The Honorable Bruce Babbit @ UC Hastings: A New Vision for a Lasting Environmental Legacy
“You’ve practically grown up at UC Hastings”, my mother said to me as we drove away
from the prestigious law university. In a way, she was right. In fact, I first stepped foot on UC Hastings campus back in the 80’s, when my oh so ambitious mother began seeking her law degree. As she has since returned as General Counsel for Hastings all these years later, I find myself still walking on the campus on a regular basis. Last week, I
headed over to Hastings, not just for a visit, but for an environmental lecture.
The Gordon Mathis Riley Memorial Lecture Series in Environmental Law held its first-ever
speaker event last Wednesday to a full house. Gordon would have been proud. A UC Hastings law student who tragically lost his life in 2012, Gordon was an environmentalist at heart. To honor him the Riley family established a lecture series as – “a fitting tribute to the life and interests of our son and brother Gordon Mathis Riley and as a legacy for his classmates at UC Hastings” – a beautiful sentiment and inspiration to those fighting for the health of our environment.
The inaugural speaker did not disappoint. The Honorable Bruce Babbit, (former Secretary of the Interior, Governor of Arizona, and former Attorney General of Arizona) grabbed my attention when he made comparisons between the environmental movement, the civil rights era, and specifically to Dr. Martin Luther King. As I looked around at the faces in the room; I realized what a pivotal moment (and conversation!) this was for OUR time. Environmental law students, faculty members, and life-long environmental champions, were all gathered together to listen, inspire, and take hold of the torch. The environmental movement torch that is.
“People are driven by values”, exclaimed Mr. Babbit. As environmental advocates and
attorneys we are fortunate to have the science and hopefully the law, to back us up. We have relied on these two fields for decades to make our case for why circumstances and behaviors negatively affecting our environment need to be altered. We’ve asked you – the public – to get behind us. To sign petitions, to act, to vote. To make decisions in life based on the information we give you. Most of you have risen to the occasion. NRDC has over 1.4 hopefully life-long members and activists. One question we at NRDC, especially those of us involved with the Youth Task Force (YTF) are always asking is, “Now how do we get the rest?” How do we let the public know that the work we are doing is for all of us, the people; not just the cute and fuzzy endangered. Because if we did they would surely follow. How do we employ the most important tool – our hearts – to convey and to get things done in Washington and Sacramento that will improve our lives and our planet?
So when Bruce Babbit began talking about the important role of civil disobedience, morals, and values to a bunch of aspiring enviro lawyers I thought YES! When he spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail – a call in the name of peace and brotherhood – for all allies to stage sit-in and protest, and for other religious leaders to violate the demonstration injunction placed on them I too saw the connection. Some things are just too important to speak about them quietly. Science, law, and facts are necessary; but our values, sometimes anger, dedication, and genuine love of this earth and its people is how we will inspire and truly evoke change as the environmental movement enters its 5th decade. So let’s get a little rowdy.
I respect and appreciate Mr. Babbit for his candor and his fearlessness in sharing his strong belief system. The Riley family stood proud that day. And once again this little girl, all grown up, left Hastings feeling determined and inspired.
Pictured above top right: UC Hastings John Leshy, Bruce Babbit, Ed Norton, and NRDC's Johanna Wald.