Sep 1 2020

Carbon Captured: How Business and Labor Control Climate Politics

Reviewed by Nicholas Bradley Allen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Why do national policymakers fail to reach stable carbon pricing agreements in spite of the well-known social costs of carbon and how cross-national differences in domestic climate policymaking are controlled by business and labor?

 

Carbon captured

 

Carbon Captured: How Business and Labor Control Climate Politics, by Matto Mildenberger, The MIT Press, 2020, 368 pp.

If we step away from observed experience, national carbon pricing policies seem like they should be easy to pass. The social costs of carbon are well known. Instruments are various and flexible enough that even those harmed by regulation can be placated. Mass movements and extreme weather heighten salience. Delay is exponentially costly. Why, then, do national policymakers fail to reach stable carbon pricing agreements? 

Matto Mildenberger’s new book Carbon Captured scours a 30-year cross-national record to reveal this instability. Writing in the tradition of Theda Skocpol and other comparative political scientists, his interview-based case studies of Norway, the United States, and Australia pursue a historical-institutionalist theory of national climate politics. 

Mildenberger cuts through a thicket of instruments and institutional arrangements to find a simple, chimerical advantage held by carbon polluters: their “double representation.” First, carbon-polluting industries have membership in both left and right political coalitions, ensuring any proposal will fracture internal support. Second, when reform coalitions succeed in passing carbon pricing, carbon-polluting industries may assert themselves in rulemaking or mobilize citizen resistance to higher energy costs. Administrations that marginalize carbon polluters in policy formulation, as Obama’s production-focused Clean Power Plan did, discover their opponents’ blocking power later. Countries with more stable pricing regimes, like Norway and Japan, overcome polluters’ double representation by exempting intensive industries and passing costs to consumers. Accommodation, however economically inefficient and loathsome to climate advocates, prevents sabotage. 

The “double representation” thesis enriches other studies of carbon-pricing opponents’ tactical maneuvering (e.g., Oreskes and Conway 2011). Mildenberger skillfully explains why carbon, unlike other pollutants, is so successfully defended in the policymaking process. Political scientist Robert Keohane (2015) observed that climate policy stalemates have the appearance of “driving one’s car into the wall rather than trying to drive around the wall.” For those interested in the bypass, Carbon Captured offers a few different routes.


Sep 1 2020

Subnational Hydropolitics: Conflict, Cooperation, and Institution-Building in Shared River Basins

Reviewed by Jessica Gordon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

How and why does water conflict and cooperation play out at the subnational scale?

 

Subnational Hydropolitics

 

Subnational Hydropolitics: Conflict, Cooperation and Institution Building in Shared River Basins, by Scott M. Moore, Oxford University Press, 2018, 270 pp.

How and why does water conflict and cooperation play out at the subnational scale? While the scholarly consensus places riparian geography (upstream vs. downstream) or scarcity as the primary drivers of water conflict, Moore’s book sets out to build a new theory for subnational hydropolitics.  Drawing on comparative case studies from the United States, India, China, and France, Moore focuses on a combination of ideational and institutional factors: decentralization, sectional identity, and political opportunity structures.

Moore argues that water conflicts emerge when subnational politicians in decentralized political systems connect water issues to existing ethnic, linguistic, or geographic identities. This occurs within political opportunity structures where officials can gain political advantage from competing with shared jurisdictions over water. For promoting cooperation, Moore finds that third-party actors have the potential to play a large role as a bridge between sectional and elite politics.  Through building alliances with national governments and advocating for interjurisdictional institutions, environmental organizations support collaborative, participatory and adaptive management of water resources, ultimately leading to durable cooperation that exists beyond a political tenure.  

The first part of the book presents three theoretical chapters that provide the conceptual framework across the three primary factors that influence cooperation and conflict.  The second part provides detailed historical comparative case studies. The U.S. cases explore the Delaware River Basin and the Colorado River Basin as examples of cooperation and conflict, respectively.  In India, the Damodar Valley Corporation is presented as a case of cooperation and the Krishna River Basin as a case of conflict.  These are followed by the case of the Yellow River Conservancy Commission in China and river basin agencies in France to test the theory built through the U.S. and India cases. 

While much work has focused on international water conflict, Moore makes strong claims for why local water politics deserve our attention and efforts.  The final chapter provides useful recommendations for policymakers including the need for national leadership and areas for further research.  This book is an engaging examination of comparative water politics that will appeal to students, scholars, and practitioners.


Jul 23 2019

Environmental Governance through Partnerships: A Discourse Theoretical Study

Reviewed by Jungwoo Chun, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Do transnational partnerships for sustainability live up to their hype?

Environmental Governance through Partnerships

 

Environmental Governance through Partnerships: A Discourse Theoretical Study, by Ayşem Mert, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015, 263 pp

While transnational partnerships are now the norm in global politics and governance, contemporary scholarship often takes partnerships for granted, failing to question the mechanics that underpin them or the degree to which they are shaped by complex organizational dynamics. Having studied the underlying mechanics of partnerships within and outside the United Nations system, Ayşem Mert takes a step back from the contemporary discourse on transnational partnerships and explores why they work and how they have come to be.

This book is interesting because it explores some of the fundamental puzzles at the heart of transnational partnerships, searching for their historical meaning. By analyzing historical discourses, Mert skillfully ties key observations about their origins to the structure and function of current sustainable development partnerships. Issues such as the accountability of partners to each other and the requirements of true participation are examples of these puzzles.

First, Mert sets the stage (in Chapters 2–4), outlining the study’s theoretical grounds and scope. Next, to unpack partnerships and extract their meaningful lessons (for environmental governance in particular), she compares partnerships with privatization (Chapter 5) as they relate to sustainable development (Chapter 6) and in light of the participation of non-state actors (Chapter 7). For example, Mert considers the limited legal liabilities of partners working to advance environmental governance.

While she is critical of the discourse of participation in partnerships, alluding to the inauthenticity of many community involvement efforts or the fantasies of those who imagine that meaningful participation in the UN system is possible, the connection between partnerships and the success of sustainable development efforts is less obvious. Specifically, the concept of sustainable development has evolved repeatedly, but the nature and importance of partnerships in achieving sustainable development is not well understood.

Environmental Governance through Partnerships is less about explaining how existing sustainable development partnerships in the global system are working and more about trying to understand what they could accomplish. Mert concludes by outlining the most important building blocks of desirable partnerships.


Jul 23 2019

The Republican Reversal: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump

Reviewed by Shekhar Chandra, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

What does the Republican Party in the United States really think about environmental protection?

The Republican Reversal

 

The Republican Reversal: Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump, by James Morton Turner and Andrew C. Isenberg, Harvard University Press, 2018, 280 pp

This book explores what appears to be an about-face in the Republican Party views regarding the importance of environmental protection over the last six decades. The fundamental question the authors try to answer is why the Republican leadership, which once introduced historic legislation including the Environmental Protection Act that created EPA in 1970, the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, has abandoned its support for environmental protection. The Republicans who used to criticize the Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s for obstructing the push for more environmental regulation today question the veracity of anthropogenic climate change. The most recent manifestations of this reversal are President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and his proposed 31% cut in EPA’s budget.

The authors attribute the reversal to three factors: (1) an increasingly strong belief in the effectiveness of markets and technological innovation coupled with related concerns that regulations are contrary to America’s economic interests; (2) the growing concern that scientific facts are uncertain and an inadequate basis for policy-making; and (3) a conviction that environmental improvement requires global action which threatens America’s sovereignty. These views are reinforced by self-interested, industry-funded think-tanks and religious Christians who have waged a misinformation campaign aimed at discrediting federal environmental regulations. Their goal has been to reframe the environmental debate around conservative values rather than scientific expertise.

Overall, the book does a great job of explaining the epochal moments in America’s environmental movement. It falls short, though, on two counts. First, the authors do not discuss how the Republican leadership expects to justify its position on climate change as the impacts of CO2 emissions become more visible in the United States and the nation is increasingly isolated at international forums for not doing enough. These questions were not as relevant in the past decades as they are now. We have seen how the United States was isolated on the issue of the Paris Agreement at the recent G20 meeting. Second, the authors do not address the question of why the Trump administration believes the Republican Party’s anti-environment agenda makes sense politically, even though a majority of Americans not only believe that climate change is occurring, but also want the government to take strong action to combat it.


Jul 23 2019

Climate Engineering and the Law: Regulation and Liability for Solar Radiation Management and Carbon Dioxide Removal

Reviewed by Aria Ritz Finkelstein, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 

How will existing international legal frameworks apply to climate engineering?

Climate Engineering and the Law

 

Climate Engineering and the Law: Regulation and Liability for Solar Radiation Management and Carbon Dioxide Removal, edited by Michael B. Gerrard and Tracy Hester, Cambridge University Press, 2018, 350 pp

While climate engineering is the last resort for dealing with the challenges of climate change, it is one that states must be prepared to consider as the effects of unchecked CO2 emissions become increasingly untenable. This premise has motivated a new collection of articles by environmental law experts. If states do not take preemptive action, the book argues, they risk rogue actors attempting to engineer large-scale changes unilaterally by, say, spraying aerosols into the atmosphere to decrease the amount of sunlight we receive (“albedo modification”) or dumping iron filings into the ocean (“ocean fertilization”) to hasten the growth of carbon-sequestering algae. The collection offers a legal playbook for heading off worst-case climate scenarios, ones that would have seemed outrageous only a few years ago but are appearing more and more realistic.

While the collection’s scope is global, its focus is on strategies that people are already beginning to consider or test in the United States. It explores the current legal frameworks that might support or challenge the two main approaches to climate engineering—solar radiation management (SRM) and carbon dioxide removal (CRM). One by one, the book offers clear, brief explanations of the actions people are already taking, the scientific evidence supporting or challenging such interventions, the areas of global environmental law that might apply, and what might be the least resolved issue, namely, the relationship between available scientific research and the claims of climate engineers. The writing is plain enough to brief a lay person on the technicalities of climate engineering and relevant international agreements. At the same time, the chapters are well-cited and thorough enough to guide scholars interested in deeper exploration.

By its conclusion, the book moves from its initial agnostic stance toward the view that climate engineering is inevitable. Still, the collection reads as evenhanded; those hoping for a definitive position on the legalities of climate engineering will be unsatisfied, since the question has yet to be tested in the courts. The contributors do an excellent job of laying out the arguments international lawyers are likely to use on either side of the question and suggesting how an international agreement on climate engineering might clarify existing ambiguities.