May 21 2021

This Land Is My Land: Rebellion in the West

Reviewed by Gregory Johnson, PhD student, Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife, and Dr. Kelly Dunning, Assistant Professor Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife

What insights can the politics of public land management yield regarding one of the most important acts of political violence this decade?

This Land Is My Land

This Land Is My Land: Rebellion in the West, by James R. Skillen, Oxford University Press, 2020, 296 pp.

James Skillen’s account of how an ideologically conservative movement contests federal land management in the West means more in the wake of the events of January 6, 2021. What insights can the politics of public lands lend us to understanding one of the most important acts of political violence this decade?

Public lands in the United States have been an issue of great contention for well over 100 years. Eleven Western states live with 50 percent of their available land managed by the federal government in the form of National Parks, Wilderness Areas, National Conservation Lands and National Monuments, to name a few. The book begins with describing the large number of Western Americans that rely on the land for their livelihood, lifestyle and culture. These same people, regarded in popular culture as “cowboys,” have to follow the federal policies that have changed repeatedly in the name of conservation and economic needs. Since the beginning of federal public lands, challenges to who should manage the land have manifested themselves in the Sagebrush Rebellion, the War of the West and the so-called Patriot Rebellion.

The book goes into great detail about each of these phenomena to demonstrate to the reader how an ideologically conservative movement in the United States was formed, shaped and driven to conflict with the federal government. Readers of policy process literature will appreciate Deborah Stone’s ideas translated from Policy Paradox, drawing on symbols and narratives to make his point. One of the main characters, Cliven Bundy, known for his armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agents in Nevada over cattle grazing on federal property, is a powerful symbol for Western determination.

Adherents of this movement see Washington (and its distant, “out of touch” lawmakers) violating the Constitution, suggesting that such “tyranny” would eventually lead to socialism. Bundy even goes on to compare himself to Rosa Parks, M. K. Gandhi, Henry Thoreau and even to George Washington standing up to British oppression. This political grandstanding and the use of symbols has gained an astonishingly broad support from mainstream conservatives, to the Tea Party, to members of Congress, and even to armed militias. The author deftly predicts the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6 by noting that the history of Western America “provides enough information for a tentative prediction” that “as soon as a Democrat moves into the White House and enjoys Democratic support in the Congress” that “the next rebellion is likely to erupt.” Quelling future political violence in a contentious era requires us to understand the lessons contained in Skillen’s book.


Mar 5 2019

The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance: Consequences and Management of Regime Interactions

Reviewed by Elise Harrington, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

How do different climate governance regimes support or conflict with each other in pursuit of an international climate policy?

Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance

 

by Harro van Asselt, The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance: Consequences and Management of Regime Interactions, Edward Elgar, 2014, 360 pp

Harro van Asselt argues in The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance (2014) that while the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is responsible for many global climate initiatives, other initiatives have developed outside of it and are not directly coordinated with the UN framework. This governance fragmentation is the key focus of his analysis. The book contributes to the growing emphasis on the diversity of actors involved in global climate governance and the importance of examining how formal and informal institutions interact.

While van Asselt emphasizes that his purpose is not to provide “ideal-type solutions” regarding regime interactions, the benefits of policy coherence rather than fragmentation seem to be assumed along with an emphasis on institutional coordination as a solution to regime conflicts. While both the pitfalls and promises of fragmentation are described, the shortcomings are discussed in greater detail than any positive outcomes of fragmentation. Open questions include, does conflict in regime interactions undermine policy goals? Or does overlap provide valuable duplication? The Fragmentation of Global Climate Governance provides a foundation for studying such interactions in global climate governance and encourages further analysis of interactions between hard and soft law, the role of non-state actors, as well as among climate regimes at different levels of governance.

Drawing on concepts from international law and international relations, the analytical framework provided by the author examines multiple features of regime interaction, including relationships between hard and soft law, causal mechanisms, intentionality and consequences (conflict, synergy, neutral).

Empirical chapters offer comparative case studies. Each begins with the UNFCCC as the dominant global climate regime, and then compares it to multilateral clean technology agreements (e.g., Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate), other global environmental priorities (e.g., Convention on Biological Diversity) and different branches of international law relevant to climate change (e.g., the World Trade Organization). Van Asselt focuses on the consequences (conflicts or synergies) of the ways in which these regimes interact.

His analysis of regime interactions suggests a number of parallel concerns at the international policy scale, as well as interactions across local and state levels. Van Asselt might have extended the findings from his three regime interaction cases to these parallel concerns, including interactions among more than two regimes as well, but these are not discussed in the present volume.

With the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, regime interactions––in particular those led by non-state actors and subnational governments––may be of even more importance. With greater flexibility due to the pledge and review process, the interactions between soft and hard laws and between regimes established in different sectors may require us to extend our understanding of the impacts of regime interactions for global climate governance.


Jan 11 2017

Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence

Reviewed by Jessica Gordon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The emergence of and reactions to environmental litigation in China.

Environmental Litigation in China

 

by Rachel Stern Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence, Cambridge University Press, 2013, 314 pp.

What happens when tons of industrial waste are dumped in a Chinese river? Rachel Stern’s insightful book Environmental Litigation in China: A Study in Political Ambivalence explores the shifting conditions under which the Chinese legal system is being used to address pollution issues. While the book is written in clear and accessible prose, it complicates common narratives around the Chinese legal system and exposes its many contradictions. The first half of the book provides a nuanced picture of environmental litigation including exploring specific pollution cases with different approaches and outcomes and is fascinating as it reveals the strengths, limitations and creativity within environmental litigation. The second half of the book analyzes the issue from the perspectives of judges, lawyers and NGOs. While the voices of state actors are notably absent, given the limitations of research in China this is understandable. Stern rallies a range of evidence to support her argument.

She demonstrates how actors are reacting to a state that sees the advantages of using the law to control pollution, but also recognizes how the law could undermine the state itself. Stern terms these conflicting state signals political ambivalence and analyzes how they provide space for bottom-up experimentation and incremental change. It is, however, also clear that the legal system alone will not be enough to address the variety of forces that allow pollution to continue.

The book focuses on the Hu period and should be taken as a slice in time. The legal landscape is changing as the new environmental law makes it easier for some groups to sue polluting industries. The first public interest case under the new law in 2016 was successful. Most cases, though, are still not making it to the court. The book would be a great choice for an undergraduate or graduate course on environmental politics. It is also likely to engage anyone interested in the intersection of law and the environment.


Jun 24 2013

COLD CASH, COOL CLIMATE: SCIENCE-BASED ADVICE FOR ECOLOGICAL ENTREPRENEURS by Jonathan Koomey

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cold Cash, Cool Climate: Science-Based Advice for Ecological Entrepreneurs by Jonathan Koomey, Analytics Press, 2012, 222pp.

Cold Cash, Cool Climate begins with a novel, concise, and easy-to-read explanation of current climate science, as if pitching a green startup to an investor. It is a useful presentation for a society burdened by what a recent New York Times article called “climate fatigue.” It offers what could be a practical response to the unnecessary stalemate between industrial competition and sustainability noted by Michael Porter. Koomey summarizes decades of climate science, positing unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases already in the earth’s atmosphere. From there, he illustrates how entrepreneurs, would-be investors, and startups interested in turning a profit can make money while addressing the challenges posed by climate change. The book reads like the kind of policy report a consulting firm might turn out. Non-business and non-technical readers will remain engaged as he makes connections between impending crises and market-driven change possibilities. Most of this change, according to Koomey, should occur in industries prepared to develop infrastructure for renewables. He makes a surprising assertion, though, when he alleges that the Apollo Program is an inadequate analogy for the role government might play to bring about systemic change, since it is too myopic. I would argue that Congressional politics are also too polarized for government to take the steps necessary to support relevant entrepreneurial efforts. Nevertheless, Koomey argues that newer areas of innovation like connectivity and social media will allow for a more cohesive institutional overhaul of what is possible, setting the stage for would-be investors and startups looking to profit from helping to “solve” the climate problem. In Koomey’s book, the entrepreneur is both the protagonist and the target audience, cast as a convincing bringer-of-change, where slow moving institutions have failed in the past.


Dec 21 2012

THE SLUMS OF ASPEN: IMMIGRANTS VS THE ENVIRONMENT IN AMERICA’S EDEN by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Pellow

Review by Isabelle Anguelovski, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

In this book Park and Pellow explore environmental privilege in relation to the international flow of goods, services, and people and to the exacerbation of poverty and exclusion.

The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants Vs the Environment in America’s Eden, by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Pellow, New York University Press, 275pp

Much of the extensive literature on environmental justice has examined inequities in exposure to contamination. Historically, minorities and low-income populations have suffered from greater environmental harm from waste sites, incinerators, refineries, transportation, and small-area sources than white and well-off communities. However, inequalities exist not only in the distribution of environmental ills. They are also manifested in the territorial allocation of environmental goods and services, including parks, coasts, and open spaces, which scholars have recently started to pay more attention to.

In The Slums of Aspen, sociologists Lisa Park and David Pellow examine the flip side of environmental burden: environmental privilege. In Aspen, Colorado, the authors show how a municipal resolution from 1999—under the discourse of environmental protection and embodying nativist claims of population growth through immigration being responsible for environmental degradation—attempted to limit immigration and eliminate Latino immigrants from the seemingly serene and pristine landscape of Aspen. The power of Pellow and Park’s fine, in-depth and nuanced qualitative study is to show that wealthier and white groups are actually able to enjoy natural areas like Aspen thanks to the invisible work of immigrant and poor workers, whom they in turn accuse of damaging natural resources and attempt to exclude from spaces of environmental privilege.

In this book, Pellow and Park portray two different worlds: the world of Saudi princes and American millionaires living in their 6,000 square foot mansions with heated driveways and consuming an absurd amount of resources and energy, and the one of Latino immigrants hidden in small trailers 100 miles away from the exclusive resort, but working daily to maintain the lifestyle of Aspen’s residents and visitors. The Slums of Aspen thus raises two fundamental questions: who is actually responsible for environmental damage and resource depletion? And how does the international flow of goods, services, and people contribute to this environmental state and to the exacerbation of poverty and exclusion?