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The Environment and “Environmental” Science

The phrase “Environmental Law” entered the legal lexicon on June 6, 1966 in the Suffolk County Supreme Court at Riverhead New York when Judge D. Ormande Ritchie asked a young attorney, Victor Yannacone, “Just what area of law should your adversary look up your novel cause of action?” The attorney replied, “Try environmental law.” Judge Ritchie declared a short recess and the County Attorney went off to the Courthouse Library.

Yannacone was representing his wife who was trying to stop the continued use of the broad spectrum, persistent, chlorinated hydrocarbon biocide DDT for control of mosquitos which had become resistant to the pesticide years before, The next day the Long Island daily newspaper, Newsday ran a story on this novel “Environmental Law Case.” The New York Times picked up the story the next day and a new field of law had been created.

In the Spring of 1969 at Madison during the final days of the DDT trial, the attorney representing the Agrichemical Industry DDT Task Force demanded that Yannacone provide a definition of the “Environment” that his scientific experts were claiming DDT was damaging. The Judge agreed, and Yannacone shot back,

“The Environment is the General System (van Bertalanffy) comprised of the set, in the modern mathematical sense of that term, of all the elements of the Hydrosphere, Atmosphere, Lithosphere, Biosphere, Sociosphere, Econosphere (the Economy, whatever that may be), the Psychosphere (Robert Cancro) and the noosphere (Teilhard de Chardin); together with all the static associations among them at any particular time and all the dynamic relations among them throughout their time of existence as such elements. For discussion purposes in general and litigation in particular, the “Environment” can only be considered adequately as a constantly evolving and expanding hyperbolic database.”

This rather complex definition was meant to allow verifiable data from a variety of disparate sources to be considered in the context of a complex multidisciplinary problem and discussion so that any scientist could contribute to the ultimate understanding solution without regard to their academic discipline.

The definition provides a framework for discussion which is both comprehensive and precise and also permits any concerned person, as well as scientists, legislators, government officials and business executives throughout the world to consider their actions in the context of the complex General System which we now call, “The Environment.”