Report back from Princeton University, “Witnessing Professionals and Climate Change” Workshop, May 12, 2018

by Grace Nichols

We, at Save the Pine Bush, are very concerned about Climate Change because we are Earthlings, and because we have friends amongst many species under threat; we have been having speakers address climate issues for the last few years.

Other institutions are doing likewise. On May 12, I travelled to the land of oil refineries, New Jersey, to listen to a “Witnessing Professionals and Climate Change Workshop.” I feel I am a Witnessing Professional, as I am dealing with disability claims from claimants in Puerto Rico, claimants in Scoharie and claimants in Far Rockaway; Climate effects are here.

There were so many speakers who were distinguished, informed, well-spoken, brilliant and fairly local like Naomi Oreskes, of Harvard University who wrote Merchants of Doubt. Dr Mark Mitchell of the National Medical Association Commission on Environmental Health and Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice. And Katrina Kuh, JD, of Pace University who has defended scientists who have been attacked for their climate science. I hope that the NY Writer’s Institute, WAMC and others can come together to bring these exceptional speakers here.

Of course, the info was alarming. The term “conceivable hope,” but not “plausible hope” was bandied about.

The most impressive speaker, and one I doubt will be able to come to Albany, was Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin, of the National High Court of Brazil and World Commission on Environmental Law. His speech was the most humble, and it went something like this:

“I have been thinking about the title of this seminar. Am I a witnessing professional? In the case of climate change, Brazilian Law (much like British or American Law) requires that the parties discuss an injury to the plaintiff alone and that the judge to be impartial. However, with respect to climate crimes,

“I myself am perpetrator, victim and judge. And the injury is universal.

“I thought about it alot. Do I witness Climate Change? And I decided that I do. I witness truth, for that is my job, I’m a judge. I also witness half-truth and complete untruth, as is permitted by our law. In India, for example, a judge can open the newspaper in court, notice a situation, and order an investigation. In Brazilian law, we are unable to refer to ordinary reality in the courtroom.

“So I feel that I do witness climate change. I also feel I have the role of an educator.”

The Professor who brought him, Dr. Samuel Issacharoff of NYU, almost choked. He said (more or less) “Justice Benjamin is being very modest here. He is known for prohibiting logging in the Amazon, saving hectares of rainforest in decision after decision, and so many other brave and effective actions. I have nothing more to say. Let’s start the discussion.”

May we all witness and call out truth and its absence.




Published in June-July 2018 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter