Participatory Learning in Climate Change Law, Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts about participatory learning activities for a Climate Change Law & Policy course. Several weeks into the semester, I teach a class on state and local efforts to address climate change, and I set up a debate. This post will describe how this class works.

The first half of the class consists of lecture and discussion about the relevant laws and policies being developed at the regional level (i.e. RGGI, WCI); state level (i.e. renewable portfolio standards, net metering, state climate action plans); and local level (i.e. US Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement). Then our attention turns to California, which is still the only state with a state-wide program that caps greenhouse gas emissions from major industries and includes enforceable penalties for non-compliance. We talk about the history of California’s leadership in air pollution law, the state’s vehicle emissions standards for greenhouse gases (AB1493), and, of course, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB32).

Then we have the debate:

Resolved: The Governor of California should suspend The Global Warming Solutions Act pursuant to the power given to him to do so by its Section 38599 [which allows the Governor to adjust the statutory deadlines because of “extraordinary circumstances, catastrophic events, or threat of significant economic harm.”]

Debate Format:
- Students who favor the debate resolution sit on one side of the classroom, and those who oppose it sit on the other.
- Two students on each side present initial arguments (I ask for volunteers). I also ask for a volunteer from each side to be a summary speaker. These students’ role is to take notes on the most compelling reasons presented by their side and to give a closing argument.
- Then I moderate the debate to get as many students as possible to speak, helping speakers refine their arguments, eliciting rebuttals, and trying to keep the discussion from meandering.
- The summary speakers give their closing arguments.

This works really well to get students arguing about whether AB32 is good for California (and the country and the world). Those favoring the resolution make a lot of arguments about the need to protect California jobs and cost of living, and the need the address climate change through national and international law rather than state law. Those against the resolution argue that the state will benefit by transitioning early to a low carbon economy; that California can can serve as a “policy laboratory” and spur federal action; and that states have primary jurisdiction over a lot of relevant policy areas like electricity generation, agriculture, and land use. Finally, if we have time, I end the class with a discussion about what has motivated all the regional, state and local action.