Ha! You think as you read the above title. How quaint, yet another academic attempt at humour? Textbook writing is of course not viewed as glamorous. This is both true for those who have experienced the task and among academics more generally, who don’t view it as a cutting edge scholarly activity. The exciting academic action is understood to be in the world of monographs, journal articles, blog posts and the new-fangled world of altmetrics. This presents a paradox of perception for textbooks. Whilst textbooks are the most significant and widely read accounts of a subject (a fact often overlooked), they are not viewed as dynamic and exciting. The very thing that makes textbooks popular to read - their reliability - also makes them unpopular as a form of scholarship. The unspoken duty of textbook writers is to be staid. The emphasis is on communicating the basics of the subject, not to report from its frontiers. Different textbooks in a subject will often take on the same structure and cover the same material as they chart the “canon”.

But what happens when the subject a textbook is mapping is ever-shifting, dynamic and evolving rapidly? Most subjects evolve of course. Other legal subjects provide prime examples. New contract, tort, and criminal law cases develop the law and that needs to be reflected in a textbook. But that is not the type of change we are talking about. We are concerned with a more fundamental state of flux - where the received wisdom of a subject has not even begun to settle. Being conventional and sedate in such circumstances is not an option. The basics of the subject are not fixed, the canon not agreed upon. To stick rigidly to a particular structure is to fail to ensure a textbook is a faithful representation of the subject. The paradoxical perception of textbooks is exposed as an illusion.

In writing a textbook about environmental law, we are dealing with an inherently dynamic subject. Environmental law spluttered into its contemporary form in the 1970s with legal developments at the national, regional, and international level and it has been undergoing dramatic legal development since then. As a subject, it is often viewed as a product of political ideology, but while all law has a normative aspect, the real catalyst for environmental law is the need to deal with collective action problems that place pressure on the finite capacity of the earth and on the social systems that we construct to occupy it. This problem is not going away any time soon. The law in this area is continually agitated, challenged, created and revised.

In 2013, we published the first edition of our textbook - Fisher, Lange and Scotford, Environmental Law: Text, Cases and Materials. We approached our task with naive optimism, or rather optimistic naivety. We wanted to produce a text, cases and materials that reflected the dramatic substantive changes that UK law, as it related to environmental problems, had undergone. We sought to show not only that there was new legislation or that the number of court cases had grown, but that the subject had gained a substantive depth that reflected the physical, socio-political and legal complexity of environmental problems. We thought our mission simple ? we wanted a text that fostered in students the analytical skills that were needed to engage with the innate complexity of environmental law. While providing a frame for understanding the law, we didn’t want to hide the ambiguities and difficulties. We wanted students to face them head on. Unsurprisingly, and not so simply, it took quite a while to put such a text together. There were also significant legal changes as we went along - whole areas of law reconfigured by cases, legislation, and policy - even as we sent the manuscript to the printers. And once the book was published, many of our updates in this online resource centre were not really “updates”. Changes to the law rendered some parts of the textbook obsolete and required the rethinking of other parts.

And so we have published a new edition. Yet more glamour. New editions of textbooks are seen as even more mundane than writing a first edition. But with a subject like environmental law, the intellectual exercise is no less thought-provoking. Most obviously, given the fact that much substantive content of UK environmental law is derived from EU law, a new edition needs to reflect the daunting uncertainty about the future of the subject brought about by the UK Referendum on membership of the European Union in 2016. We will do that with rather inelegant “Brexit Boxes”, making obvious that peering into this particular future needs to be bracketed, as we engage in a highly fraught form of crystal ball gazing.

But it is not only the prospect of Brexit that harks the current phase of transformational change for UK environmental law, or even that legislative regimes such as those for environmental impact assessment and pollution permitting have changed. In the space of four years, UK environmental law has gained greater analytical depth. Its fundamental contours continue to shift. Courts have developed new reasoning, the web of legislation has matured, new forms of regulation have been devised (and existing schemes revised and removed), novel legal disputes have arisen, the expertise of environmental lawyers has intensified. Issues such as air pollution and climate change have changed our understanding of the environmental law landscape. New visions of the subject have been presented. As textbooks writers, we need to rethink not just the content of the textbook, but what we think students need to understand about the subject and how to foster that understanding. Textbooks are not just maps of the subject. They define the intellectual skills a person must acquire to master the subject. In environmental law, those basic skills are being able to nimbly engage with many different types of legal reasoning and to understand the inherent complexity of environmental problems.

Environmental law may be an extreme case when it comes to capturing and framing an ever-changing subject matter. But extreme doesn’t mean different. Writing a textbook in the area is a reminder that, in writing any textbook, authors must deal with the world as it is. The world is rarely simple, and as environmental lawyers, our world really is the entire complex, messy, physical and socio-political world. The duty of textbook authors is to produce an authoritative account for those getting to grips with a subject, which is both challenging and important when the subject presents an ever-shifting legal landscape. Being authoritative is not being less scholarly - indeed it requires considerable academic ambition and scholarly dynamism. We cannot just focus on the bits that interest us as authors and researchers. True, textbook writing may not be glamorous (but let’s face it, is any part of academe?), but in many ways it is where you find the frontier of academic action.

Liz Fisher
Bettina Lange
Eloise Scotford