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Faces of the UI: Weston still human dynamo

BY EMILY MELVOLD | MAY 01, 2009 7:30 AM

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It’s not uncommon for Burns Weston to communicate with his secretary and family via Skype, use a small electronic scheduler to keep track of his events, or travel between his home north of Iowa City to another house in Sweden.

The UI law professor, who is in his 70s, is constantly moving.

“He’s always traveling here and there, and he keeps very busy,” said Grace Tully, Weston’s secretary for more than a decade. “He could easily keep two full-time secretaries busy, but he gives a lot of work to his research assistants.”

For more than 40 years, Weston has worked in the legal field of international law, human dignity, and world order.

His newest project, the Climate Legacy Initiative — a joint effort between the Vermont Law School and the UI Center for Human Rights — is “bringing the law of government in line with the laws of nature,” he said.

He started the initiative two and half years ago, and he now serves as the program’s director and senior researcher.

After outlining 16 legislative solutions to help reduce global warming, the researchers are working to promote and implement their suggestions. Next month, the group will meet in New York for a conference to discuss how to do this.

The 16 recommendations present framework for national, subnational, and international legislation. Some recommendations include amendments to state and local constitutions. All of them focus on sustainablity and the rights of future generations.

“When making decisions, we all need to ask ourselves if what we’re going to do is in the best interest of future generations. If it’s not, then we need to stop and change it,” he said.

Even though Weston is part of an older generation, he said, he cares deeply for the youth and even the unborn.

Because unborn populations cannot speak in their own interests, he said, the public has the responsibility to ensure future generations have the ability to make choices about how they live in the world they inherit.

“I pity the college and younger population right now because they are in for a very hazardous period,” he said.

Weston, a professor of international human rights law, said taking control of the environment is the most pressing issue facing the world today, and it will take more than just the United States or the legal world to create change.

“We don’t have control over other countries, but we need everyone on board,” he said. “We need to raise the level of consciousness and proactivity on all levels from local to global.”

The Climate Legacy Initiative lists four legacies it hopes to leave behind: a legal legacy, a moral legacy, a policy legacy, and a legacy of action.

People should take climate change seriously and take action, Weston said.

“Don’t be seduced by the few skeptics that choose to ignore the facts,” he said. “Believe in reason.”

A UI faculty member since 1966, Weston was forced to cut his full-time career as a professor short after learning he had throat cancer in 1999. No one expected him to be able to return to the university.

“I fooled ’em all,” he said.


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