As long as I can remember, wild places have inspired me. I grew up backpacking with my father in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and those experiences formed my understanding of my place in the world. After college, my perspective broadened when I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Senegal, West Africa. There, as I watched friends' children die of drought-induced malnutrition and disease made worse by economic policies that forced family farmers to abandon traditional drought-resistant crops in favor of fragile export crops, I began to appreciate the intricate relationship among a healthy environment, social justice, and human rights. These experiences motivated me to study law as a tool for guaranteeing the basic rights of all people.
Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner in the Galapagos
After graduating from law school and working for a federal judge for a year, I took a job with a private law firm willing to support my work with an international human rights organization. But after two years, concern for the environment and a desire to put my full energy into building a better world led me to move to a small public-interest environmental law firm. For the next several years, I litigated environmental citizen suits in U.S. court by day and spent my evenings representing victims of human rights violations in international institutions. I thought my work couldn't be more perfect until, in 1996, Earthjustice asked me to combine my separate passions for the environment and international law by bringing international legal tools to bear on environmental problems.
Canadian broadcaster Dan Matheson interviewed Martin Wagner on the issue of global warming & human rights. / Source: CTV
In describing his first experience of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, John Muir said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." I am reminded of that statement when I think about the global nature of many environmental problems. For example, decisions we make in the United States regarding fuel efficiency requirements for automobiles affect the entire planet. When our fuel needs increase, the search for new sources of oil often destroys fragile ecosystems that support endangered species, peasant farmers, and traditional indigenous cultures. Cars with poor fuel efficiency emit more greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming that is already forcing island-dwellers and Arctic peoples from their homes. We live in a very small world.
But it is not only environmental impacts that are global; more and more, environmental threats are global, too. International trade rules have given multinational corporations new tools for undermining and avoiding environmental regulations, while governments and international economic institutions prioritize corporate profits over environmental and human rights protection. Like outlaws in the Old West, multinational corporations use national borders to avoid responsibility for their environmental misdeeds while governments, afraid of angering powerful corporations, look the other way. Because local and national economies and governments are increasingly influenced by international economics, the need for strong mechanisms for environmental protection of the environment has never been greater.
Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner with wife Martha and son, Jasper
International problems like these call for international solutions. Creating such solutions and ensuring that citizens have a strong role to play in implementing them is the mission of Earthjustice's international program. Since I have been at Earthjustice, I have defended communities whose human rights were violated by environmental harm caused by governments or corporations, petitioned U.S. courts and the World Trade Organization to let citizens participate in the creation and application of international trade rules that affect their health and the environment in which they live, and collaborated with lawyers and activists from around the world to develop international strategies to address myriad environmental problems. I am energized by the creativity I must use in a discipline—public interest international environmental law—that barely existed when I began my career and that requires me to create solutions as problems arise. And I am inspired by the commitment and intelligence of the people I work with at Earthjustice. If it weren't for the problems that make it necessary, this would be the best job I could imagine.
One of the joys of my life has been introducing my son Jasper—now eleven years old—to the mountains. It is my dream that he will have wild places to inspire him throughout his life, and that by the time he shares those places with his children, laws around the world will protect the right of all children to live in a healthy environment. With your support, I believe we can make that dream a reality.
Martin Wagner is the director of Earthjustice's International Program, which is based in San Francisco, CA. The International Program promotes the protection of human rights to a clean and healthy environment through application of trade measures, international human rights and U.S. law.
Martin graduated from Whitman College with a degree in geology and then became a community development volunteer with the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa. He attended the University of Virginia Law School, where he was executive editor of the Virginia Journal of International Law and graduated in the top ten percent of his class. Before coming to Earthjustice in 1996, Martin was a law clerk for Judge Robert Beezer of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and spent five years litigating environmental citizen suits in U.S. courts and representing victims of human rights violations in international institutions.
His docket at Earthjustice includes using U.S. courts and international institutions to defend the environment from harm arising from unregulated international trade and to promote and protect the human right to a healthy environment. Martin also teaches international environmental law and international trade and the environment at the Golden Gate University School of Law.
He is fluent in English, Spanish, French and Pulaar/Fulani.