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Abstract

Institutional arrangements to protect the environment, manage natural resources, or regulate other aspects of society and the environment are not merely matters of optimal institutional design or choice. These arrangements result, at least in substantial part, from the evolution of interconnected social, legal, and ecological systems that are complex, dynamic, and adaptive. This Article makes the case that environmental law is evolving to become more integrationist and multimodal: using multiple modes and methods of environmental protection, often across multiple scales, but in integrated ways. Integrated multimodality is a feature of much of social life. Building on generational analyses of environmental law and exploring complex problems at the intersection of climate change, land use, and water, this article contends that environmental law is undergoing pressure to adapt, because unimodal (“one-size-fits-all”) and fragmented approaches to environmental problems are proving inadequate. On one hand, a variety of psychological, socio-structural, political, economic, and normative forces converge to produce unimodal fragmentation. On the other hand, several phenomena—“wet growth” policies that integrate water quality and conservation into land use planning and regulation; watershed planning and management; and local climate change action plans—reflect the evolution of integrationist multimodality. These examples illustrate four nodes of connectivity by which multiple modes are integrated and also suggest that integrationist and multimodal developments are occurring and will occur at the edges of environmental law. However, integrationist multimodality may not necessarily produce better environmental protection and therefore must be studied as an emerging phenomenon that can help us to better understand the functions and limits of environmental law.

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