How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
Obviously, I’ve attended conferences throughout my career but I was first asked to speak at a CLE BC conference a bit more than a decade ago. It was on public interest environmental law – I think the first that CLEBC had done on that topic – and I spoke on public rights to the natural environment. I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the participants and the other presenters.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
I am currently the Chair of CLEBC’s upcoming Climate Law Conference – again a first. I know that a huge number of BC lawyers are concerned about the climate crisis but may not see how it affects their practice or what they can do about it. I’m hoping that they will come out so we can explore that question together. We’ve got a great line-up of presenters from BC and beyond.
What made you decide to become a lawyer?
Frankly, I was an environmental activist first, and I wanted to understand why the law seemed to too often come down on the side of industrial corporations and didn’t seem to recognize the value I saw in the natural world. It became clear to me, as I tried to understand what injunctions were and why logging companies could cut old growth on public land, that I had a good legal mind and enjoyed this work. I see myself as a translator between the legal world and the environmental community.
What trends are you starting to see in the law of climate change in Canada and around the world?
Climate change is increasingly harming legal rights, and that’s transforming how the law views it in fundamental ways. We only have to look at the deaths from the Heat Dome (which scientists say was 150 times more likely due to climate change) to realize that climate resilience is not a nice-to-have environmental choice, but a necessity.
And as those legal rights are impacted, and as clients, governments, and the public become more concerned, lawyers, and the courts, are increasingly being asked to address climate change and its impacts. What happens to the legal rights of waterfront property owners when sea levels rise? How do we protect clients from wildfire risks?
In addition, in some countries the courts and the law have become major drivers of action on climate change, transforming political debate. The Dutch courts, for example, have held both their government and the fossil fuel giant, Shell, legally accountable for not doing enough to fight climate change. I think we’re going to see more of that in the future.
You are the lead author for the Environmental Law Alert blog. Can you tell us more about that?
I almost feel that that’s old news now. West Coast Environmental Law has a long history of technological innovation, but it took a bit of convincing to get us to join the blog-o-sphere. I was one of the people pushing to launch a blog, and as a result, I committed to making sure that there was always new content. Since then the Environmental Law Alert blog has become a normal part of the organization, with everyone contributing, but I still have a role in writing on emerging environmental law issues that don’t squarely fit within our existing work plans. I like the flexibility to be able to research and write on a wider range of issues.
What influences and motivates you most?
I grew up in a family with a strong service ethic, and I think that a lot of what I do is about helping people and trying to leave the world a better place than I found it. But I also draw a lot of inspiration from my Faith – I’m a Quaker – which emphasizes that of God in other people and, I would say, in the natural world. I am also very motivated by my family, my wife from whom I have learned a lot, and my children, who have thrown themselves into the Fridays for Future climate strikes. I get a lot of inspiration from them.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
Obviously, my passion for balance between the human and natural worlds extends beyond the law; it includes the social, economic, and spiritual. I certainly try to live in ways that are consistent with that balance.
In addition to my Quaker community, which I’ve mentioned already, I play fiddle and bake sourdough bread. I’m not sure they are passions, but they definitely help keep me grounded.