in-court/.%5D
Climate change is a pressing controversy with real consequences. As resources continue to dwindle, and coastlines continue to be inundated, people will see their qualities of life decrease. This was the case with the 21 plaintiffs, who witnessed the effects of climate change first-hand.
The case was filed in the last few days of the Obama administration, and the Obama administration admitted several of the allegations set forth in the pleadings. This seems to be an effective strategy in locking in the subsequent administration into the case.
Although there is a trial date set, the plaintiffs may run into more issues in the case. Plaintiffs must have legal standing to bring suit. Standing requires injury in fact, causation, and redressability by the courts. The injury-in-fact must be actual and imminent, and not a generalized grievance. The injury-in-fact must also be particularized. In the recent past, the Supreme Court has allowed states to bring suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for potential climate change harms. In Massachusetts v. EPA, injury in fact was found when sea-level rise threatened to inundate the coastline of Massachusetts. A causal link to EPA action was found based on EPA’s refusal to regulate vehicle carbon emissions, and the court found that any decrease to emission will result in the decrease to the effects of climate change.
With the continuous evolution of the doctrine of standing, however, it is unclear how the Juliana case will come out. While injury-in-fact imposes several requirements, there is no need for an actual legal claim (in cases such as Sierra Club v. Morton, the potential effect on one’s right to enjoy aesthetics was enough.) Here, the children, in having their homes flooded, will likely satisfy the injury-in-fact requirement.
However, the children’s injuries may not be particularized since everyone on earth is facing the same effects of climate change. This is a global problem since many people will be affected. Further, a causal connection is also hard to show: The United States is not the only country in the world that allows fossil fuel usage. To argue that the United States government brought on the plaintiff’s injuries may be a stretch considering other countries’ carbon emissions. However, this was allowed in Massachusetts v. EPA when the Supreme Court determined that there was a connection between United States carbon dioxide emissions and the likely inundation of state lands. It is important to note that in the case, Massachusetts was a quasi-sovereign. Therefore, the Court may have viewed the situation differently than in this case in which the plaintiffs are children and not a quasi-sovereign.
Finally, the issue of redressability will be difficult for the plaintiff to overcome. There is debate over whether climate change is reversible once atmospheric carbon dioxide exceeds 400ppm. Seeing as that level has been exceeded, it is uncertain whether courts can rectify the situation. Further, this looks like a global problem as well as a political issue. Courts have been reluctant in finding redressability when the problems are either global, such that everyone will be affected, or when the problem is of a political controversy. With the current split between the political parties, climate change may look like a political problem. If the plaintiffs were suing for damages, this would be simpler. However, even if the court compels the government to act, it is unlikely that climate change could be reversed in these children’s lifetimes. On the other hand, it is unclear whether the Court will choose to avoid finding redressability. The district court judge has been favorably inclined and may make a finding for standing based on the importance of the case.
Although the plaintiffs may have won themselves a trial date, it is still an uphill battle from here. It is unclear whether the plaintiffs will achieve the requisite standing necessary to bring suit, given past rulings. However, if the issue of standing is appealed to the Supreme Court and if the Supreme Court decides to distinguish this case from Massachusetts v. EPA, it may be that any finding of standing at the lower courts will be overturned.
Renewable Energy: The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus
In 2017, the Environment California Research and Policy Center along with Frontier Group published the report, Renewable Energy 100 – The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus. The Report emphasizes the need for college campuses to be leaders in combatting the impact of global climate change. Colleges across the country are setting goals to become 100% reliant on clean, renewable sources. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States could use solar and wind power to produce 100 times more electricity than the United States consumes in a year. Colleges are also opportunities for reducing carbon emissions since higher education serves six percent of the United States. Further, college campuses have good locations to implement clean energy such as parking lots, rooftops and land for wind turbines.
College Campuses Are Ideal Places for 100 Percent Renewable Energy
According to the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy, the U.S. could reduce its energy use by 40 to 60 percent below current levels, since the U.S. wastes up to 60 percent of the energy it consumes. College campuses are ideal for renewable energy because they are major energy users, spending $14 billion on energy each year. The self-contained nature of campuses makes it possible to implement microgrids, self-contained electric grids that can function independently of the central power grid. Microgrids allow campuses to function even when there are central grid outages. Our own institution, Santa Clara University, has been building a microgrid system that uses weather reports to maximize renewable energy and sensors in buildings to monitor energy use.
Moreover, colleges are in a position to promote and train students to be more mindful of energy saving solutions. College campuses can save money by switching to renewable energy which is another added bonus. Additionally, campuses tend to have more resources to be able to implement long term savings. Students can play a vital role in helping with renewable energy innovation, and their training will be needed to move our society to renewable energies.
College Campuses Are Leading the Transition to Renewable Energy
Butte community college became the first college in the nation to become “grid positive.” Butte built solar panels on rooftops, in open fields, and on parking lot canopies and shade structure. Butte’s green power eliminates 1000 passenger vehicles worth of carbon dioxide and will save the school $100 million over the next 30 years. Furthermore, the school offers classes that train students to work with solar panels.
The University of Delaware has a wind turbine that is 256 feet tall with 144 foot long blades. Not only does the wind turbine offer energy but it also offers students the opportunity to study the impacts of wind turbines on birds and bats and the corrosive impact of salty coastal air on the turbines.
Ball State in Indiana has one of the nation’s largest geothermal energy systems. The system runs water through pipes underground in order to heat and cool 5 million square feet in 47 buildings. The project saves about $2 million in operating costs per year and has created 2,300 jobs in the community.
Because of their size, resources, and unique structure, colleges have a unique opportunity to support the development of renewable energy. With college campuses driving innovation throughout the nation, these small communities will be vital in pushing the nation forward on the environmental front. More campuses should start implementing and training students in renewable energies.
My personal interest in renewable energy began when I enrolled in a Bio Resource Agriculture Engineering course in renewable energy at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. I found the technology to create such complex system fascinating. And while I had heard previously that Santa Clara University has been taking steps to become carbon neutral, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Santa Clara University’s leadership in this report. And to hear that Butte community college was the first college to become “grid positive” was particularly surprising. As a Santa Clara University student, I am proud that my institution, and institutions like it, are proactively taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint.