Copyright (c) 1997 Lewis & Clark Law School
SYMPOSIUM ON POPULATION LAW: SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION AND THE LAW
27 Envtl. L. 1243
By James Salzman *
Until recently, environmental laws have focused on the reduction of pollution and waste. These laws have largely ignored the ultimate cause of that pollution and waste - the unsustainable consumption of goods and resources. However, at the 1992 Earth Summit the international community acknowledged the necessity of achieving levels of sustainable consumption in order to stop the continuing degradation of the global environment. This Article explores the limited role that sustainable consumption has played in environmental law to date. The Article then turns to the potential expansion of this role through the adoption of legal initiatives requiring producers of goods to take responsibility for the environmental impacts of the product throughout its entire lifecycle.
Over a quarter century has passed since the Clean Air Act of 1970 1 ushered in the era of modern environmental law, establishing for the first time tough, nationally uniform command-and-control requirements. 2 From today's vantage point, the major environmental statutes passed in the 1970s such as the Clean Water Act 3 and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act 4 have been largely successful. Overall, the air is purer, the water is cleaner. 5 Despite this progress, however, public opinion polls consistently show a general perception that the threats facing the environment are more serious today than in 1970. 6 The question is why? Where have our environmental laws fallen short?
Clearly, one problem is the inadequacy of domestic laws in the face of international environmental threats. The local identification of our ...
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