Update: With the school moving to online classes due to the coronavirus, the Communities and Climate Change conference has been canceled.

A new program housed at the University of Virginia School of Law will work to examine, and hopefully help solve, community-level environmental dilemmas — all in one PLACE.

The Program in Law, Communities and the Environment will subsume the Law School’s Program in Environmental and Land Use Law, while continuing the courses and activities of that program. In addition, PLACE will provide resources targeted to teaching and interdisciplinary research on questions of environmental law and social justice as they relate to diverse communities and places across the globe. PLACE will serve as an invitation to peers to collaborate, offering resources to advance their teaching and scholarship. The program will be funded in part by the Henry L. & Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation.

PLACE will host its inaugural conference, “Communities and Climate Change,” on March 27 at the Law School. The event will include a public discussion among academics about localized climate change responses. Professor Sheila Foster of Georgetown University, who has advised New York City on its climate change plan, will be among those participating. (See full schedule below)

The event is illustrative of the program’s long-term goals.

Jonathan Cannon
Professor Jon Cannon leads the new program. He is former general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency. Photo by Julia Davis

“PLACE projects will focus on communities and the issues they face in a time of environmental and social change, including efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change, ensure environmental justice, and protect quality of life in localities, cities and regions,” said Professor Jonathan Z. Cannon, who leads the program. “Those issues will differ from issues posed at the national or international level but will connect in crucial ways to what’s happening at these larger scales.”

Cannon is allied in his efforts by other UVA law faculty working in the area.

Cannon joined the Law School faculty in 1998 from the Environmental Protection Agency, where he served as general counsel, among other roles. At UVA, he is the Blaine T. Phillips Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law and directs the school’s environmental law efforts.

He is also a noted environmental scholar and change agent. While at the EPA, he wrote the legal memo that would undergird a key U.S. Supreme Court decision affecting climate policy — Massachusetts v. EPA.

As weather events become more dramatic and ocean levels rise due to climate change, there will be chain reactions beyond just the immediate threats posed — ripples that will affect communities across the nation, Cannon said. In Miami’s Little Haiti, for example, sea level rise has fed claims of climate gentrification as wealthier residents fall back from the shoreline.

“Generally, the concern is poorer populations have less ability to adapt,” he said. “That’s true domestically and internationally.”

Climate change impact is just one example of the work that will be done by PLACE, which will examine multiple types of environmental issues in communities, Cannon said.  

The conference will also host a private forum with potential academic partners to gather their views on PLACE and how it connects with their work and future collaborations.


Communities and Climate Change

This conference is open to the public and will take place in Caplin Pavilion   

Noon-1 p.m.             

Lunch and Welcome

  • Remarks by Dean Risa Goluboff, Arnold H. Leon Professor of Law and Professor of History, University of Virginia School of Law           

1-2 p.m. 

Defending Your Place

  • Michael B. Gerrard, Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice; Director, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law; Columbia Law School       

2-3 p.m. 

Musical Performance: “Fragments from the Cold”

  • Introduction by composer Matthew Burtner, Professor of Composition and Computer Technologies, UVA Department of Music
  • Performance by Kevin Davis, EcoSono Ensemble             

3:15-5:15 p.m. 

The Global/Local Context

  • Ann E. Carlson, Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law, and Faculty Co-Director, Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA
  • Sheila Foster, Scott K. Ginsburg Professor of Urban Law and Policy, Professor of Public Policy, Georgetown University Law Center
  • Elke Weber, Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor, Department of Psychology, Princeton University
  • Moderator: Michael A. Livermore, Edward F. Howrey Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law

5:15-5:30 p.m.  

Closing Remarks

  • Jonathan Z. Cannon, Blaine T. Phillips Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law; Director, PLACE; Director, Environmental Law; University of Virginia School of Law

5:30-6:30 p.m.


Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.