During my nearly 20 year legal career, I have worked on all sides of environmental issues - representing community groups, the government and even corporations. My new novel, Complicit, synthesizes much of what I have learned so far - the good, the bad and the just plain infuriating.
The book explores the life of an idealistic, young lawyer named Sawyer Guthrie who struggles to cope with his job representing an oil company against a low-income community in Los Angeles - where the lines between villain and hero are blurred by a legal system that often favors the status quo and the well-heeled.
So why did I write it? Here are just a few reasons:
Existing environmental laws are insufficient to protect people and other living things.
We've got a lot of environmental laws in this country - more than in most places - but there are a lot of loopholes and ways to escape accountability. Meanwhile, too many people are deprived of environmental justice and too much harm is being done to the planet. Yes, progress is made every day by environmental groups and many others. But it would be a lot easier - and quicker - if our laws were stronger and if they were consistently enforced.
Access to environmental justice is inadequate.
The U.S. legal system favors the powerful and the wealthy. You often need a lawyer just to get access to justice, and, even then, getting a remedy can be very expensive and difficult to achieve.
Since when are lawyers victims?
I have met far too many lawyers who are unhappy with their choice of careers but feel powerless to do anything about it. Sure, you might have a lot of law school debt, but that shouldn't come as a surprise. You made a choice to go to law school, and you did so for a reason. And the fact remains: you now have a law degree. You've got skills. Use those skills to help the real victims - whomever you might view them to be.
Not every lawsuit has a happy ending.
This observation is probably obvious to most people, but the truth about how this plays out in real life can be quite complex. Environmental harm regularly occurs all across this country, but whether the law provides relief in any given situation is an entirely different matter.
The law is indifferent.
Or at least it's supposed to be. Some laws allow for a balancing of equities (particularly when dealing with remedies), but, by and large, environmental law is fairly rigid. If the law doesn't provide relief in your given circumstances - no matter how sympathetic those circumstances might seem - you're out of luck.
The law is complicated, and being smart doesn't necessarily make you right.
Lawyers are considered smart by many definitions of that word, but for every lawsuit that doesn't settle out of court, one of the lawyers involved is going to lose. That's often a tough pill to swallow for both the lawyer and the client - and is one big reason why most cases settle before trial. Luck sometimes comes into play, but being successful takes intelligence, good judgment and a lot of hard work - all things the other side likely knows as well.
Many obstacles stand in the way of environmental protection. But no matter how daunting things might seem at times, it is important to remember that solutions do exist. There are better ways to live, and there are better technologies we can deploy, particularly when it comes to our energy choices.
I had something I needed to say.
"Like what?" you might ask. Well, that's something I can't capture in a pithy, little blog. It took me many years to write Complicit, and, believe me, if I could have said it any differently or more expeditiously, I would have. It sure would have saved me a lot of time and effort.
(This book is not a publication of the Natural Resources Defense Council).