Fordham Law School students and faculty gathered on November 22 for a discussion of lawyers’ responsibilities in the face of climate change, framing their discussion with Pope Francis’s encyclical letter Laudato Si.
Kit Kennedy, director of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s energy and transportation program, and Jeff Gracer, principal at Sive, Paget & Riesel P.C., participated in a conversation hosted by Fordham Law’s Renata Dias, director of the School’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work. The trio, all members of Fordham’s Laudato Si study group, sought to address the pope’s call for a dialogue concerning the planet’s environmental future.
“I, like a lot of people, feel very emotional about the election, about where we are, and about the need for everyone to really engage,” said Gracer. “The dialogue that the pope started is really encouraging. I take a lot of comfort in many of the ways that the pope framed the issue.”
Since assuming the papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has distinguished his tenure by advocating for interfaith dialogue on the issues of poverty and the environment. In his encyclical letter, he makes a dramatic call for people of all faiths to take part in the work of environmental stewardship. “We have come to see ourselves as [the earth’s]lords and masters entitled to plunder her at will,” he writes. “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air, and in all forms of life.”
During the Nov. 22 event, Kennedy and Gracer described how they in their professional lives work for the environment’s preservation—Kennedy through her work with the NRDC and Gracer through his work as a partner in an environmental law firm. The pair also outlined strategies for continuing to address climate issues under an incoming presidential administration that has signaled general hostility to the environmental cause.
“One area where President Trump can do a lot of harm is in terms of fossil fuel leasing and extraction,” said Kennedy. “There are huge swaths of public land in the U.S., which sit on deposits of natural gas, coal, and oil. President Obama has been moving in the direction of putting much of that off limits, or making it harder to extract. Some of that can be undone, although if you’ve studied civil procedure or federal courts at all, you know undoing an agency rule is quite difficult.”
Kennedy and Gracer pointed to the private sector as a redoubt from which to address the threat of climate change.
“As someone who’s in the business world, I’m seeing that my clients, who are predominantly corporate CEOs and CFOs, are saying to each other, ‘This is really bad for business. This is not normal,’” Gracer said.
Gracer said that many businesses, which project their strategic interests as far as thirty or more years into the future, have started to express significant concerns about the impact of climate change and to move to protect their markets and customers from its potentially devastating effects.
For Fordham Law students interested in environmental advocacy, Kennedy and Gracer offered a host of options for getting involved. Both said that working with the environmental committees of the New York City Bar Association and New York State Bar Association would provide students with excellent experience, as well as contacts within the environmental law field. They also recommended that students interested in practicing environmental law study administrative procedure.
“I urge you all to take environmental law and to take administrative law, which is the law of how agencies work,” said Kennedy. “It’s really crucial to understanding environmental law.”
Kennedy and Gracer also encouraged students to take part in advocacy whether or not they choose to pursue environmental law as a profession.
“[Advocacy] really isn’t an environmental issue,” said Gracer. “It’s a human issue. It’s about the survival of the planet and the future of our children, and it’s something with which we should all be involved.”