VJEL hosts annual symposium

By Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief

This year’s Vermont Journal of Environmental Law (VJEL) symposium, titled: “Don’t Be a Fossil Fool: Transitioning To, Living In, and Protecting a Decarbonized World,” aired virtually on Friday, Oct. 16. The symposium consisted of panels that focused on clean energy justice, climate goals, nature-based solutions, and grid security. The symposium also featured the global energy scholar Raphael Heffron as the keynote speaker.

“The goal is that each and every one of you watching will take today’s event as an invitation to become part of the solution and not remain a fossil fool,” said Hunter Sutherland, editor-in-chief of VJEL, during the symposium’s introductory remarks.

John Echeverria, professor of law at Vermont Law School and VJEL’s faculty advisor, also gave some introductory remarks. He took note that this symposium was virtual, which negated the usual emissions from travel that comes with attending a symposium.

“Particularly in recent years, in the back of our minds there’s been a certain wonder about whether or not we were acting responsibly, whether we were making good use of time and energy. And most significantly, whether in the era of climate change we were acting responsibly, particularly when we were going to conferences about climate change,” said Echeverria.

For the keynote speech, Heffron, professor at the University of Dundee, Scotland, focused on achieving a just transition to a low-carbon economy by 2050 through a just framework. Heffron began his speech by showing an image of the Statue of Liberty up to her chest in water with the New York City skyline behind her.

“We do have to think about the issues that are connecting together,” Heffron said, emphasizing the relationship between energy and climate change. To do this, Heffron took a world tour of sea level rise through photos of Dundee, Venice, and Jakarta.

From there, Heffron explained the just transition to a low-carbon economy, which includes a combination of energy justice, environmental justice, and climate justice. Heffron is a leading scholar in this emerging area of uniting these three perspectives to create a just transition.

Heffron also explained how different places are working towards a low-carbon economy, such as the European Union, New Zealand, and Scotland. One of the barriers to transitioning to a law-carbon economy in many countries is continued coal subsidies.

Near the end of his talk and while answering questions, Heffron emphasized the need for young people to get their ideas out there.

Heffron explained that students should not necessarily “accept some of the opinions of the older generation. The older generations have delivered you into a system like you have today, so you have to begin to challenge that system.” In order to do that, Heffron said, “you have to read beyond legal journals. You have to read the interdisciplinary energy journals, you have to become familiar with data, and you have to be able to have that data on your fingertips.”

Antonia Douglas and Austin Scarborough, VJEL’s symposium editors, were responsible for planning this year’s symposium, which was VLS’s first completely virtual symposium. Normally, about 200 to 400 people attend the symposium, but the virtual format gave more people the opportunity to attend.

“Thanks to the diligent VLS staff, over 1600 people…attended the livestreamed symposium,” said Scarborough. “That is more than four times the amount of people that have ever attended a symposium before. We want to thank everyone who made this possible—from the speakers to anyone who helped promote the event.”

Following the symposium, VJEL hosted a virtual reception to allow attendees a chance to virtually mingle with the speakers.

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