The tension between “law on the books” and “law in action”—a central preoccupation of sociolegal studies—has also been the central focus of sociolegal analysis of environmental law. In the late nineteenth century, some industrializing nations enacted laws aimed at reducing smoke and soot from coal-burning furnaces. Generally, however, contemporary environmental law was a product of the 1970s, when economically advanced democracies enacted nationwide environmental planning laws, along with air and water pollution regulations that applied to virtually all industries.

This environmental legislation was enormously ambitious, seeking to transform humankind's attitude toward a natural environment that for centuries seemed limitless in its capacity to supply resources and absorb industrial waste. Suddenly, thousands of individual businesses, municipal sewage systems, and electrical power plants were required to install ...

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