Purdy and Salzman co-host incubator for climate scholarship

September 16, 2011Duke Law News

For the second time, Professors Jim Salzman and Jed Purdy helped organize an August gathering of scholars immersed in research and policy related to climate change. Both also presented works in progress at the interdisciplinary Boulder conference they sponsor along with two colleagues from the University of Colorado School of Law. The event, which Salzman calls “one of the best academic workshops I’ve attended,” is designed to help develop, refine, and spark innovative scholarship on climate change.

“I have colleagues who say the same thing, and these are people who’ve been teaching for years,” he says. “It’s just an incredibly constructive atmosphere.”

Salzman, Professor of Law and Nicholas Institute Professor of Environmental Policy, says that he and Purdy attended the conference three years ago and found it so helpful that they agreed to co-sponsor it.

“I can point to two articles I co-authored that came out much better as a result of the conference:Gaming the Past: The Theory and Practice of Historic Baselines in the Administrative State, which I co-wrote with J.B. Ruhl for the Vanderbilt Law Review, and , and The Curious Case of Greening in Carbon Markets, which I wrote with William Boyd in Environmental Law,” Salzman says.

The structure of the gathering makes it especially fruitful, Salzman says.

“Often, at these types of conferences, people present back-to-back-to-back papers and it’s just an onslaught. Or someone presents for 15 minutes, there’s ten minutes for questions and that’s it. The format here is that the person presents for about five minutes, then a commenter speaks for about ten minutes, and then it’s just open. And the point of the discussion is not to grill the author, but to say ‘What about this?’ and ‘Have you thought about that?’ There’s a lot of genuinely helpful discussion.”

Purdy, who has tracked the evolution of the legal and political discourse regarding the environment in much of his previous scholarship and teaching, appreciates the “unconventional perspectives” participants bring to climate change scholarship.

“We’re bringing together a mix of established and junior scholars who work broadly in the environmental law field,” he says. “Climate change is an engaging and inchoate issue. We’re running off in all different directions, but there is the sense that there is urgency and rapid change.

“We’ve always tried to bring people we call wild cards — people who are interested in the issue, but who aren’t straight-down-the-line environmental law people. The idea is that there may be ways of looking at climate change other than just assuming the problem and looking for a policy to address it.”

Salzman said that, at this year’s conference, he presented a paper, also authored with Ruhl, called “Climate Change Adaptation and the Law of the Horse.”

“Basically it’s asking ‘Is the emperor wearing clothes?’ Is there really something there, or is a lot of scholarship the same old scholarship with the words ‘climate change’ added? That generated a full and frank exchange of views,” he says, laughing. “But it was good — when you get really smart people around the table who are focused on making the article in discussion a good article, that’s a hard combination to beat. That’s kind of what academics should be about.”