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Environmental Politics & Policy

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The Logic, Urgency, and Promise of Tackling Climate Change

The risks of climate change are potentially immense. The benefits of taking action are also clear: we can see that economic development, reduced emissions, and creative adaptation go hand in hand. A committed and strong low-carbon transition could trigger a new wave of economic and technological transformation and investment, a new era of global and sustainable prosperity. Why, then, are we waiting? In this book, Nicholas Stern explains why, notwithstanding the great attractions of a new path, it has been so difficult to tackle climate change effectively. He makes a compelling case for climate action now and sets out the forms that action should take.

Stern argues that the risks and costs of climate change are worse than estimated in the landmark Stern Review in 2006—and far worse than implied by standard economic models. He reminds us that we have a choice. We can rely on past technologies, methods, and institutions—or we can embrace change, innovation, and international collaboration. The first might bring us some short-term growth but would lead eventually to chaos, conflict, and destruction. The second could bring about better lives for all and growth that is sustainable over the long term, and help win the battle against worldwide poverty. The science warns of the dangers of neglect; the economics and technology show what we can do and the great benefits that will follow; an examination of the ethics points strongly to a moral imperative for action. Why are we waiting?

Evaluating the Federal Government’s Response to Environmental Justice

In the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. Congress passed a series of laws that were milestones in environmental protection, including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. But by the 1990s, it was clear that environmental benefits were not evenly distributed and that poor and minority communities bore disproportionate environmental burdens. The Clinton administration put these concerns on the environmental policy agenda, most notably with a 1994 executive order that called on federal agencies to consider environmental justice issues whenever appropriate. This volume offers the first systematic, empirically based evaluation of the effectiveness of the federal government’s environmental justice policies.

The contributors consider three overlapping aspects of environmental justice: distributive justice, or the equitable distribution of environmental burdens and benefits; procedural justice, or the fairness of the decision-making process itself; and corrective justice, or the fairness of punishment and compensation. Focusing on the central role of the Environmental Protection Agency, they discuss such topics as facility permitting, rulemaking, participatory processes, bias in enforcement, and the role of the courts in redressing environmental injustices. Taken together, the contributions suggest that—despite recent environmental justice initiatives from the Obama administration—the federal government has largely failed to deliver on its promises of environmental justice.

Dorothy M. Daley, Eileen Gauna, Elizabeth Gross, David M. Konisky, Douglas S. Noonan, Tony G. Reames, Christopher Reenock, Ronald J. Shadbegian, Paul Stretesky, Ann Wolverton

Environmental Social Criticism and the Resonance Dilemma

Far-reaching efforts to address environmental issues rarely seem to resonate with citizens of the United States or other wealthy postindustrial societies. In Engaging the Everyday, John Meyer considers this impediment to action on environmental problems—which he terms “the resonance dilemma”—and argues that an environmental agenda that emerges from everyday concerns would resonate more deeply with ordinary citizens. Meyer explores the contours of this alternative, theorizing both obstacles and opportunities and then considering it in terms of three everyday areas of material practice: land use, transportation by automobile, and home dwelling.

Adopting the stance of an “inside critic” (neither detached theorist nor narrow policy advocate), and taking an approach that he calls “contested materiality,” Meyer draws on a variety of theoretical perspectives to construct a framework for understanding material practices. He reimagines each of the three material practices in terms of a political idea: for land, property; for automobiles, freedom; and for homes, citizenship. His innovative analysis offers a grounded basis for reshaping our talk about political concepts and values.

Deliberative Democracy in Nature's Regime

In this book, Walter Baber and Robert Bartlett explore the practical and conceptual implications of a new approach to international environmental governance. Their proposed approach, juristic democracy, emphasizes the role of the citizen rather than the nation-state as the source of legitimacy in international environmental law; it is rooted in local knowledge and grounded in democratic deliberation and consensus. The aim is to construct a global jurisprudence based on collective will formation. Building on concepts presented in their previous book, the award-winning Global Democracy and Sustainable Jurisprudence, Baber and Bartlett examine in detail the challenges that consensus poses for a system of juristic democracy.

Baber and Bartlett analyze the implications of deliberative consensus for rule-bounded behavior, for the accomplishment of basic governance tasks, and for diversity in a politically divided and culturally plural world. They assess social science findings about the potential of small-group citizen panels to contribute to rationalized consensus, drawing on the extensive research conducted on the use of juries in courts of law. Finally, they analyze the place of juristic democracy in a future “consensually federal” system for earth system governance.

World Politics in the Anthropocene

Humans are no longer spectators who need to adapt to their natural environment. Our impact on the earth has caused changes that are outside the range of natural variability and are equivalent to such major geological disruptions as ice ages. Some scientists argue that we have entered a new epoch in planetary history: the Anthropocene. In such an era of planet-wide transformation, we need a new model for planet-wide environmental politics. In this book, Frank Biermann proposes “earth system” governance as just such a new paradigm.

Biermann offers both analytical and normative perspectives. He provides detailed analysis of global environmental politics in terms of five dimensions of effective governance: agency, particularly agency beyond that of state actors; architecture of governance, from local to global levels; accountability and legitimacy; equitable allocation of resources; and adaptiveness of governance systems. Biermann goes on to offer a wide range of policy proposals for future environmental governance and a revitalized United Nations, including the establishment of a World Environment Organization and a UN Sustainable Development Council, new mechanisms for strengthened representation of civil society and scientists in global decision making, innovative systems of qualified majority voting in multilateral negotiations, and novel institutions to protect those impacted by global change. Drawing on ten years of research, Biermann formulates earth system governance as an empirical reality and a political necessity.

Secretariat Influence in Global Environmental Governance

Secretariats—the administrative arms of international treaties—would seem simply to do the bidding of member states. And yet, Sikina Jinnah argues in Post-Treaty Politics, secretariats can play an important role in world politics. On paper, secretariats collect information, communicate with state actors, and coordinate diplomatic activity. In practice, they do much more. As Jinnah shows, they can influence the allocation of resources, structures of interstate cooperation, and the power relationships between states.

Jinnah examines secretariat influence through the lens of overlap management in environmental governance—how secretariats help to manage the dense interplay of issues, rules, and norms between international treaty regimes. Through four case studies, she shows that secretariats can draw on their unique networks and expertise to handle the challenges of overlap management, emerging as political actors in their own right.

After presenting a theory and analytical framework for analyzing secretariat influence, Jinnah examines secretariat influence on overlap management within the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), two cases of overlap management in the World Trade Organization, as well as a case in which the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) secretariat failed to influence political outcomes despite its efforts to manage overlap. Jinnah argues that, even when modest, secretariat influence matters because it can establish a path-dependent dynamic that continues to guide state behavior even after secretariat influence has waned.

The Green Paradox and Beyond

Recent developments suggest that well-intended climate policies--including carbon taxes and subsidies for renewable energy—might not accomplish what policy makers intend. Hans-Werner Sinn has described a “green paradox,” arguing that these policies could hasten global warming by encouraging owners of fossil fuel reserves to increase their extraction rates for fear that their reserves will become worthless. In this volume, economists investigate the empirical and theoretical support for the green paradox.

Offering detailed and rigorous analyses of the forces and assumptions driving Sinn’s argument, the contributors consider whether rising carbon tax rates inevitably speed up climate change; the effects of the design of resource markets, the availability of clean substitutes, and the development of new technologies; and the empirical evidence (or lack thereof) for the green paradox result. They consider extraction costs; sustainability and innovation; timing, announcement effects, and time consistency in relation to policy measures; and empirical results for the green paradox phenomena under several alternative policy measures.

Julien Daubanes, Corrado Di Maria, Carolyn Fischer, Florian Habermacher, Michael Hoel, Darko Jus, Gebhard Kirchgassner, Ian Lange, Pierre Lasserre, Volker Meier, Karen Pittel, Stephen Salant, Frank Stähler, Gerard van der Meijden, Frederick van der Ploeg, Edwin van der Werf, Ngo Van Long, Ralph A. Winter, Cees Withagen

How Americans Think about Energy in the Age of Global Warming

How do Americans think about energy? Is the debate over fossil fuels highly partisan and ideological? Does public opinion about fossil fuels and alternative energies divide along the fault between red states and blue states? And how much do concerns about climate change weigh on their opinions? In Cheap and Clean, Stephen Ansolabehere and David Konisky show that Americans are more pragmatic than ideological in their opinions about energy alternatives, more unified than divided about their main concerns, and more local than global in their approach to energy.

Drawing on extensive surveys they designed and conducted over the course of a decade (in conjunction with MIT’s Energy Initiative), Ansolabehere and Konisky report that beliefs about the costs and environmental harms associated with particular fuels drive public opinions about energy. People approach energy choices as consumers, and what is most important to them is simply that energy be cheap and clean. Most of us want energy at low economic cost and with little social cost (that is, minimal health risk from pollution). The authors also find that although environmental concerns weigh heavily in people’s energy preferences, these concerns are local and not global. Worries about global warming are less pressing to most than worries about their own city’s smog and toxic waste. With this in mind, Ansolabehere and Konisky argue for policies that target both local pollutants and carbon emissions (the main source of global warming). The local and immediate nature of people’s energy concerns can be the starting point for a new approach to energy and climate change policy.

Endless Growth on a Finite Planet

The notion of ever-expanding economic growth has been promoted so relentlessly that “growth” is now entrenched as the natural objective of collective human effort. The public has been convinced that growth is the natural solution to virtually all social problems—poverty, debt, unemployment, and even the environmental degradation caused by the determined pursuit of growth. Meanwhile, warnings by scientists that we live on a finite planet that cannot sustain infinite economic expansion are ignored or even scorned. In Collision Course, Kerryn Higgs examines how society’s commitment to growth has marginalized scientific findings on the limits of growth, casting them as bogus predictions of imminent doom.

Higgs tells how in 1972, The Limits to Growth—written by MIT researchers Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William Behrens III—found that unimpeded economic growth was likely to collide with the realities of a finite planet within a century. Although the book’s arguments received positive responses initially, before long the dominant narrative of growth as panacea took over. Higgs explores the resistance to ideas about limits, tracing the propagandizing of “free enterprise,” the elevation of growth as the central objective of policy makers, the celebration of “the magic of the market,” and the ever-widening influence of corporate-funded think tanks--a parallel academic universe dedicated to the dissemination of neoliberal principles and to the denial of health and environmental dangers from the effects of tobacco to global warming. More than forty years after The Limits to Growth, the idea that growth is essential continues to hold sway, despite the mounting evidence of its costs—climate destabilization, pollution, intensification of gross global inequalities, and depletion of the resources on which the modern economic edifice depends.

Public Knowledge about Radiation Health Effects after Chernobyl

Before Fukushima, the most notorious large-scale nuclear accident the world had seen was Chernobyl in 1986. The fallout from Chernobyl covered vast areas in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Europe. Belarus, at the time a Soviet republic, suffered heavily: nearly a quarter of its territory was covered with long-lasting radionuclides. Yet the damage from the massive fallout was largely imperceptible; contaminated communities looked exactly like noncontaminated ones. It could be known only through constructed representations of it. In The Politics of Invisibility, Olga Kuchinskaya explores how we know what we know about Chernobyl, describing how the consequences of a nuclear accident were made invisible. Her analysis sheds valuable light on how we deal with other modern hazards—toxins or global warming—that are largely imperceptible to the human senses.

Kuchinskaya describes the production of invisibility of Chernobyl’s consequences in Belarus—practices that limit public attention to radiation and make its health effects impossible to observe. Just as mitigating radiological contamination requires infrastructural solutions, she argues, the production and propagation of invisibility also involves infrastructural efforts, from redefining the scope and nature of the accident’s consequences to reshaping research and protection practices.

Kuchinskaya finds vast fluctuations in recognition, tracing varyingly successful efforts to conceal or reveal Chernobyl’s consequences at different levels—among affected populations, scientists, government, media, and international organizations. The production of invisibility, she argues, is a function of power relations.

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