The College of Law's Program in Law and Philosophy's Environmental Ethics Initiative teamed up in early June with the nation's top-ranked Environmental Law Program at Pace Law School (which recently received the largest private gift ever given for academic environmental research) to cohost a Roundtable on the Value of Wildness.
Co-organized and co-directed by Professors Heidi M. Hurd (Illinois) and David Cassuto (Pace), and held in Sequoia National Park where remnants of the Earth's oldest groves of sequoias are carefully stewarded, the roundtable brought together a diverse collection of legal scholars, philosophers, science journalists, NGO activists, and high-ranking political appointees to discuss the value of wild places and wild things in a world of shrinking wilderness.
For example, participants included Andrew Light, the Senior Adviser and India Counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change and a senior strategy team member for the UN climate negotiations with the Office of Policy Planning in the U.S. Department of State; Andrew Revkin, an acclaimed reporter for the New York Times since 1995, who currently writes the Dot Earth environmental blog for The Times' Opinion Pages as well as serving as a Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies at Pace University; Dale Jamieson, Professor of Environmental Studies, Philosophy, Law, and Bioethics, and Chair of the Environmental Studies Department at New York University; and Camilla Hovey Fox, founder and director of Project Coyote, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the big carnivores of the American West.
Also attending the Roundtable were two of Illinois' own academics-in-training: Michael Pellegrino (Class of 2010), who, after practicing law for several years, just graduated from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences with his Masters in Environmental Management and is headed for NYU to match this degree with one in Bioethics; and Amber Polk, a joint J.D. (Class of 2016)/Ph.D. student at Illinois who is presently working on a doctoral dissertation in environmental ethics.
Fittingly held during the 100th anniversary year of the National Park Service, the Roundtable engaged participants in critical discussions about whether national parks and designated wilderness areas are up to the task of protecting the value of wildness in a world that can no longer lay claim to having areas unaffected by human activities. Such a task required participants to delve into the value of wildness itself and to then seek regulatory mechanisms and land management policies that would best protect those values.
The Roundtable evoked glowingly appraisals and expressions of thanks from participants. "I'll be digesting your marvelous insights and interactions for a long time!" wrote Andrew Revkin, who is also expected to write about the themes of the gathering in forthcoming contributions to his influential New York Times Dot Earth blog.
Gary Comstock, the noted environmental ethicist and philosopher of biology, wrote: "The choice of readings and venue, the conceptual architecture of the sessions, and the moderation of the actual conversations--all were done with exceptional forethought and creativity. The result was not only one of the most productive academic meetings I've ever been in. It was also packed with poignant moments involving contact with incredible people and nature.”
Frederick Simmons of Yale’s Divinity School who is presently a fellow at Princeton’s Center for Theological Inquiry, described the setting as “inspiring” and the conversations as “of unusual intellectual rigor for an interdisciplinary enterprise.”
And Illinois doctoral student Amber Polk wrote: “It was a pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to theorize with such wonderful and amazing people! This will be an experience that sticks with me the rest of my life.”