Turning the World Upside Down: How Frames of Reference Shape Environmental Law
30 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2014
Date Written: March 11, 2014
Models and representations help us understand complex phenomena. The Mercator map presents a familiar, two-dimensional view of our three-dimensional world, for example, but it can distort as much as it clarifies. In the natural sciences, too, there are very different ways of framing reality. The classic method developed by Leonard Euler measures a system from a fixed point. A competing method developed by Joseph Louis Lagrange measures from the perspective of a particle moving within the system. These Eulerian and Lagrangian methods of measurement dominate the physical sciences and provide different, though equally valid, measures of how the system operates. This Article explores how our frame of reference shapes our understanding and application of environmental law. Using examples from the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other statutes, we argue that environmental law is just as sensitive to Eulerian and Lagrangian frames of reference as fluid mechanics or cartography, and that this sensitivity predetermines how we conceive of environmental problems and solutions far more than we realize. Understanding the implicit but fundamental importance of frames of reference can help explain emerging challenges such as water pollution from fracking, air pollution hot spots, and epigenetic sensitivities to pollution.
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