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Beyond the Injunction: Why and How Environmental Lawyers Should Promote the Urgent Transition to a Natural Economy

September 2004

Citation: ELR 10788

Author: Douglas Ruley

The juggernaut of technology-based capitalism will not be stopped . . . . But its direction can be changed by the mandate of a generally shared long-term environmental ethic. The choice is clear: the juggernaut will very soon either chew up what remains of the living world, or it will be redirected to save it. --Edward O. Wilson

Why the Transition to a Natural Economy Should Be a Primary Goal of Environmental Lawyers

Our economy and our environment are in trouble, and not just because we have trillion-dollar deficits and the Bush Administration. As serious as these challenges are, the long-term, fundamental problems of our economy and our environment are systemic and nonpartisan, and always have been. The way we live is destroying the water, air, soil, forests, and living systems--the "natural capital"--upon which we and all life depend:

Capitalism, as practiced, . . . is a nonsustainable aberration in human development. . . . It liquidates [natural] capital and calls it income. It neglects to assign any value to the largest stocks of capital it employs--the natural resources and living systems [that are essential to life].

Although there are many benefits of a market economy, our current industrial model is self-destructive. Because most natural capital is neither accounted nor paid for, our economy is "chewing up" the natural world at an unsustainable rate. Absent fundamental change, the natural capital accumulated over the previous 3.8 billion years of life on earth will be all but destroyed by the end of this century, with grave implications for our existence and quality of life. This is evidenced by our expanding extinction crisis, the dwindling of our freshwater supplies, our burgeoning greenhouse gas generation, and the global warming it portends.

Douglas A. Ruley received his J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1987. He also received a B.A. in economics with highest honors from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 1983. He is a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center practicing in Asheville, North Carolina. The author thanks Dee Eggers, Assistant Professor of Environmental Policy at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, for her discussion and thoughts concerning many of the ideas discussed in this Article.

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