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AMERICAN CLIMATE POLITICS: A GUIDE (PART TWO)

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AMERICAN  CLIMATE  POLITICS:  A  GUIDE  (PART  TWO)

Energy, environment, economy

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DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS                          DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Sectors: Energy, environment, economy       Importance: ****

Level: National                                               Scope: USA only

Period: Short, middle and long runs               Process: Policy politics

MAIN TOPIC: Climate                                     Treatment: Commentary. Background.

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EMPIRICAL  SYSTEMS   1

Energy   1.1

Environment    1.2

Economy   1.3

NORMATIVE  ISSUES   2

Disasters    2.1

Exploitation    2.2

Standards    2.3

RECOMMENDED  READING   3

Environment  3.1

Climate: Mainstream approaches   3.2

Climate: Alternative approaches   3.3

INTRODUCTION

This Post continues our overview of the overlap between the three policy domains of Energy, Environment, and Economy, the overlap in which American Climate Politics is located. (For Part One of this Guide, please see my 130223 Post.)

The first third of the Post provides materials on the three EMPIRICAL SYSTEMS of Energy, Environment, and Economy (EEE). These “sociotechnical” systems include both the natural physical systems themselves and the political institutions that, for policy purposes, embody and connect them. Overall, in the last half century, American policies toward this domain have gradually added new layers. Originally the national EEE policy domain largely institutionalized the USA’s historical determination to develop its abundant natural resources. The 1970s added a new layer, concern to prevent immediate and local negative impacts from rising pollution.  By the 1990s a third layer began to form, concern for the longrun sustainability of global development. By the 2010s this concern increasingly focuses on how to mitigate and adapt to longrun global climate change.

The middle third of the post raises NORMATIVE  ISSUES: evaluative stances toward EEE problems, particularly stances emerging within American communities from ongoing local confrontations with EEE processes. One of these confrontations concerns how to respond to recent natural Disasters (floods, droughts, hurricanes) that have dramatized the reality of climate change and the need to do something about it. Another confrontation concerns how to protect the environment despite ever more intensive Exploitation of North American energy resources (particularly tar sands and gas shale). Finally we note some normative Standards for climate policies.  

The last third of the Post describes RECOMMENDED READINGS. This section summarizes some of the main arguments in some of the best recent books and even suggests how some of those arguments might be extended. After noting useful web sites, this section characterizes some recent work on the environment in general, then focuses on climate in particular, noting both mainstream and alternative approaches.

EMPIRICAL SYSTEMS   1

We turn to the diverse EMPIRICAL SYSTEMS that EEE issues involve and their relationship to the political institutions that, for policy purposes, embody and connect them. We just noted that the EEE policy domain has gradually added new layers: from developing natural resources to regulating pollution to combating unsustainable development. Let us try to put those successive layers into the context of American political development. The successive layers MIGHT to some extent correspond to Lowi’s classic typology of policies as distributive, regulatory, or redistributive. Historically, in American politics, developing natural resources involved mostly distributing permissions and subsidies. Preventing pollution is clearly a regulatory issue. Steering development away from unsustainable activities toward sustainable ones arguably is redistributive, because it requires reallocating opportunities from some sets of actors and assets to others.

Energy   1.1

As just noted, in American politics EEE issues originally arose in connection with developing America’s abundant resources. The national government not only granted access to these resources but also subsidies for developing them. In the energy sector, the result was not only America’s richest millionaires (the Rockefellers) but also a set of vested interests that remain highly powerful to this day.

The oil-auto complex that developed in the post-war USA was both challenged and reinforced by the “energy crises” of the 1970s. At least ostensibly, these crises made Americans want to reduce their dependence on imported oil. On the one hand Americans needed to improve the efficiency with which they used energy, such as by improving the mileage of automobiles and the efficiency of buildings. On the other hand, the USA needed to further develop its own energy resources, preferably alternatives to fossil fuels. An institutional result was the 1977 establishment of an Energy Department to strengthen and coordinate diverse national policies affecting energy development.

Relatively, Democrats have favored development of alternative forms of energy, while Republicans have favored more EXTENSIVE exploitation of petroreserves. Emblematic of the Republican approach was the 2001-2009 administration of oil man president George Bush, whose vice-president Dick Cheney planned the administration’s energy policies in consultation with energy companies. In the 2010s, cutting subsidies to highly profitable oil companies could contribute not only to making alternative energy more competitive but also to balancing the American national budget. Instead, Republicans want to cut subsidies to the alternatives, decrying Obama’s attempts to promote “green” energy as “politically corrupt violations” of market principles.  

Absolutely, neither Democrats nor Republicans have succeeded in moving far in their preferred policy directions, because of the relative balance between the power of the two parties. For a while, higher energy prices facilitated the use of advanced technology for more INTENSIVE exploitation of  North American carbon energy resources. Success at this unexpectedly raised the possibility that the USA might indeed become somewhat energy-independent. However, success at exploiting more carbon also lowered energy prices, impeding the development of alternative forms. (For a critique of a suddenly popular variant on “energy independence” see Michael Levi 121213 “Does ‘net energy self sufficiency’ mean anything?” at blogs.cfr.org/levi.)

A remarkable – and radical – recent book on the politics of energy is Timothy Mitchell 2011 Carbon democracy : political power in the age of oil. London ; New York : Verso, 278 pages. In mainstream American political science, the now standard argument on the relationship between petroleum and democracy (in oil producing states) is that the revenues from oil enable autocratic rulers to avoid having to tax their subjects and therefore to avoid democratization (“no taxation, no representation,” in an inversion of the classic slogan). Timothy Mitchell does not particularly dispute that relationship within those countries, but he expands the topic to much larger issues on a global scale and he makes the analysis more precise.

First, fossil fuels made an indispensable contribution to Western democratization, which relied on the economic prosperity produced by the transition from the power of animals and humans to mechanical power generated by fossil fuels. One can hardly imagine the initial emergence of mass democracies in countries in which most of the population most of the time was engaged in grueling physical labor. Once invented, democracy could be transferred from developed to underdeveloped countries, as from England to India, but even then the masses in the underdeveloped country would not participate very actively. If the era of fossil fuels is now coming to an end, and perhaps the era of prosperity with it, what will happen to democracy?

Second, Mitchell makes the relationship between energy and politics much more specific than the overall one between prosperity and democracy. The relationship varies with the particular type of fossil fuel involved and the particular sociotechnical arrangements for producing and distributing it. The first main fossil fuel was coal, which was dug from relatively concentrated deposits and then shipped along relatively constrained lines of transportation, the railroads that coal itself made possible. Labor-intensive coal mines concentrated workers underground away from monitoring by management, facilitating the workers’ organization into unions. Rail lines were vulnerable to interruption by striking workers. These sociotechnical arrangements combined with the growing indispensability of coal-fired energy to give workers crucial economic and political leverage that they used to promote democratization and accompanying social-democratic policies toward work and welfare.

Third, as soon as they had the opportunity, elites counter-attacked, by undermining the coal economy and substituting a capital-intensive one based on oil. Here relatively few workers labored above ground under easy management supervision, in both production and distribution. The lightness and fluidity of oil permitted distribution through overland pipelines and by tankers plying the seas between continents, depriving workers of easy pressure points. In the mid-twentieth century, oil permitted analysts to posit an abstract “economy” governed by laws that permitted unlimited growth. Under this “macro-economics,” politics in Western democracies increasingly revolved around the supposed disciplines of “the market.” What followed was decline in union power, decline in social democracy, and even decline in democracy itself. Now rising energy prices are undermining the postwar premises of cheap energy and unlimited growth. The threat of climate catastrophe sabotages the postwar promise of the oil economy.

Another good critical history of American energy policy over the past forty years is Michael J. Graetz 2011The end of energy: The unmaking of America’s environment, security, and independence. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 369 pages Among more mainstream analyses,

monumental histories of global energy are Daniel Yergin 1991 The prize : the epic quest for oil, money, and power. New York NY: Simon and Schuster, 877 pages AND Daniel Yergin 2011The Quest: Energy, security, and the remaking of the modern world. New York NY: Penguin Books, 804 pages.  [Updated 2012, 832 pages.] A good brief on energy policy and its relationship to climate change is Kelley Sims Gallagher ed. 2009Acting in time on energy policy. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 194 pages. A treatment of “energy security” in the sense of securing America’s energy supplies argues that this is better done through careful management of energy “interdependence” with supplier nations than by attempting to achieve energy “independence.” (Carlos Pascual and Jonathan Elkind eds 2010 Energy security: Economics, politics, strategies, and implications: Washington  DC: Brookings Institution Press, 279 pages.

Environment   1.2

Around 1900, it was a Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, who began institutionalizing environmentalism. Around 1970, it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who signed the various pieces of legislation and issued the various executive orders that established the main American national institutions for managing the environment that currently remain in place. The main example is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), established to strengthen and coordinate environmental measures in the many branches of the national government. Since then, the overall EEE story has been the accumulation of experience with the early 1970s approach and the accumulation of recommendations for how to reform it. Until the 1980s, both of America’s two main political parties contained environmentalists. Since then, environmental policy has oscillated between alternately strengthening and weakening the foundational 1970s environmental regime. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration did its best to weaken environmental regulation in favor of market forces. The first Bush and the Clinton administrations then tentatively turned back toward regulation. The second Bush administration returned to market principles, while the first Obama administration again turned toward renewed regulation.

Unfortunately, recent reduction of American emissions did not result from some progressive inner logic within Energy affairs themselves. Instead, much of the reduction resulted simply from the slowdown in the Economy through the Great Recession, and so could be reversed as the economy recovers. In general, emissions seem subject to a “ratchet” effect: they rise further during economic expansions than they fall during contractions, establishing higher and higher plateaus with each cycle (Brad Plumer 120909 “Don’t count on recession to keep climate change in check”).  Also, much of the reduction resulted from legislation that subsidized the development of alternative energies, subsidies that will soon expire and that Congress might not renew because of the “fiscal crisis” (Brad Plumer 120626 “Can U.S. carbon emissions keep dropping? That depends on Congress”).

(For actions on emissions that Obama could still have taken during his first term, see Danielle Baussan and Daniel J. Weiss 121109 “Five essential EPA pollution rules to finalize in Obama’s first term” at thinkprogress.org/climate. For actions on emissions that Obama could take during his second term, see Ron Pernick 121108  “Five clean-tech actions for president Obama in his next term at thinkprogress.org/climate. For more details, see National Resources Defense Council 1212 “Using the Clean Air Act to sharply reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants” at nrdc.org/air/pollution-standards, along with the accompanying Issue Brief and Full Report.)

This week several major American think tanks jointly released a collection of essays that discuss the complex impact of environmental stresses on current world politics. Environmental stresses in various parts of the world indirectly helped cause the recent Arab revolutions. As one essay in the volume concludes, the resulting “fledgling democracies with weak institutions might find it even harder to deal with the root problems than the regimes they replace, and they may be more vulnerable to further unrest as a result.” (Sarah Johnstone and Jeffrey Mazo). Meanwhile, compounding the problem, Arab states produce much of the world’s oil and heavily subsidize the consumption of petrofuels within their own countries. (For links to the report, and a summary, see Caitlin E. Werrell, Francesco Femia, and Anne-Marie Slaughter 130228 “The Arab Spring and climate change: A climate and security correlations series” at americanprogress.org.. For remarks, see Thomas L. Friedman 130302 “The scary hidden stressor” at nytimes.com. The report,The Arab Spring and climate change, was edited by Caitlin E. Werrell and Francesco Femia, released in February 2013 and produced by the Center for American Progress, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Climate and Security, 58 pages. Evidently the report is part of a series on “climate and security correlations.” For more on the security dimension of the environment, see the second paragraph of 3.1 on Environment below under Recommended Readings.)

Economy   1.3

Currently, as an issue of public policy, energy and environment make it onto the agenda mostly through the economy. A first reason for this is partisan politics. In a period when Americans are most concerned about the weakness of the economy, issues can make it onto the political agenda only insofar as they can be construed as contributing to economic recovery. A second reason is policy discourse. As with so many American policy domains, energy and environment  will be approached largely through economic analysis. Partly this reflects the hegemonism of market ideologies in American neoliberal politics. Partly this may reflect the policy instruments realistically available to policymakers. 

Thus to be ideologically plausible and politically feasible, environmental proposals must accord with America’s currently mainstream “liberal environmentalism”: the stipulation that free- market economic development and environmental governance can be made compatible. Within American environmental policymaking, economics advisers to presidents – and the Office of Management and Budget – have often “moderated” the policy proposals of environmental advisers and advocates. (For an upbeat argument for the synergy of energy efficiency and economic development, see David B. Goldstein 2007 Saving energy, growing jobs: How environmental protection promotes economic growth, profitability, innovation, and competition Berkely CA: Bay Tree Publishing, . Interesting accounts of the difficult role in environmental policy of economic advisers in recent administrations are compiled in Randall Lutter and Jason F. Shogren eds. 2004 Painting the White House green: Rationalizing environmental policy inside the Executive Office of the President. Washington DC: Resources for the Future, 205 pages. Despite the ideological hegemony of market economics, most of these advisers felt they were not sufficiently heeded by political policymakers.)

Specifically on climate control, mainstream economic approaches mostly argue that  the most effective and efficient way to limit carbon emissions is to raise the price of carbon, particularly through a carbon tax. Government could then use the resulting revenues to address related problems, including assisting poor people most adversely affected by higher energy prices. Unfortunately, raising the price of energy – particularly through a tax – is the last thing that American politicians want to be held responsible for doing. So far, the main market-oriented to a carbon tax has been a cap-and-trade system that limits emissions and allows emitters to trade emission quotas. The national government has not yet authorized a national cap-and-trade system. Nevertheless, some American state governments have done so and formed regional blocs of contiguous states to implement such measures. (Other possibilities for limiting carbon through market mechanisms include auctions, increasing credits for reducing emissions, and reducing subsidies to fossil fuels. See Joseph E. Aldy and Robert Stavins 2011The promise and problems of pricing carbon: theory and experience. Cambridge MA : National Bureau of Economic Research, NBER working papers, 17569. Also inThe Journal of Environment & Development, April 2012.)

American-invented cap-and-trade has also become the main de facto international mechanism for limiting carbon emissions. All of this is not simply a matter of intellectual fashion. Instead, when some international energy businesses decided to give up their fight to prevent any form of regulation of emissions – particularly a tax on carbon – they preferred and promoted cap-and-trade as the most market-friendly form of regulation. (On the business alliances promoting cap-and-trade, see Jonas Meckling 2011Carbon coalitions: Business, climate politics, and the rise of emissions trading. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 250 pages.)

As for the recent American politics and ecology of cap-and-trade, in 2010 radical Republicans rejected it. But emissions fell anyway! America MAY have done better WITHOUT cap-and-trade than it would have with it! But in the long run, to achieve the drastic cuts necessary to avert global climate catastrophe, probably a price on carbon IS needed. (Brad Plumer 121025 “Is U.S. climate policy better off without cap-and-trade?”)  On taxing carbon, some experience suggests it MIGHT work (Brad Plumer 121017 “What we can learn from Europe’s cap-and-trade system” and 120919 “How would a carbon tax work? Let’s ask British Columbia”). Current subnational American experiments should provide further experience. Meanwhile, however, some economists question how far a carbon tax could reduce emissions: industry typically under-invests in new technology and might require some subsidy from government to do so, possibly funded from revenues from a carbon tax (Brad Plumer 121120 “Would a carbon tax cut emissions drastically? Not on its own”).

A book-length analysis of climate economics by Yale economist William Nordhaus illustrates how mainstream American economics approaches climate control. Nordhaus uses a model that includes both economic and climate science, keeping the model as simple as possible to make it as transparent as possible. Nordhaus argues that using market signals to reduce carbon emissions would be much more economically efficient – in the sense of achieving the most reduction for the least cost – than most current policy alternatives. The alternatives he critiques include quantitative limits (such as emissions caps and efficiency standards), the Kyoto Protocol (too weak to accomplish anything), and various European proposals for immediate strong action (which raise energy costs too early, at the cost of longrun growth). In Nordhaus’ analysis, policies become dramatically less efficient not only when their timing is wrong but also when they do not include all nations and all industrial sectors. Certainly it is useful to have an economically “optimal” policy to which to compare alternatives. Probably Nordhaus’ analysis applies fairly well to moderate amounts of climate change, particularly in developed countries.

(See William Nordhaus 2008 A question of balance: Weighing the options on global warming policies. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 234 pages.)

Nordhaus insists that his purpose is to promote action, not inaction. Nevertheless one fears that the economically optimal can easily become the enemy of the politically feasible. Opponents of action can use economic objections to argue against actions such as America’s joining an international climate regime. It may be politically unavoidable for proponents of action to rely on policy measures that are less than optimally efficient economically but that are politically feasible because the president can implement them without congressional approval. Over time, Nordhaus advocates a “policy ramp” that begins with mild controls in the short run that increase sharply in the middle and long run. Nordhaus notes that his model pays more attention to extreme possibilities than simpler “single best guess” approaches. Nevertheless, one wonders how his gradualist approach comports with the likelihood of an imminent and irreversible “tipping point” toward uncontrollable climate change. Finally, it is admirable of Nordhaus to keep his model as simple as possible in order to facilitate others’ understanding and improving it. However, across space, the result is that the model projects global averages and cannot show different effects on different regions of the world. Whole nations could disappear under water even if, on average, the rest of the world survives.

Analyses by mainstream economic historians have noted instances in American economic history when various combinations of public and private action have successfully adapted to variation in climes (Nordhaus  Also Gary D. Libecap and Richard H. Steckel eds. 2011The economics of climate change: Adaptations past and present. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 353 pages.)

NORMATIVE   ISSUES    2

Whenever possible, the Posts on this Blog to try to identify normative issues surrounding American policy politics. At the outset of this Post we noted the successive layers in the EEE policy domain: exploiting natural resources, limiting pollution, and seeking sustainability. We suggested that those layers might correspond to different types of policies: distributive, regulatory, and redistributive. Here we suggest that those layers may correspond also to successive normative standards. The ostensible normative basis of the first layer of all-out exploitation of North American resources was a religious claim that God intended humans to do so. From an environmental point of view, that amounted to no standard at all. Then, at the end of the nineteenth century, as some of the negative consequences of development began to appear, environmentalists raised a standard of “stewardship”: for example, setting aside some unspoiled wilderness as national parks. Finally, at the end of the twentieth century, a new standard of “sustainability” emerged.

A useful recent normative approach to climate politics argues that scientific and economic framings of the climate problem overlook the deepest challenge, which is ethical. The point is not merely “philosophical,” but quite practical. Technocratic framings have led to the “dead end” of mainstream international approaches, whereas ethical framings highlight other dimensions of the problem that could provoke alternative approaches, some of which might work. Ethical analysis faces a “perfect storm” produced by the converge of three sets of difficulties: the fact that the problem is global, that it is intergenerational, and that it challenges the relevant political and economic theories and institutions. (See his Preface and Overview for summaries.)   (Stephen M. Gardiner 2011A perfect moral storm: The ethical tragedy of climate change. New York NY: Oxford University Press, 489 pages).

This section first approaches normativity in EEE issues by noting public responses to some EEE issues that are currently confronting localities across the USA. One set of current issues is intensified EXPLOITATION of North American fossil fuels that had previously been too difficult and expensive to access, such as the Canadian tar sands and American gas shale. Another set of current issues is DISASTERS such as the droughts, fires, and hurricanes that have plagued the USA during 2012. Finally we conclude by noting some academic analyses of normative STANDARDS in environmental and climate politics.

Exploitation   2.1

The Canadian TAR SANDS are immensely important because, if they are fully exploited, the resulting emissions will probably tip the planet into irreversible and accelerated warming. In the meantime, politics concern where to build the pipelines needed to transport the oil synthesized from tar sands either to American markets or to ports from which it can be shipped to foreign markets (not least China). Part of this Keystone Pipeline System has already been built, carrying Canadian oil to refineries in Illinois and to a distribution hub in Oklahoma. Still pending are an alternate route (the Keystone XL pipeline) that could pick up American oil in Montana, and an extension (the Gulf Coast Project) that would carry both Canadian and American oil to Texas.

In January 2012 president Obama denied permission to build the XL pipeline, evidently to force its relocation away from environmentally sensitive areas in South Dakota. Republicans promptly accused him of being against American jobs and prosperity. In March 2012 Obama endorsed the southern extension to the Gulf Coast, instructing national agencies to expedite its construction. Some environmentalists denounce him for facilitating the destruction of the planet. However, if the Keystone system cannot be completed within the USA, oil companies would probably build a pipeline west across Canada to its West Coast and export Canadian oil from there.

Because the issue is international, Obama gave the issue to his new Secretary of State John Kerry, who pledged to consider the findings of a new State Department review of the environmental impact of a new route for the pipeline across South Dakota. On technical issues, the task force has now concluded that the new route is safe and that Canadian tar sands will be developed with or without the Keystone pipeline. The report does not recommend policy, leaving that to president Obama to decide later. He faces continuing pressure from Canada, international energy companies, and even American labor to approve the pipeline. He faces continuing pressure from environmental advocates and local landowners to disapprove it. (John M. Broder 130301 “Report may ease path for new pipeline” at nytimes.com. On labor, see Steven Greenhouse 130227 “A.F.L.-C.I.O. backs Keystone oil pipeline, if indirectly” at nytimes.com.)

Exploitation of deep strata of GAS SHALE has recently been made possible by a new technology (“fracking”) that has lowered costs and by a rise in energy prices that made the use of the technology profitable. (The technology then proved so successful at producing gas that it lowered the price.)  “Fracking” is short for “hydrolic fracturing,” meaning the injection of fluid deep underground to fracture shale to allow gas trapped in the rock to escape. The technique was first used in 1947 in vertical wells. What is new in the early 2000s is “horizontal” fracking: drilling sideways from the bottom of a well to tap more shale from one well. This technique was first applied in 1998 to the Barnett Shale in Texas, but quickly spread elsewhere in USA. (On fracking, see “Natural Gas Extraction - Hydraulic Fracturing” at epa.gov/hydraulicfracturing/.)

A current confrontation concerns fracking of the Marcellus Shale underlying the Appalachian Plateau in north-central Pennsylvania and south-central New York. The use of horizontal fracking in north-central Pennsylvania has produced a gas boom, but also much controversy, as some of the drilling fluid and released gas evidently has escaped into local water supplies. Moreover, gas companies bought up leases from local landowners at very low prices, before many landowners realized the true value of the gas. (Eliza Griswold 111117 “The fracturing of Pennsylvania” in the Sunday Magazine at nytimes.com. On New York, see the Green blog under Environment at nytimes.com. On the national process, see “EPA's study of hydraulic fracturing and its potential impact on drinking water resources” at epa.gov/hfstudy/.)

The prospective use of horizontal fracking in south-central New York has enthused local landowners hoping to profit from leasing gas rights to gas companies but provoked concern from other local residents fearing pollution of their air, contamination of their water, and damage to their land and roads. These are very significant concerns, since one of upstate New York’s principal assets is its large reserves of clean fresh water, already central to much local agriculture, and likely to become even more precious as much of the rest of the planet runs dry. In an attempt to exercise “home rule,” many localities across Central New York have preemptively outlawed fracking within their jurisdictions. If the state decides to contest these local decisions, they may or may not prevail against state jurisdiction. A possibility is that New York state will authorize fracking only in localities that endorse it.

The New York state government, trying to avoid some of the mistakes made in Pennsylvania, has not yet approved any horizontal fracking, pending the research and release of adequate regulations. In the course of drafting these regulations, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has solicited much public comment, most of it negative. Many upstate New Yorkers doubt that the regulations will be sufficiently strict to prevent pollution and suspect that, regardless, the state will eventually permit some fracking. At the turn of 2012-2013, the release of the regulations has been postponed for further review of the possible health impacts of fracking. Meanwhile, since fracking has become a nation-wide issue, the national government MIGHT issue its own regulations.

A personal note: I live in Central New York on the Appalachian Plateau over the Marcellus shale, on the northern edge of the Southern Tier areas most likely to be fracked. As it happens, under the valley in which I live is a particularly large and clean aquifer that fracking might contaminate. Aside from state regulations, horizontal fracking is not likely in my area until gas prices rise high enough to make it profitable here. Many local farmers, who face adverse current farm economics, would welcome fracking.

Disasters   2.2

Another personal note: I flew in and out of New York City in the last hours before Hurricane Sandy arrived. John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is on the south shore of Long Island, just where the hurricane later did its greatest damage. Descending to land and taking off to leave, one flies low over the barrier islands (Far Rockaway) where the storm surge from Sandy struck. I looked down with concern on the neighborhoods along the beach, many soon to be destroyed.  

I don’t want to represent Hurricane Sandy as the most costly hurricane in American history or as a turning point in America’s environmental consciousness. Nevertheless, it had unusual impact, because it hit the populous East Coast of the USA right at the climax of a political campaign. The death and destruction it caused instantly invalidated the indifference toward climate issues that the Republican candidate had displayed. Evidently that played a significant role in turning voters toward the at least marginally more climate-concerned Democratic candidate.

Hurricane Sandy did unprecedented damage to the USA’s largest metropolitan area: around New York City, encompassing parts of the states of New York and New Jersey. This disaster quickly turned local and state leaders toward Obama. Not too surprisingly, the mayor of New York – now an Independent, but a Democrat before first seeking office as a Republican! –  promptly endorsed Obama for president, on the grounds that Obama and the Democrats were more likely to try to combat climate change than Romney and the Republicans (Brad Plumer 121101 “Bloomberg endorses Obama over climate change. Does Obama deserve it?”). More surprisingly, the governor of New Jersey (usually an outspoken Republican critic of Obama) warmly received Obama during his visits there to inspect damage and offer national assistance. In the closing days of the presidential campaign, to the anger of Republicans, this helped Obama play his preferred role of post-partisan leader.    

The topic of disasters is actually quite pertinent to the politics of policy change: disasters are exogenous shocks that shake up the status quo and create demand for new policies. As a result, it is worth studying how policy politics responds to disasters. See Thomas A. Birkland 1997After disaster: Agenda setting, public policy, and focusing events. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 169 pages. Also Thomas A. Birkland 2007Lessons of disaster: Policy change after catrastrohpic events. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 353 pages. Another angle is how to reduce the vulnerability of human systems to disasters: Charles Perrow 2007 The next catastrophe: Reducing our vulnerabilities to natural, industrial, and terrorist disasters. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 377 pages.

Standards   2.3

A useful recent book derives some simple normative standards for environmental policy from Hurricane Katrina’s inundating New Orleans in 2005: “go green, be fair, and keep safe.” (Robert R. M Verchick 2012Facing catastrophe: Environment action for a post-Katrina world. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 322 pages.)

Another useful recent normative book identifies demands for climate fairness and justice that are intuitively attractive but that in practice could obstruct international agreements on managing climate. One might well think that an international climate treaty should burden rich countries more than poor countries, or punish countries that in the past have emitted the most greenhouse gasses, or place an equal burden on all individuals around the world. However, the authors argue that, even if one accepts these standards, even in principle there may be better ways to achieve them than through a climate treaty, such as making side payments to countries that a treaty affects adversely. Moreover, in practice, attempting to achieve such standards through a climate treaty may prevent the adoption of any treaty at all. Instead the authors recommend “looking forward, not backward” and recommend thinking in terms of states not individuals. (Eric A. Posner and David Weisbach 2010 Climate change justice. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 220 pages).

The history of North Americans’ exploitation of the continent leaves much room for moral tirades denouncing Americans’ profligacy. A passionate new book by an award-winning Canadian environmentalist (who lives in Alberta near the Canadian tar sands) makes a provocative comparison. In the nineteenth century, fossil fuels replaced the human energy of slaves, facilitating their emancipation. Now North Americans have become accustomed to a lifestyle as luxurious as that of slave-owning Caribbean planters. The author argues that current Americans are as callous as were the planters about the dubious moral foundations of that lifestyle. He calls for a new movement of moral emancipation that learns to use energy “on a moral, just, and truly human scale.” (Andrew Nikiforuk 2012 The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude. Vancouver/Toronto/Berkeley: Greystone Books, D&M Publishers, 272 pages.)

RECOMMENDED READING    3

As usual, the best places to begin checking current developments in a policy domain are the relevant series at the New York Times or Washington Post.

Recently the Times  updated a section on Global Warming & Climate Change, which provides links to institutions, skeptics, and documents. The Times Topics also lists recent articles on Climate & Energy Legislation, Environment, Endangered & Extinct Species, and Energy & Power. In the Environment section under Science, the Times currently has a series on climate warming called Temperature Rising. The Opinion Pages hosts Andrew Revkin’s blog on sustainability, called Dot Earth. Having shut down its Environment desk, the Times has also discontinued its blog on energy and environment, called Green.

The Washington Post has an exemplary series at the Environment section of Wonkblog, written by Brad Plummer. He summarizes the latest policy research by relevant institutions, providing links to their work. Accordingly, this Post cites many of his articles, all of which can be found on Wonkblog at  washingtonpost.com.

On current policy, the oldest nonpartisan thinktank for economic analysis of energy and environment is Resources for the Future (RFF, founded 1952 in Washington DC, now also at rff.org). Another is the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC, founded 1970 in New York City, now also at nrdc.org.). For a range of progressive analyses on climate, see the page onThe Politics of America's Fight against Global Warming at scholarsstrategynetwork.org. See also the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions at c2es.org, climatepolicy.org (a project of the American Meteorological Sociey), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at ipcc.ch.

realclimate.org, The Tyndal Center for Climate Change Research at tyndall.ac.uk, and the World Resources Institute at wri.org.

Environment  3.1

The most important recent political science contribution on American environmental politics in general is Judith Layzer 2012Open for business: Conservatives’ opposition to environment regulation. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 499 pages. Layzer’s overall project is to demonstrate the impact of conservative IDEAS on recent American policies toward the USA’s domestic environment. She argues that, from 1970 on, conservative anti-environmentalists gradually learned not to challenge the more popular parts of American environmental regulation too directly and conspicuously, because doing so produced strong backlash from environmentalists. Instead conservatives learned to proceed indirectly, subtly undermining environmentalist ideas while quietly weakening particular environmental regulations. Conservatives were most successful at blocking control of climate, less successful at limiting protection of biodiversity, and least successful at rolling back controls on pollution. (For much detail, please see the summary of Layzer in the last quarter of my 130223 Post.)

A useful complement to Layzer analyzes the role of the environment in the external security policy of recent American administrations. International relations scholar Rita Floyd argues that the end of the Cold War deprived the American security establishment of an external threat that justified continued high funding for itself. To fill the gap, defense interests turned in part to climate threats. For its part, the American environmental establishment welcomed a connection to “national security” as a way to increase its chronically inadequate funding. Domestic environmental laws already obliged the military to clean up its bases and abide by pollution restrictions, practical measures eventually embraced by the George H.W. Bush administration. The pro-environmental Clinton administration in principle advanced a broad need for “environmental security” to protect Americans from external environmental dangers, but in practice its defense and diplomacy pursued rather limited environmental objectives that again benefitted mostly the national security establishment. The anti-environmental Bush administration quietly abandoned the “environmental security” rationale and minimized most relevant practices. British Floyd uses these American materials to somewhat reformulate Danish “securitization theory,” according to which branding something a “security” threat is mostly a rhetorical ploy within political struggles. (Rita Floyd 2010 Security and the environment: Securitization theory and US environmental security policy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 215 pages.)

My 130223 Post reported Theda Skocpol’s recent argument that a main reason for the failure of environmentalists to obtain passage of national climate control legislation in 2010 – when Democrats controlled both the national executive and legislature – was that environmentalists lacked a mass movement to bring political pressure to bear on legislators. A valuable book recounts the evolution of environmentalists from mass movement to elite lobbying: Christopher J. Bosso 2005 Environment, Inc: From grassroots to beltway. Lawrence KA: University Press of Kansas, 194 pages.

A good political science analysis of a recent period is Christopher McCrory Klyza and David Sousa 2008 American environmental policy 1990-2006 Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 385 pages. A more theoretical but less political analysis is Robert Repetto ed. 2006Punctuated equilibrium and the dynamics of U.S. environmental policy. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 392 pages. For an argument that the original 1970 environment act could have provided a wise basis for comprehensive ecological policy if more faithfully applied by all branches of government, see Mathew J. Lindstrom and Zachary A. Smith 2001 The National Environmental Policy Act: Judicial misconstruction, legislative indifference, & executive neglect. College Station TX: Texas A&M Press, 188 pages. A detailed book-length study of the Environmental Protection Agency –  not of policymaking but of implementation – is lawyer Joel A. Mintz 1995/2012 Enforcement at the EPA: High stakes and hard choices. Austin TX: University of Texas Press, 313 pages.

Basic textbooks on American environmental politics include: Norma Miller 2009Environmental politics: Stakeholders, interests, and policymaking (2nd edition) New York NY: Routledge, 207 pages. Also Walter R. Rosenbaum 2007 Environmental politics and policy, 7th edition. Washington DC: CQ Press, 397 pages. Also Norman J. Vig and Michael E. Kraft eds. 2006Environmental policy: New directions for the twenty-first century, 6th edition. Washington DC: CQ Press, 434 pages. A monumental and thoughtful history from colonial times to the present is Richard N. L. Andrews 2006 Managing the environment, managing ourselves: A history of American environmental policy, 2nd edition. New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 515 pages.

Climate:  Mainstream approaches   3.2

Specifically on climate, the best introduction to both politics and policies is Barry G. Rabe ed. 2010Greenhouse governance: Addressing climate change in America. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 382 pages. In this book, on POLITICS, different authors explore the interacting roles of subnational, national, and supranational governance: how localities and states in the USA have pioneered policies for controlling climate, how the American national government has so far failed to adopt them, and how that failure has obstructed supranational progress on climate change. On POLICIES, different authors explain the different technical and political logics of different approaches to mitigation: emissions trading, carbon taxes, standards for fuel economy, and different ways to encourage the use of renewable resources in generating electricity (tax credits, portfolio standards, and payments for the “feed in” of alternative electricity from diverse small sources to the main grid). 

[Thus, under Politics, the Rabe volume nicely explores the “vertical” dimension of structural levels, while under Policies it nicely illuminates the “horizontal” dimension of different functions. That is quite enough for one volume! Nevertheless, it is worth noting a third main dimension that remains only implicit in the Rabe book: TIME. A key fact about climate change as a problem is that it is accelerating. It is compressing “ice age” scale change that in the past took millennia into a mere few decades in the future. Moreover, parts of the change are likely to be not gradual and linear but abrupt and chaotic. Political analyses of policy remedies would benefit from explicit comparison of the temporal dynamics of likely policy experiments with the temporal dynamics of the problem itself.]    

On the global PROBLEM of climate change, a clear introduction to some of the best thinking among American policymakers is Kurt M. Campbell ed. 2008 Climatic cataclysm. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 237 pages. In this project, diverse experts agreed on three plausible scenarios for climate change over the next thirty years and explore the implications for American security policy. The three scenarios involve different degrees of the same types of disturbances: rising sea levels and worsening storms, falling agricultural and industrial production, and disruption of established patterns of human settlement and migration.

In the Campbell volume, the EXPECTED scenario is already inevitable, according to relatively simple and moderate mainstream climate models. The USA will suffer significant disruptions, but the main impact on American policy will be increased demands for assistance from poorer countries and increased threats from international conflict between failing states. The SEVERE scenario allows for the possibility that the earth’s climate will respond more and faster to increased greenhouse gasses. Even the USA will have to relocate much of its population and production, and probably will not be in a position – technologically, financially, or politically – to much aid other counties. The CATASTROPHIC scenario assumes major disruption in global ecology: melting of freshwater from polar ice caps and disruption of ocean currents that nowe carry heat from tropical to temperate climates. This becomes plausible after about 2050, causes a huge rise in sea levels, and means “the end of civilization as we know it.”

[So far the academic literature has not yet tried to think through the detailed implications of these disruptions and scenarios for American DOMESTIC POLITICS. Presumably some of the implications will be intensifications of already existing cleavages, such as the cleavage between states that are more and less dependent on carbon industries. However, even the “expected” scenario will require renegotiation of regimes governing other resources, such as water rights and land use. The “severe” scenario begins to pose steep challenges to existing American political institutions: for example, to the autonomy of states under federalism, because large numbers of people will have to be relocated from coastal areas toward the interior. Presumably the “catastrophic” scenario challenges American constitutionalism itself, as millions of refugees revert to a Hobbesian state of anarchy and self-reliance.]    

For how mainstream American media frame climate issues see Maxwell T. Boykoff 2011Who speaks for the climate? Making sense of media reporting on climate change. New York NY: Cambridge University Press, 228 pages.   

Climate: Alternative approaches   3.3

Human society interacts with its environment mostly through its economic systems. Currently, the dominant economic system is capitalism, whose competitive dynamics have produced the immense economic “progress” that is producing climate catastrophe. Nevertheless, because capitalism IS dominant, some environmental strategists have concluded that the most politically feasible and economically powerful way to address climate change is to somewhat “jigger” existing capitalist economies to compete to reduce carbon emissions. (See Peter Newell and Mathew Paterson 2010Climate capitalism: Global warming and the transformation of the global economy. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005 pages.)   

Sociologist David Hess has reached a similar conclusion. He has written a series of books exploring different “alternative” approaches to limiting global warming. His most recent book too tries to align an “alternative” approach with the existing mainstream global economy. He proposes “green coalitions” around “green jobs” to promote a transition toward a “green economy.”(David J. Hess 2012Good green jobs in a global economy: Making and keeping new industries in the United States. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press, 293 pages.)

Hess’s first book explored social movements, his second localism. The conventional framing of climate change is that, because it is a problem that is global and serious, the main way to address it must be through “top down” international agreement between major nations. That would be nice if it worked, but it hasn’t. As a result, important new work provides alternative framings One book helpfully contrasts top down “scientific management” (which hasn’t worked) with mostly bottom-up “adaptive governance,” which might work better. (Ronald D. Brunner and Amanda H. Lynch 2010.Adaptive governance and climate change. Boston MA: American Meteorological Society, 404 pages.)

Another helpful recent book analyses half-a-hundred “bottom up” experiments in climate self-governance by cities, businesses, and individuals. Some of these small-scale experiments are becoming “global” through networking between them. It seems intuitively plausible that a problem as multi-faceted as climate change will require multi-faceted responses. Moreover, there is some evidence that, despite the skepticism about collective action implied by “rational actor” liberal economics, human communities have long successfully managed “common” resources analogous to the global “sink” for greenhouse gasses. (Mathew J. Hoffmann 2011 Climate governance at the crossroads: Experimenting with a global response after Kyoto. New York: Oxford University Press, 224 pages. He builds on the work on “common pool resource management” of Elinor Ostrom, the late American political scientist and Nobel Laureate.)

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THE SCHEME OF THIS BLOG

DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Importance of Post: ***** Big development. **** Small development. *** Continuing trend.

Scope of  Post:  USA only. USA-PRC. USA-other.

Type of Process:  Elite power struggle. Elite policy politics. Mass participation.

Type of Treatment:  Current commentary. Comprehensive background. Academic analysis.

DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS

Policy  Sectors:  Security. Economy. Identity

Spatial  Levels:  Supranational. National. Subnational

Temporal  Periods:  Shortrun. Midrun. Longrun

STANDARD  TOPIC  TAGS (BIAOQIAN)

SECURITY

Defense

Diplomacy

Intelligence

Presidency (national security team)

Homeland security

State coercion: Police & Prisons

Citizen violence: Collective riots & Individual harm

ECONOMY

Climate change

Trade & Investment

Fiscal policy

Macroeconomy

Energy & Environment

Business

Employment & Income

IDENTITY

Propaganda

Immigration

Ideology

Race & Ethnicity

Gender & Age

Moral regulation

Alternative lifestyles

SUPRANATIONAL

Global

United Nations

International regimes

Subglobal regions

Major foreign powers

Neighboring countries

Cross-border regions

NATIONAL

Legislative

Executive

Judicial

Parties

Interest groups

Media

Public opinion

SUBNATIONAL

Subational regions

States

Metropolitan regions

Cities

Counties

Communities & Associations

Citizen participation (elections, activism)

SHORTRUN (Current dynamics)

This week

Past few weeks

Next few weeks

Past few months

Next few months

Past few years

Next few years

MIDRUN (Foreseeable future)

Regime shift

Regime change

Trends

Cycles

Discontinuities

Variables

Parameters

LONGRUN (History, evolution)

American political development

Comparative political development

Longrun economic growth

Longrun social history

Longrun cultural change

Major civilizations

Human evolution

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