Legal Values: Law in the Time of Catastrophe

Quick Info
(3592Z.03)  Seminar
Professor S. Bandopadhyay
3 credit(s)  2 hour(s);
Seminar-style discussions; close-reading of texts
Upper Year Research & Writing Requirement

COVID-19 is the first truly global pandemic of the 21st century. Governments, climate scientists, epidemiologists, and public health researchers have warned that the viral outbreak will affect the world in myriad unforeseen ways and similar outbreaks are likely to recur. All the while that we are overwhelmed by this historical malady, we must not forget the increasing frequency and intensity with which Canada and countries around the world have been struck by forest fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, food scarcity, and historic refugee flows out of conflict and disaster-ridden landscapes. These events are likely to worsen in the coming decades.

Climate change and disasters as umbrella categories are fundamentally problems of governance. But environmental law courses traditionally struggle to make room for them. This course aims to introduce upper year law students to the relationship between law and a range of future-facing global environmental crises that are often overlooked in law school curricula. The readings are designed to: (i) bring law students up to date on social science and humanities research surrounding disasters; and (ii) critically examine a variety of international legal regimes that currently attend to specific kinds of disasters such as pandemics and food scarcity.

As possible, we will pause to examine how these issues are being addressed within Canada, both in terms of the Canadian constitutional framework as well as the concerns of indigenous communities. Like any survey, this course is designed to introduce students to a wide swathe of knowledge about a new subject. As such, there are limits to how deeply we can explore the subject-matter for each week. However, students are encouraged to choose research projects that will allow them to study any of the areas explored in the course, or other related areas, in greater depth.

The seminar will prepare students to serve as law and policy experts on significant national and international environmental concerns that are going to be in high demand in the years to come. By the end of the course, students will be able to:

·understand the socio-scientific, political, and historical context of climate change and other ‘catastrophes’ broadly stated;
·apply these insights and techniques to evaluate the quality and impact of international (and domestic) legal regimes;
·critically analyze the content of official statements, news reports, and popular narratives about disasters and emergency regulation

Sample list of topics (subject to change)
·        Climate, climate change, and disasters (as global, legal and non-legal contexts)
·        Famine and food security
·        Pandemics and global public health
·        Armed conflict and environmental Degradation
·        Small islands and sea level rise
·        Climate refugees and internally displaced persons