For our very first Round Table, we sat down to chat with three of our legal interns and get their opinions on the environmental issues of the day. Justin Shlensky is a Chicago native and his classmates at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, Linya Chen and Wenqi Zhao both hail from Beijing. The three of them interned at the Alliance the first week of January. Wenqi and Linya are both focused on financial services law while Justin’s interests lie in environmental and public interest law.
1. What do you think are the most pressing environmental concerns facing your generation? What worries you the most?
Justin: I think that for our generation and upcoming generations, we’ve realized that fossil fuels are depleting and have been depleting because of our culture of mass consumption. We’ve been selfish in what we use. I think that vehicular energy and renewable energy for vehicles is something that we haven’t made nearly enough strides in. The first hybrid car came out when I was in the eighth grade but there’s still so much more to do. The other pressing issue is how we help people in lower socio economic brackets access environmentally friendly technologies.
Linya: In Beijing there are a lot of cars and it’s very foggy. People hardly even catch glimpses of the sun because there is so much fog due to the air pollution. For the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government put in place a short term policy where cars whose license plates end in odd numbers could only drive into the city on certain days, and cars with license plates ending in even numbers could only drive in on alternate days. But the solutions need to be longer term and the government has to be more committed to giving people fresh air and a better environment.
Wenqi: I think nuclear energy is a big issue. After what happened in Japan and North Korea, we need to seriously look at the environmental impacts of nuclear energy. Noise pollution is another concern. I’ve lived in big cities – Beijing, Chicago – and it’s almost impossible to find quiet spaces because there are so many cars and buildings.
2. How would you rate the performance of your leaders – domestic and international – particularly in terms of energy policy?
Justin: I think it’s difficult to rate per se but I do think that in our current political climate, certainly in the U.S., environmental issues have taken a backseat compared to other social and civil rights issues. I would hope that future administrations advocate for a stronger environmental policy and realize that they can’t just do away with organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). I think we have semi decent water protection legislation but it should be stronger than it is.
Linya: I think there’s a lack of cooperation between countries. This is our earth; it doesn’t belong to any one country. We should be able to combine our strengths to find solutions to the problems that affect all of us.
Wenqi: I think there needs to be more proactive policy across the board. At the moment, a lot of policy is determined in reaction to bad things happening. But it should be the other way around – policy should work to prevent environmental disasters, not just respond to them.
3. There are some people who say that conservationism is elitist; that countries or individuals fighting poverty can’t afford to put environmental concerns first. Do you agree or disagree and why?
Justin: I don’t think you have to be an elitist or a conservationist to understand that these are worldwide issues that impact every community. If developing countries had proactive energy policies, if they were able to develop drainage and have safe drinking water and proper heating and cooling systems, they might be able to avoid future problems. Of course there are always going to be practical considerations and maybe that’s where public officials and communities need to step up so that the burden doesn’t fall completely on the individuals.
Linya: I think that developing countries should learn from the experiences of developed countries. The government needs to invest more in spreading knowledge and communicating to people in order to raise awareness. It should be easier for developing countries to do this now since they have models to draw on.
Wenqi: While I do think that better economic situations give people room to think about environmental problems, I also think that if people who are struggling with poverty or living in developing countries were educated and made aware of the bigger picture it would make a difference. There are a lot of little things that can be done to protect the environment and that aren’t expensive.
4. What will you take away from your time in New Orleans and with the Alliance?
Justin: The time and effort that it actually takes to go trough a docket was surprising to me. The fact that the Alliance is trying to aid New Orleans in attaining environmentally conscious policy for the next ten to twenty years is very admirable. I’d like to see more states adopt this approach and hopefully the Alliance can be a catalyst for that.
Linya: I learned a lot. I think New Orleans will be a good example to other states who can benefit from their experience with Katrina. I’ve also enjoyed learning more about energy efficiency and the Alliance’s work.
Wenqi: We visited the lower 9th ward and saw the new houses and the ways that people are tackling their problems. I think that New Orleans will be an inspiration to other states and expertise will develop here that will help others. Although Katrina was a disaster, I think that benefits are being drawn from the experience.