By Andrew Cohen
Legal Planet, the popular environmental blog produced jointly by UCLA and Berkeley Schools of Law, just reached its first major milestone of 1 million unique hits. Since launching in 2009, the blog’s meteoric rise has amazed and inspired its founders and contributors.
“We saw a need for environmental blogging from a more academic and less advocacy perspective,” said Berkeley Law Professor Daniel Farber, who co-founded the blog with UCLA’s Ann Carlson. “But the idea that we’d hit a million views this fast? Never contemplated it as a remote possibility.”
Legal Planet tackles issues such as climate change, the role of politics in shaping environmental law and policy, renewable energy, and decisions by the Supreme Court and federal circuit courts that impact the legal landscape.
As co-director of Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE), Farber remains a frequent Legal Planet contributor. One of the nation’s leading environmental scholars, he relishes the chance to address current topics in a timely manner, “without having to spend months slogging through a 50-page law review article.” Fellow Berkeley Law faculty members Holly Doremus, Steven Weissman, and Eric Biber are also regular bloggers, as are CLEE Executive Director Jayni Hein ’08 and senior research fellow Ethan Elkind.
Legal Planet now averages about 860 reader visits per day. “When we started out, I would have been happy with 100 a day,” Farber said. “That seems like a lot of people to reach, especially for those of us used to publishing scholarly articles.”
Widely hailed in environmental circles, Legal Planet was named one of the top environmental and climate change blogs last year by LexisNexis and one of the top 100 blogs by and for lawyers by the American Bar Association Journal.
“The blog is a terrific resource to share timely insights and analysis by our faculty and legal staff,” Hein said. “Our posts are short, accessible, and informative, making this an excellent forum to highlight the center’s policy reports and events, and to discuss current topics like the Presidential candidates’ energy policies or recent environmental law decisions by federal courts.”
Some of the blog’s popular posts include Polar Bears, Wolves, and Obama’s Interior Department; Is Romney Building Sand Castles Based on Fantasy Oil and Gas Production?; and PG&E Can’t Show You the Money. In The Delta 101: Of Levees, Canals & Whiskey, Hein reveals a startling lack of awareness about the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta’s vital role: 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland rely on it for water—but 78 percent of Californians have never heard of it.
When a January poll showed 60 percent approval for an $11 billion Delta restoration bond entitled the “Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2012,” Hein noted, “This seems to highlight the power of positive and clear language in naming ballot measures, rather than any concrete knowledge by poll respondents. According to a quote often misattributed to Mark Twain, ‘whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting over.’ Those involved in Delta battles may be doing their fair share of both.”
Now archived at the Library of Congress, Legal Planet has been cited at least 24 times in law reviews and 62 times in newspapers. It also has more than 6,200 email and Facebook followers.
“One of the best things I’ve done in the past year is subscribe to Legal Planet,” technologist Amanda Hixon wrote on the blog’s Facebook page, adding that it “has sent me to more great information than I can list. It is well worth the daily read.”
In early September, after the Republican and Democratic party conventions, Farber posted a chart delineating party platform differences on issues such as climate change, fossil fuel production, and public lands. Readers quickly wrote back: “I absolutely love this chart,” and “Useful chart, thanks!”
While the volume of readers is a source of pride for Legal Planet scholars, so is its global diversity. Recent metrics show that roughly 25 percent of the blog’s hits come from outside the United States, and that it is read in countries such as India, the Philippines, Australia, Germany, South Africa, Poland, Brazil, Netherlands, France, Korea, and Sweden.
“It’s great that people from all over the world are following the blog,” Farber said. “It shows the global nature of environmental issues and that California is looked to as an innovative leader in driving policy and producing solutions.”
Distinguished guest bloggers have included Ken Alex—former head of the California Attorney General’s Office environment section and co-head of its global warming unit—and attorneys from the Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council.