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Hardcover | $64.00 X | £53.95 | 376 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 3 graphs | April 2010 | ISBN: 9780262042529
Paperback | $5.75 Short | £4.95 | 376 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 3 graphs | April 2010 | ISBN: 9780262541985
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Economic Thought and U.S. Climate Change Policy


The United States, once a world leader in addressing international environmental challenges, became a vigorous opponent of action on climate change over the past two decades, repudiating regulation and promoting only ineffectual voluntary actions to meet a growing global threat. Why has the United States failed so utterly to address the most pressing environmental issue of the age? This book argues that the failure arose from an unyielding ideological stance that embraced free markets and viewed government action as anathema. The most notorious result of this hands-off approach was the financial meltdown of late 2008; but strict reliance on free markets also hobbled government policymakers’ response to the challenge of global warming. This book explores the relationship between free-market fundamentalism and U.S. inaction on climate change and offers recommendations for new approaches that can lead to effective climate-change policy and improve enviromental, health, and safety policies in general. After describing the evolution of U.S. climate change policy and the influence of neoliberal economic thought, the book takes up the question of what ideas might supersede the neoliberal reliance on cost-benefit analysis, overly broad market-based mechanisms, and rejection of precautionary approaches and environmental justice concerns. With a new administration in Washington, the need for a new policy framework is acute; this book supplies a timely guide to the kinds of policies that are most promising.

About the Editor

David M. Driesen is University Professor at Syracuse University College of Law. He is the author of The Economic Dynamics of Environmental Law (MIT Press, 2003), winner of the 2004 Lynton Keith Caldwell Award for best book on environmental policy, presented by the American Political Science Association.

Table of Contents

  • Economic Thought and U.S. Climate Change Policy
  • American and Comparative Environmental Policy
  • Sheldon Kamieniecki and Michael E. Kraft, series editors
  • A complete list of books published in the American and Comparative Environmental Policy series appears at the back of the book.
  • Economic Thought and U.S. Climate Change Policy
  • edited by David M. Driesen
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • ©
  • 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email
  • This book was set in Sabon by Westchester Book Group, and was printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Printed on recycled paper.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Economic thought and U.S. climate change policy / edited by David M. Driesen.
  • p. cm.—(American and comparative environmental policy)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-04252-9 (hardcover : alk. paper)—ISBN 978-0-262-54198-5 (pbk. : alk. paper)
  • 1. Climatic changes—United States. 2. Climatic changes—Government policy—United States. 3. Climatic changes—Economic aspects—United States. 4. Climatic changes—Environmental aspects—United States. I. Driesen, David M.
  • QC981.8.C5E2146 2010
  • 363.738'745610973—dc22
  • 2009028707
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • To my wife, Jeanne Otten
  • Contents
  • Series Foreword ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Contributors xv
  • Introduction 1
  • David M. Driesen
  • I The Neoliberal Model’s Contribution to U.S. Failure to Address Climate Change 19
  • 1 The United States’ Failure to Act 21
  • Christopher Schroeder and Robert L. Glicksman
  • 2 Dirty Energy Policy 45
  • Joseph P. Tomain
  • 3 Cost-Benefit Analysis of Climate Change
  • Where It Goes Wrong 61
  • Frank Ackerman
  • 4 Anatomy of Industry Resistance to Climate Change
  • A Familiar Litany 83
  • Robert L. Glicksman
  • 5 The Abandonment of Justice 107
  • Amy Sinden
  • 6 Neoliberal Instrument Choice 129
  • David M. Driesen
  • II Moving Forward 151
  • 7 Collective and Individual Duties to Address Global Warming 153
  • Carl Cranor
  • 8 Embracing a Precautionary Approach to Climate Change 171
  • John S. Applegate
  • 9 Climate Change, Human Health, and the Post-Cautionary Principle 197
  • Lisa Heinzerling
  • 10 The Cost of Greenhouse Gas Reductions 213
  • Thomas O. McGarity
  • 11 Toward Distributional Justice 237
  • Amy Sinden and Carl Cranor
  • 12 Toward Sustainable Technology 257
  • David M. Driesen
  • 13 Adaptation, Economics, and Justice 277
  • Robert R. M. Verchick
  • Conclusion: Toward a Fresh Start 297
  • David M. Driesen
  • Bibliography 307
  • Index 341
  • Series Foreword
  • As the unprecedented economic crisis of 2008–2009 demonstrated well, ideas about the way markets and government behave can be exceptionally important. Public policy tends to reflect prevailing ideas, particularly when they are widely shared, and a good example is the commitment to deregulation in the financial sector in the 1990s and 2000s that was a major underlying cause of the nation’s economic collapse. The same argument applies to environmental policy, which has relied heavily on command-and-control regulation, evident in policies that were either first enacted or significantly changed in the 1970s such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Yet the role of government in these policies is constrained in ways that are not always well understood, for example, by a fundamental belief in private property rights and a relatively unfettered market economy. Such beliefs necessarily limit how far policymakers are prepared to go to protect public health and the environment as they try to balance the costs and benefits of new regulations. Belief in the virtues of a market economy also are evident in many proposals for reforming environmental policy, such as making greater use of market-based incentives and offering flexible regulation that promotes efficiency in the use of resources. A positive view of the potential of markets is evident as well in proposals to address global climate change, where various forms of cap-and-trade systems lie at the center of public debate.
  • To better understand the opportunities and constraints related to use of market-based environmental policies, we need to know more about neoliberal theoretical perspectives and concepts, their strengths and weaknesses, and their appeal to policymakers. There are varied meanings to the term neoliberalism, but at heart it refers to a political philosophy rooted in the concepts of neoclassical economic efficiency that strongly supports the operation of free markets and is skeptical about the legitimacy and effectiveness of governmental intervention to allocate society’s resources. In this book eleven contributors from the fields of law, public policy, and philosophy offer unabashedly critical analyses of neoliberal ideas in climate change policy, and they suggest more appropriate ways to design policy for the years ahead. The authors review and critique U.S. climate change and energy policies, note the inherent limitations of using conventional methods of cost-benefit analysis in this policy area, describe industry’s framing of the issues and its long resistance to serious action on climate change, and consider a range of philosophical, economic, and political ideas related to social justice, ethics, the precautionary principle, and sustainability.
  • The book comes at an opportune time. Following a presidential administration that often denied the reality of climate change and limited the U.S. government’s role largely to funding scientific research and promoting voluntary initiatives, the Obama administration clearly is setting a different course. Policy debate in Congress also reveals an increasing willingness to confront climate change and to redirect U.S. energy policy away from reliance on fossil fuels to renewable sources, energy conservation, and efficiency through a variety of new initiatives. In this context, the arguments presented here are particularly important. If the United States is now at a “tipping point” in terms of scientific evidence and public and policymaker support for action, which kinds of policies are most promising and which are not?
  • The book illustrates well the goals of the MIT Press series in American and Comparative Environmental Policy. We encourage work that examines a broad range of environmental policy issues. We are particularly interested in volumes that incorporate interdisciplinary research and focus on the linkages between public policy and environmental problems and issues both within the United States and in cross-national settings. We welcome contributions that analyze the policy dimensions of relationships between humans and the environment from either a theoretical or empirical perspective. At a time when environmental policies are increasingly seen as controversial and new approaches are being implemented widely, we especially encourage studies that assess policy successes and failures, evaluate new institutional arrangements and policy tools, and clarify new directions for environmental politics and policy. The books in this series are written for a wide audience that includes academics, policymakers, environmental scientists and professionals, business and labor leaders, environmental activists, and students concerned with environmental issues. We hope they contribute to public understanding of environmental problems, issues, and policies of concern today and also suggest promising actions for the future.
  • Sheldon Kamieniecki, University California, Santa Cruz
  • Michael Kraft, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay
  • American and Comparative Environmental Policy Series Editors
  • Preface
  • This book grew from the work of the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR), a virtual think tank at the forefront of developing ideas to further environmental safety. CPR’s leadership asked me to formulate a plan for the organization’s climate change work. It seemed that an organization of scholars should address the role of ideas in climate change. And ideas, particularly the idea that government should regulate markets either not at all or very reluctantly, have played a large and often underappreciated role in U.S. climate change policy. But we wanted to do more than pinpoint the role of neoliberalism, the cultural veneration of free markets, in climate change policy’s failure; we wanted to develop ideas that would provide a better, more appropriate framework for addressing climate change and other environmental ills.
  • This book, then, stemmed from my proposal to address economic thought’s role in climate change policy in a critical, yet constructive, way, and it came to fruition thanks to the willingness of CPR Member Scholars to contribute to and shape these pages. They worked diligently at developing and expanding the ideas at the heart of this project.
  • Robert Glicksman, a CPR scholar from George Washington University and a contributor to two chapters in this book, deserves special mention in this regard. He not only wrote key pieces, but also helped me pull the whole book together. He generously hosted a workshop for authors at the University of Kansas, which served as a focal point for our efforts to integrate the disparate chapters into as coherent a whole as possible. And he provided valuable editorial suggestions to me and other contributors along the way.
  • I also need to thank my research assistants, Myriah Jaworksi and Janet Moon, who helped take some of the burden off my shoulders and those of contributing authors struggling to fulfill their commitments to this project while meeting other competing obligations. Chris Ramsdell, Syracuse University’s Center Coordinator, helped edit the chapters and organize the entire project. I’m fortunate to have somebody so attentive to detail and so attuned to the nuances of writing working with me. I’d also like to thank, at the MIT Press, Clay Morgan and the series editors for their faith in this project and their valuable suggestions about how to improve it.
  • As I write this, the end of the United States’ failure to address climate change appears to be in sight. It is quite possible that not long after this book is published (or if we’re slow or Congress is fast, before then), the United States Congress under a new president will begin, at long last, to seriously address climate change. But we have a long way to go. And the ideas that this book examines will remain important in shaping the ongoing and belated effort to address climate change that we hope will ensue. The scholars creating this work hope that this book will provide useful lessons for a long and serious effort to address one of the most serious environmental problems the United States, and the rest of the world, has ever faced.
  • Contributors
  • Frank Ackerman
  • Senior Economist, Stockholm Environment Institute–U.S. Center, Tufts University
  • John S. Applegate
  • Walter W. Foskett Professor of Law, Indiana University School of Law–Bloomington
  • Carl Cranor
  • Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Riverside
  • David M. Driesen
  • University Professor, Syracuse University
  • Robert L. Glicksman
  • J. B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law, The George Washington University Law School
  • Lisa Heinzerling
  • Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center (on leave of absence)
  • Thomas O. McGarity
  • Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowed Chair in Administrative Law, University of Texas School of Law
  • Christopher Schroeder
  • Charles S. Murphy Professor of Law and Public Policy Studies, Director of the Program in Public Law, Duke University School of Law
  • Amy Sinden
  • Associate Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law
  • Joseph P. Tomain
  • Dean and Nippert Professor of Law, The University of Cincinnati College of Law
  • Robert R. M. Verchick
  • Gauthier–St. Martin, Eminent Scholar Chair in Environmental Law, Loyola University, New Orleans


“This book is original, timely, and important. Best of all, it addresses the economics, politics, and ethics regarding a crucial public policy issue. Written in clear language and accessible to anyone interested in the topic, Economic Thought and U.S. Climate Change Policy is a must-read.”
Robert Paehlke, Professor, Department of Political Studies, Trent University