<strong>Jedediah Purdy</strong> image

Jedediah Purdy is a professor of law at Duke University who has written several popular books on issues at the intersection of law and social and political thought. These include After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene (Harvard University Press, 2015) and A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom (2009).

Featured Writings and Talks

Environmentalism’s Racist History The New YorkerWhat I Had Lost Was a Country Environment Forum at Harvard University’s Mahindra CenterEnvironmentalism Was Once a Social-Justice Movement The AtlanticAfter Nature Duke ForwardA Communion of Subjects: Law, Environment, and Religion - Interview with Jedediah Purdy Yale University

Jedediah Purdy on...

The scale of the climate change problem:

“It’s a commons tragedy. I think it is the largest and most general that we've ever faced. It threatens to be the commons tragedy that ate the world, really."

Why the problem continues:

"Each generation can in a narrow, rational sense act in its own interest, while putting the cost of dealing with the consequences of what it's done on those who come after. So in that sense, the people making the decisions are always the ones who can least be counted on to do the right thing."

Species extinction:

"We're just beginning to understand it as it disappears. And it's not just a whole 'nother world, it's dozens of hundreds of worlds that are coexisting here in our world."

Environmental ethics:

"Our land use policy, our agriculture policy, our energy policy, they all have aesthetic and even moral dimensions. They shape the landscape and they shape the terms of experience where people will learn to relate to and value the landscape."

The consequences of our environmental actions:

We don't need whale oil anymore, but many of the whales are still substantially gone and depleted. ... So we don't just have preventative work to do, we have reparative work to do, as well."

The need for multidisciplinary action:

"Often in the tradition of law and philosophy, questions of justice among human beings and questions of environment have been thought of with separate vocabularies and separate silos. And I think in quite a deep way environmental questions can't be siloed going further."

The role of the individual:

"So many of the environmental problems we're talking about will not be solved by more virtuous personal and local action. Even if that action is a necessary prerequisite to the kinds of collective action that'll be required. And so our optimism is cruel and incomplete if it doesn't include saying that one of the things people need to do is see how hard the problem is, and what kinds of changes at the level of the architecture of economic rules and power we're working within have to happen."


"If we look at the people who were historically responsible for many of the kinds of progress that give us the greatest sense of historical possibility now, especially reform in social life and economic life, they didn't necessarily take heroic measures because they were optimistic. It was because they felt solidarity. It was because they were in it together with other people, and that gave them enough reason to act together toward the future."


Secretary David J. Skorton, M.D. image

Dr. David J. Skorton is the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian. Skorton, a board-certified cardiologist, previously was the president of Cornell University, a position he held from July 2006. He was also a professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and in Cornell’s Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. An ardent and nationally recognized supporter of the arts and humanities, Skorton has called for a national dialogue to emphasize the importance of funding for these disciplines.

Follow Secretary Skorton on Twitter


Jedediah Purdy image
Jedediah Purdy

professor of law Duke University and the author of After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene

Catrina Rorke image
Catrina Rorke

senior fellow for energy policy, R Street Institute

Mary Evelyn Tucker image
Mary Evelyn Tucker

co-founder and co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University