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102 Yale Law Journal 2107 (1993)


In the now famous case of Vosburg v. Putney, the Wisconsin Court enunciated the common law doctrine since known as the "eggshell skull" or "thin skull" rule: you take your victim as you find him. The thin skull rule is a productive starting point for a dialogue on the place of law in any effort to control (or reverse) the cumulative damage to the planet's ecosystem. Any such dialogue requires a global perspective that fuses international and domestic approaches to law. Environmental law must assess not only the level of assault against the earth, but also the risk of the planet's hypervulnerability to further injury. As in Vosburg v. Putney, some of the insult to the planet has been the result of unintended consequences, whose significance we are only now beginning to understand. The planet has become an eggshell victim of industrialization, population growth and the expansion of the consumer society.

The purpose of this essay is three-fold: (1) to link the relationship of international trade and domestic environmental regulation to a broader global discourse; (2) to outline this global discourse, which includes both international and domestic elements; and (3) to articulate some additional factors (beyond trade) that are now integral to the relationship between domestic environmental law and the global regulatory discourse.