As a biochemistry major at Harvard University, Tseming Yang, a professor in the Santa Clara School of Law and former Deputy General Counsel of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), did not foresee straying from the path to medical school to become one of the leading experts on climate change and international environmental law.
Transformed by his community service experience in the Boston Chinatown district during his time as an undergraduate, Yang decided to explore other ways of making a difference in the world other than with a medical degree, although he still describes himself as a “geek at heart.”
After graduating from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, Yang laid the foundation for a very successful career in the field of environmental law as an attorney for the US Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division, a Professor of Law at the University of Vermont among other schools in the US and abroad, and as a member of the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Prior to joining the law faculty at Santa Clara University (SCU), Yang served as Deputy General Counsel of the EPA, providing legal advice to senior officials in the Agency and reviewing legal work on a range of domestic and international environmental issues.
California, China, and Climate Change
Now at SCU, Yang is excited to pursue his passion for teaching, and to also further explore the major role that the relationship between California and China could play in addressing global climate change. California has always been at “the cutting edge” of environmental policy, Yang explains, and now has the opportunity to make a huge difference as a leader in climate policy by sharing its knowledge and experience with China, without the same tension that often characterizes relations between the two governments.
After spending much of his career working in China, Yang recognizes that China faces legitimate concerns about economic development in trying to develop climate policy. Governance and the rule of law also present challenges in China, Yang explains, since there are a lot of “progressive laws on the books” that are simply not enforced. To try to address some of these issues, Yang led the development of the US-China Partnership for Environmental Law, an initiative co-funded by USAID and the State Department to support China in improving governance and environmental law.
Building Climate Leaders at SCU
In addition to his work abroad, Yang is also helping to develop climate leaders right here at SCU. In the counsel he gives to his students about pursuing a career in such a complicated, yet critical, field, Yang advises, “Find a balance between being pragmatic and practical, but not cynical. Maintain your idealism.”
This semester, he is currently teaching an international environmental law class, and making plans to collaborate across schools and departments for the climate law class that he will teach again next year. He is also working on a global environmental law textbook, in addition to looking for funding to more research on China.
You can also read an article written by Yang, “Climate Change Law and Lawyering at Santa Clara,” in the upcoming edition of Santa Clara Law Magazine.
By Amelia Evans, '13 Sustainability Intern--Residence Life