According to Harvard Law School lecturer Jonathan Lovvorn, saving the planet and its inhabitants from climate catastrophe begins with the world’s most vulnerable population: animals.
“We have populations everywhere around the world in environmental distress, in economic distress, in political distress,” said Lovvorn, who is senior vice president and chief counsel for the Humane Society of the United States’ division of animal protection litigation. “In those countries, especially in terms of climate change, what we see regarding the exploitation and destruction of wildlife is deeply intertwined with the exploitation or destruction of people, communities, and cultures. We can learn a lot about our own social and legal problems by studying our legal problems with wildlife.”
In a conversation on the Harvard Law campus, Lovvorn also discussed how the School has been leading the charge on animal law in recent years, backed by gifts in 2014 and 2016 from donors concerned about legal safeguards for pets, farm animals, livestock, and wildlife. The gifts have supported a robust Animal Law & Policy Program, led by Professor Kristen Stilt and Executive Director Chris Green. The initiative sponsors discussions and forums, academic and policy fellowships, visiting faculty positions, and an expanding curriculum.
“What we are trying to do with the program is multifold,” said Stilt, an expert in Islamic law and society who is writing a book on animal welfare and the halal industry. “We want to encourage and facilitate excellent academic writing and research in animal law, we want to train young lawyers passionate about the topic, and we want to engage with the broader community about these issues. We believe that ideas matter, and that ideas can spark change.”
For the second time in three years, Lovvorn is teaching a fall class on wildlife law, hoping to inspire a new generation of lawyers devoted to issues that extend beyond the animal kingdom.
“The key to wildlife law or other collective issues like climate change is to figure out where you can make a difference, and to talk about how we might change institutions to make them more effective,” he said. “Because if this generation of lawyers and advocates and policy makers doesn’t change the law, we are going to lose a lot more than animals.”