Learning to Think about Complex Environmental Systems in Environmental and Natural Resource Law and Scholarship: A Twenty-Year Retrospective
16 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2013 Last revised: 5 Oct 2015
Date Written: October 4, 2015
The environment a complex system, and acknowledging that fact has become an increasingly important part of environmental law scholarship. However, that fact also desperately needs to become a more prominent part of environmental and natural resources law and policy. In particular, grappling with ecological complexity through new legal tools offers one of the best prospects for dealing with the impacts of climate change — i.e., engaging in climate change adaptation — in the decades to come. Because climate change is the environmental and natural resources problem (not to mention social, cultural, and economic problem) of the 21st century, it is well worth reviewing how scientific concepts of complexity and systems theory have become an active component of the environmental and natural resources law conversation in scholarship.
This essay for the 20th anniversary issue of the Fordham Environmental Law Journal looks at the history of how environmental and natural resources law scholarship has increasingly incorporated insights from complexity theory. It argues that such incorporation will only be increasingly important as the climate change era unfolds but that, to date, environmental and natural resources law and policy themselves have yet to undergo the transformations required to adequately govern a complex and dynamic world.
Keywords: complexity, systems theory, resilience theory, panarchy, adaptive management, legal scholarship, climate change
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