William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board reported
unprecedented degradation of ecosystems and the services they provide
to human well-being which, if allowed to continue, would adversely affect
human health, security, and welfare. Our environmental legal authorities,
however, are not designed to protect the health of our nation’s ecosystems,
focusing instead on clean air, clean land, and clean water as a
single medium, often referred to as the silo approach to environmental
protection. Protecting ecosystems requires a systemic approach to the
environment in both policy and law; this in turn requires a change in our
approach to environmental protection. How do we motivate such a change
in our legal constructs and political systems? This is a question posed by
a number of communities and states struggling with the concept of ecosystem
protection. This article postulates that the strategic use of litigation
by environmental social movements can destabilize established legal
constructs to protect ecosystems. Using the case study of Mono Lake, I
examine the role law played in the struggle to change the political and
social systems necessary to protect the Mono Lake Ecosystem—that is,
how and if law mattered to the protection of the Mono Lake Ecosystem.
I further hypothesize how other social movements might use law to
protect ecosystems.