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Mapping, Modeling, and the Fragmentation of Environmental Law

August 2015

Citation: 45 ELR 10796

Issue: 8

Author: Dave Owen

Over the past four decades, increased data availability, new software systems, and exponentially greater computing power have combined to turn spatial analysis—that is, quantitative analysis of data coded to specific geographic coordinates—into the coin of the environmental realm. Thousands of analysts in dozens of fields now spend their days gathering and crunching spatial data. Their efforts serve a wide variety of purposes and are leading to new ways of conceptualizing ecological systems and environmental change. The emergence of spatial analysis merits revisiting environmental law’s traditional debates about integrative, holistic decisionmaking. This Article argues for bridging the divide between spatial analysis and environmental law by exploring some of spatial analysis’s implications for environmental law. Using land use as a central example, it explains how spatial analysis can change which environmental problems we find cognitively tractable, what tools we use to address those problems, and to whom we allocate authority to respond.

Dave Owen is a Professor at the University of California, Hastings.

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