Opinion: Green Light


Our Neighbor, the Environmental Lawyer

By Tom Osborne

Some years ago I met our then new neighbor, Ramin Pejan, and learned that he is a senior attorney working in the International Program of Earthjustice, a nonprofit public environmental law organization. Pejan, his wife Lili, and their two young children are often tending their raised-bed of organically grown vegetables at the Community Garden Park in south Laguna.

He and his family love hiking Laguna’s extensive trail system. They especially enjoy the Valido Trail up to Aliso Peak and the Moulton Meadows paths. He credits the earlier visionaries for “protecting the canyons around Laguna Beach” and laying out the city’s trails.

Unless you ask him, you are not likely to know that he has done high profile environmental legal work in many countries, and particularly South Africa, mostly to “avert the climate crisis.” He helps lawyers in other countries stop fossil-fuel developments and speed up the transition to renewable energy. He also works on international human rights cases. For example, Pejan is part of a team of lawyers representing 15 youths from throughout the world, including Greta Thunberg, who have brought a legal complaint to the United Nations against several countries for their failure to address climate change.

“The youth I talk to are truly petrified about climate change,” he says. These young people have lost faith in global leaders and corporations for their utter failure to step up and ensure a livable future for youths. “Some of the youths I represent are from small-island states, and for them climate change means that they will have to relocate from their ancestral homes.”

For all of Pejan’s high-level international legal work, he and his wife are convinced that local environmental action is critically important.

Says Pejan, “cities are on the front lines of protecting us from the effects of climate change, like sea level rise, but also can lead by example” by raising awareness and pressuring state and national governments to do more. He praises Laguna’s Climate Protection Action Plan as “a really great document” and at the same time thinks our city can do more in raising public awareness and adapting to sea-level rise, adding “our beaches are really going to start disappearing and infrastructure and homes closer to the water will be at peril.”  One of the solutions he advocates is renewable energy, and he and his team have worked with cities in South Africa and Mexico to “deploy solar [panels] on government owned buildings and facilities.” My reaction to hearing this from Pejan is what are we waiting for in Laguna Beach?

Both Pejan and his wife are keenly interested and involved in local decision-making on environmental issues. For example, they have written letters to City Council supportive of the Community Garden Park and he has testified persuasively in support of Council endorsement of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, which would put a price on carbon emissions and return the revenue to taxpayers.

While he sees climate change as the greatest peril for our city and the wider world, Pejan is concerned about a range of related environmental issues as well. Air pollution, habitat destruction, and “overuse of our water supplies,” all of which he tethers to climate change, are very much on his radar. Also, he would like to see municipal composting of our food waste.  “Restaurants in the city can request this service, but not residents.”

Surely our Environmental and Sustainability Committee could be looking into such matters as the installation of solar rooftop panels on government buildings and cleaner electricity options.  On the advice of “my neighbor, the environmental lawyer,” I urge this.

Tom is an environmental historian and co-founder of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby local chapter. Email: [email protected]

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