April 6, 2017
Last year, scientists officially acknowledged that we have entered a new geological period, the Anthropocene Epoch, which is characterized by the reality that human activity is now the dominant force transforming our planet. Three McGeorge professors — Karrigan Börk, Rachael Salcido, and John Sprankling — have explored the legal impacts of this transition in their scholarship.
In their article Ditching our Innocence: The Clean Water Act in the Age of the Anthropocene, published this year in Environmental Law, Professors Börk and Salcido argue that the 2015 rule defining the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act inadvisably excludes many man-made environments, including many artificial lakes, farm ponds, reflecting pools, and most ditches, treating these landscape features as faux nature somehow unworthy of protection. This treatment is a marked departure from past Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers practices, and seems to be based on a shortsighted view of these places as somehow unimportant to protecting the waters of the United States.
Professor Börk's forthcoming Utah Law Review article, Guest Species: Rethinking our Approach to Biodiversity in the Anthropocene, notes that U.S. environmental law draws an unreasonable boundary between places, species, and ecosystems and places, species, and ecosystems influenced by humanity, with only the former receiving significant protection. In the Anthropocene, this simplistic view no longer makes sense. The article examines management of beneficial nonnative species, which he terms guest species, to illustrate the problems with our current normative philosophy.
Finally, Professor Sprankling's article, Property Law for the Anthropocene Era, will be published by the Arizona Law Review later this year. It is the first comprehensive analysis of how American property law should respond to the challenges posed by this new era. It demonstrates the need for our property law system to develop a new vision of ownership in which property rights are more flexible and less categorical than in the past, and proposes overarching principles to guide the evolution of the system in the coming decades.