Environmental law conference to run through Sunday

A group of senior women clad in grannie garb took the stage to sing about environmental injustices today, as part of the 30th annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference organized by the University School of Law.

“We just want to get people to listen to real tough environmental issues in a light hearted way,” “Raging Grannies” group member Valerie White said.

The “Raging Grannies” were invited to sing songs to provide levity for the keynote speakers accompanying them, which were Lucia Xiloj, an attorney and human rights advocate for the Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation, and Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown University professor and former Senior Climate Counsel to the EPA.

Heinzerling advocated for increased accountability and involvement in environmental law.

In her speech, Heinzerling argued that the solution to effective environment law is understanding that opposing forces are “not natural or inevitable or pre-political, but instead are brought to us by deep legal and institutional forces and structures” that were “made by humans and can be changed by humans.”

Like Heinzerling’s speech, a theme of the conference seems to be hope for future change.

The Winnemen Tribe of McCloud River, California will be holding a panel tomorrow to address legal issues the tribe has been having in hopes of seeing reform.

“This conference is an opportunity to touch base with young attorneys.  We believe in justice and want to help change things for the waters, for the air and for the earth,” Chief and Spiritual Leader Caleen Sisk said.

In light of University law professor Svitlana Kravchenko’s untimely death, the conference will hold a presentation tomorrow during the keynote at noon to create a new award in her honor and celebrate her work in international human rights and environmental work.

Kravchenko, whose husband, John Bonine, cofounded the conference and influenced its course over the past 30 years, was responsible for a large part of the conference’s international draw.

The annual conference attracts national and international figures each year because of its reputation as the premier gathering of environmentalists in the world.  Last year the conference won the Program of the Year Award from the American Bar Association Section of Environment.

With over 100 panels and five keynote speaking events, the conference unites activists, attorneys, students, scientists and community members to share their expertise and insights.

These types of gatherings are becoming even more important within recent years as environmental issues are becoming less popular topics of debate. As evidence, this year there was an anti-environmental writer for everyday congress was in session.

“You need to talk about a problem truthfully, rather than disguise it as something palatable,” Heinzerling said.

Conference Co-Director Alek Wipperman believes that an avenue of addressing this issue for this conference is creativity.

“This conference spurs creativity. Anytime you bring people together who are out their doing good work independently, you end up having ideas bounced off of each other,” he said.

The conference will continue through Sunday, ending with a presentation by political filmmaker, writer, and activist Craig Rosebraugh.

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Ryan Dutch

Ryan Dutch