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Keynote Address

Keynote Address

Marcos Orellana 

Thank you Stephanie for that kind welcome. It is a real honor and pleasure for me to be here today with all of you, breathing the fresh air of a cool morning in Vermont. I thought I should start this keynote presentation by suggesting that for a minute we look at ourselves from the perspective of how future generations will see us. I will submit to you there is a disconnect between how we see ourselves and how we will be seen (and judged) by future generations.

If we take a moment to look back and think about the practice of slavery and humans as property, or perhaps look at the dark ages and secret trials. We think about these as barbaric practices, but they did not happen that long of a time ago. When we see ourselves today, I think most of us will have an image of “well, we’re certainly somewhat sophisticated,” and as Dean Mihaly put it: “educated.” Many of us wear a tie to appear respectful. But how will we be seen in the future? What are the kinds of issues that we are accepting and practicing and causing in the world today?

We are witnesses to unprecedented levels of inequality, destitution, and environmental deterioration. Much has been said about climate change and the apocalyptic future it will bring about; for many that dire future is already present. Much has been written about the global public health crisis caused by exposure to chemicals and hazardous wastes, and about the fact that we as humanity are causing, as it is called, the sixth wave of biodiversity loss involving an unprecedented loss of species. For many of these species there is no tomorrow, there is no later, there is no coming back. So we as humanity are responsible for that extinction. How will that fact be seen by future generations? Do we still look that respectable? Is there a disconnect there? 

The magnitude of the forces at play today is unprecedented, and so for that same reason, our response to those forces needs to be unprecedented. That is where human rights and the environment come into play: as new tools to address contemporary realities.

This morning I expect to lay out the general elements and boundaries of the human rights and environment field, so that the panels can delve deeper into specific issues. And so by way of roadmap, I will start laying out the evolution of human rights and the environment since its inception. That background will help determine what is the current state of play. Second, I will talk about lessons we have learned. Have we learned anything in the last four or five decades? Finally, I will address some of the challenging debates over the global recognition of the right to a healthy environment and conclude.

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