Preparing for environmental change

In 2017, Indiana University announced a $55 million investment to help Indiana develop actionable solutions that prepare businesses, farmers, communities and individual Hoosiers for the effects of ongoing environmental change. The initiative – Prepared for Environmental Change – is the second project funded through IU's $300 million Grand Challenges Program, which launched in 2015.

Part of the initiative: the Environmental Resilience Institute, with the goal of fostering Indiana’s resilience as our world confronts environmental change, by providing accurate information that will enable policies to minimize adverse impact while creating opportunity. The Institute's specific objectives include: 

  • Accurate predictions about coming changes in weather patterns, water, plants and animals, and disease risk change.
  • New ways of measuring public risk perception, communicating implications of environmental change, and motivating citizen preparedness.
  • Innovative strategies for conserving wildlife and natural resources, and designing greener, more disaster-resilient human communities.
  • Strategies for governments and businesses to invest productively in agriculture, industry, infrastructure, and public health in the face of large-scale environmental change.

Luis Inaraja Vera is serving as a conservation law fellow at the Institute and as a visiting law scholar at the Maurer School of Law. Prior to joining the Institute, Inaraja Vera served as a research fellow at New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, where he researched and published in the areas of climate change mitigation, environmental enforcement, soil contamination and noise pollution. Inajara Vera holds a bachelor’s in environmental science from the University of Girona in Spain, a bachelor’s in laws from the University of Barcelona in Spain, a master’s in environmental law from the University of the Basque Country in Spain, a master’s in environmental law from Vermont Law School, and a law degree from New York University School of Law, where he was a managing editor of the New York University Environmental Law Journal.

Inaraja Vera’s research at the Institute will focus on how property rights and their legal protection evolve to adapt to environmental change. Water law provides the perfect context in which to examine this evolution. As this resource becomes scarcer, withdrawals from streams, rivers and lakes leave a decreasing amount of water to support ecosystems. Regulators typically respond by requiring water-right holders to reduce—at least during certain periods—the volume of water that they use. Water-right holders often view these measures as a violation of their property rights. So far, courts have not provided a comprehensive approach to address this problem.

The conflicts surrounding property rights in the wake of environmental change, however, are not limited to water rights. Courts have been dealing with these types of disputes in other contexts, including the modification of grazing rights in the West and the delineation of the boundary that separates private property from public trust land along Lake Michigan’s shore in Indiana. Inaraja Vera’s research will consider these and other related issues when examining the tensions between public and private rights more broadly.