April 21, 2023

Thoughts on Earth Day 2023 from Earthrise Co-Founder Prof. Dan Rohlf

Earth Day 2023’s theme is “Invest in Our Planet.” At Earthrise, we are investing our time and energy in using legal tools to protect the environment and in training the next generation of environmental advocates. Here are some reflections from Professor Dan Rohlf, Earthrise Co-Founder, as we celebrate Earth Day this year. 


On Earth Day 2023, there’s plenty of sobering news about the environment. Climate disruptions, the extinction crisis, and even train derailments spewing toxic chemicals grab headlines daily. There’s no doubt that we’ve put the planet (and ourselves, of course) in a tight spot. But with my deepening experience in environmental issues – OK, that’s another way to admit I’m getting old – I increasingly try to take a longer view.

This year marks the 50-year anniversary of the both the Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The ESA galvanized concern in the American public about imperiled wildlife, and its requirements have integrated protections for species and habitat into the everyday decisions of government agencies and regulators. CITES today remains one of the most successful global agreements, helping to show that the international community can work together to solve environmental problems.

But it takes committed, passionate, and knowledgeable people to actually do that work. And that’s perhaps what most buoys my optimism for Earth’s future. On my last day of teaching classes this past week, I saw rows of such young people looking back at me. They will continue to use the ESA and CITES to protect and restore biodiversity. But they will also be the ones to implement the new United Nations treaty to protect biodiversity on the high seas, and help finalize the international agreement to reign in plastics pollution that nations have agreed to develop. And they’ll site renewable energy facilities, help solve water shortages, and work on behalf of communities seeking environmental justice.

Paraphrasing an earlier abolitionist sermon, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General under President Obama, astutely observed that “it only bends toward justice because people pull it towards justice. It doesn’t happen on its own.” Using legal tools both old and new, I’m confident that today’s younger generations will pull harder than ever before toward a healthier, lower carbon, and more just Earth.

Happy Earth Day from Earthrise Law Center!