Professors John Knox and Richard Schneider present at ‘The Human Face of Environmental Inequality’ symposium


The work of Professor John Knox, an internationally recognized expert in environmental law, was an inspiration of the symposium titled “The Human Face of Environmental Inequality.” The symposium was held in Benson Center on Thursday and Friday, March 26 – 27 at Wake Forest University. The symposium was jointly sponsored by the Wake Forest University Humanities Institute, the University’s Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, and the Human Rights and Global Justice research group, an affiliate of the Humanities Institute.

The keynote of the symposium was given by Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, former President of Ireland and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Robinson spoke as part of the University’s Voices of Our Time speaker series as well as in conjunction with the symposium. Established in 2006 by Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch, Voices of Our Time brings to campus the world’s thought leaders—including scholars, scientists, writers, business and public policy leaders, activists and religious leaders—for discussions on the important national and international issues of our time. Robinson’s speech was in Wait Chapel on Thursday, March 26 at 6 p.m.

Provost Rogan Kersh opened the symposium and introduced Wake Forest Law Professor John Knox, announcing his new role as special rapporteur on human rights and the environment to the United Nations. Previously, Knox was the first U.N. appointed Independent Expert on human rights and the environment.

Knox’s recent scholarship has aimed to clarify human rights obligations relating to the environment and to identify and disseminate best practices in the use of such obligations.”I would say that we have to have a healthy environment in order to fully enjoy our human rights, and we have to be able to exercise our human rights in order to enjoy that healthy environment. If there’s one thing I’m asking you to take away from my talk, that’s what I’d ask you to take away,” said Knox during his opening speech prior to the panel he moderated.

He went on to discuss his work involving international human rights over the course of his career, including his thoughts on the human right to a healthy environment. He called this “the greening of human rights law.” A healthy environment, he argued, is crucial to enable the exercise of other human rights.

Knox moderated a roundtable on Climate Change and Environmental Inequality including these panel speakers: Sumudu Atapattu, Associate Director of the Global Legal Studies Center and Senior Lecturer, University of Wisconsin Law School; Michael Gerrard, Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia University Law School; Bron Taylor, Professor of Religion and Nature, University of Florida. Knox said of the symposium, “This conference will examine some of the many ways that human rights and environmental protection intersect, from efforts to find climate justice, to protection for indigenous communities, to the effects of environmental harm here in North Carolina.”

Richard Schneider, Wake Forest Law Associate Dean for International Affairs, moderated a panel on environmental issues specifically in North Carolina and community engagement. Panelists included: Amy Adams, North Carolina Campaign Coordinator, Appalachian Voices; Molly Diggins, State Director, North Carolina Sierra Club; Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center; Will Scott, Yadkin Riverkeeper.

“My panel on community engagement in North Carolina asked the students, in particular, to think creatively about their own involvement in the environmental issues, including climate change, that shape our time. The panelists, each involved full-time in North Carolina issues, couldn’t have been better or more motivating,” said Schneider. “The conference provided a great opportunity to listen to outstanding thinkers who challenged us to think about climate change from many different perspectives.  We often return to the same arguments and proposals, but the conference injected excitement about the many pathways to grapple with this problem.”

Andrew C. Revkin, writer, senior fellow for environmental understanding and applied environmental studies at Pace University and author of The New York Times Dot Earth blog, delivered the closing keynote address, “#IamChicoMendes – How the Global Communication Revolution Can Protect Resources and Rights.”

Wake Forest Law student, Nick Griffin (’16) attended and said of the symposium, “The symposium was a valuable experience. Its composition of both high profile academics and professionals, operating in global and local spheres of environmental law, policy and academia, provided insight as to how intersections between different aspects of environmentalism can be formed to address the inequalities resulting from global climate change.”

View the full schedule and speaker profiles from The Humanities Institute at WFU.