As I approach the final week of my time here at Lewis and Clark College, it is about time I take a look back on the work that I have done towards my capstone. What have I learned? What insights did I gather? And how can I take what I did gather with me beyond academia?
To begin, my capstone has always revolved around the notion of environmental law and policy. This, as I have mentioned in previous postings, is what interests me outside of the science that is usually involved in environmental science. I have learned a great deal about certain specifics in international, national and city scale policy making, as well as how they are conducted after being implemented. The specific type of policy that I have grown my wealth of knowledge around is that of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ law. It is what I built my capstone around and first discovered back in freshman year.
‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ law are typically seen as opposites of one another. The most simplistic explanation I can give is that ‘hard’ laws are policies that are legally binding. This means that they can be upheld in court and to which there are legal ramifications if one side fails to follow the rules. ‘Soft,’ as I mentioned, is the opposite. They typically are ‘agreements,’ ‘treaties,’ or something along the lines that has no legal consequences. Some well known examples that might not be known as ‘soft’ laws, are many of the international treaties. The Paris Accords are one. They are just agreements that countries made with one another to reduce carbon emissions, but it is nothing more than that. Countries could put sanctions on one another as a type of consequence, yet countries can decide if they want to do that as well.
These two policies of lawmaking and governing are what has pushed me because I feel like ‘soft’ law isn’t what is needed in the world right now. Especially because of the current global concern of climate change needing fast and strict action to curb the effects. Yet, both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ law have benefits and detriments and as I have learned through my capstone, it is very scale dependent. Smaller scales are able to succeed with ‘harder’ laws because of the smaller communities it usually works in. The smaller the community, the more like minded individuals there are. At the larger scale, ‘soft’ law typically is the current structure of law making. This is because of the large diverse ranges of opinions and cultures that make it harder to implement stringent policies.
I believe that I have been able to learn a great deal about a specific type of policy structure and now I am ready to take this baseline that I have and apply it to other policy settings.