Albert Monroe
Albert Monroe ()

Law professor Albert Monroe believes the number one problem facing the world going forward is climate change.

From his perspective, the problems associated with global warming and other changes aren’t just meant to keep scientists busy. As a lawyer, Monroe said, he can make use of his expertise to make a difference too.

“I do feel a responsibility to use whatever skills I have to make the world a better place,” he said. “What’s going on is pretty serious.”

Take Miami, Fla., which he says will eventually be under water. Elsewhere, severe droughts will make it impossible for farmers to grow certain crops they used to grow.

Many species of animals will become extinct, falling victim to widespread droughts and famines, as average temperatures reach a good eight or nine degrees warmer by the century’s end.

“We really want to avoid a collapse of the world climate system,” said Monroe. “To me, I think this is the biggest problem humanity faces. We can beat this. We can save our climate system. It’s going to be more difficult but something we all have to do because if we don’t, the destruction will be immense.”

Monroe’s activism with regard to climate change will be on full display at Quinnipiac University School of Law next semester where he will be teaching Climate Change Law and Policy. Monroe was recently hired by the university’s law school as a visiting assistant professor.

Monroe earned a law degree from Yale University, a doctorate in economics at Harvard University and bachelor’s degrees in economics and chemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“I know a lot about science but the issues have gotten increasingly more difficult,” Monroe said. “The regulations are almost incomprehensibly complicated.”

As such, Monroe said climate change is not an issue for just scientists. There is plenty for a lawyer to do as well. Further, he said climate change issues touch upon international law too.

Other areas of interest can be found in the Clean Air Act and Endangered Species Act. His students next semester will get to know both well, Monroe said in an interview late last semester while taking a break from grading final exams. He also teaches Law and Economics and Property Law.

“There’s a huge interaction between climate change and the law,” said Monroe. He noted that it can vary from local laws regarding carbon monoxide to annual international meetings held by the United Nations.

Climate change issues are not just complicated policies and regulations hashed out by governments and politicians, he added, noting that climate change has made its way into the courtroom.

The case of Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007. The justices decided 5-4 that greenhouse gases are air pollutants and the EPA may regulate their emissions. Twelve states had brought suit against the EPA to force the federal agency to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants.

Then in 2011, American Electric Power Company v. Connecticut ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court as well. In an 8-0 decision, the justices held that corporations cannot be sued for greenhouse gas emissions under federal common law primarily because the Clean Air Act delegates the management of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to the EPA.

Also, in 2012, a federal appeals court ruled against an Alaskan village of Kivalina, which sued energy companies over claims that greenhouse emissions contributed to global warming.

“It’s exciting in that there is a lot of stuff to talk about,” said Monroe who is putting together a syllabus for the climate change course next semester.

He said students will research and write an extensive paper about a particular aspect of climate change and the law. “It’s a seminar so I don’t expect the students to remember everything I’ve given them,” Monroe said.

Monroe is also doing his own research to write scholarly articles regarding climate change and air pollution. Among the areas he is focusing on is how regulations could be used to reduce smog and how regulations could ensure safer power plants.

“Smog kills 20,000 Americans every year, according to a recent study,” Monroe said. “My papers are really trying to figure out how courts are interpreting the laws that are already on the books.”

While interpreting complex laws may seem dry, the constant weather events and scientific studies keep the issues fresh. For instance, he said China and India have overtaken the United States as the biggest polluters.

“If we don’t stop emitting these greenhouse gases, 30 percent to 50 percent of all species will go extinct,” said Monroe. “These animals, plants were evolved for a specific climate that stayed relatively steady over a long period of time. That climate is now changing rapidly from that pollution.”

The greenhouse gases are also affecting our weather, he said.

“While what’s normal variation and climate change is unclear, it’s made extreme weather more likely, heat waves more likely, huge storms more likely,” said Monroe. “Seeing both [hurricanes] Katrina and Sandy on a map, I don’t ever remember hurricanes ever being quite that physically large. If climate change is making hurricanes larger, that’s deeply concerning. It increases flooding and storm surges.”

As scientists have become more certain about climate change, Monroe said he doesn’t expect much in the way of push back from students who feel climate change is a myth. However, he has seen resistance first hand while recently living in San Diego and teaching at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

He said farmers and ranchers out west have been told by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they will eventually have to grow different crops because of the warmer temperatures and lack of rain.

“And they deny [climate change's] existence, which is crazy,” he said. “It’s gotten so bad that San Diego started building plants where they take salt out of the water. That’s what you do when you really run out of water.”

A Charlotte, N.C. native, Monroe is hopeful that over time policymakers will turn to him for input into these issues. Say, for instance, that the Connecticut Legislature starts debating a measure to reduce air pollution. Monroe hopes they will seek his input.

In the meantime, he said, he’ll likely come to them when he feels it is necessary. He refers to himself as an “activist” on the issue.

My goal as a teacher and researcher is to help create the future,” said Monroe.

“The hope is policymakers come to you and say, ‘we should do this, what do we do?’ I want to help provide those answers. Let’s create a new energy system that’s sustainable, reliable and affordable,” he said.•