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Environment and Urban Studies

Environment and Urban Studies

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A college campus offers an ideal setting for exploring and practicing sustainability. Colleges and universities offer our best hope for raising awareness about the climate crisis and the dire threat it poses to the planet. They provide opportunities for both research and implementation; they have the capacity to engage students, staff, and faculty in collaborative enterprises that inspire campus transformation; they take the idea of legacy seriously. But most college and university administrations need guidance on the path to sustainability. In The Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus, Mitchell Thomashow, a former college president, provides just that.

When Thomashow became president of Unity College, a small environment-focused college in Maine, in 2006, he decided to focus his leadership on sustainability. Drawing on his experiences at Unity, Thomashow identifies nine elements for organizing a sustainability agenda: energy, food, and materials (aspects of infrastructure); governance, investment, and wellness (aspects of community); and curriculum, interpretation, and aesthetics (aspects of learning).

Thomashow describes, among other things, how Unity built the first platinum LEED-certified college president’s residence in North America; installed solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewable energy generators all over the campus; became a center for local food growing; reconsidered the college’s capital assets and investment strategy in light of sustainability; revitalized the curriculum; and made the entire campus a canvas for sustainability-inspired public art. Connecting his experiences to broader concerns, Thomashow links the campus to the planet, reminding us that local efforts, taken together, can have a global impact.

A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes

By the end of the twentieth century, America’s suburbs contained more office space than its central cities. Many of these corporate workplaces were surrounded, somewhat incongruously, by verdant vistas of broad lawns and leafy trees. In Pastoral Capitalism, Louise Mozingo describes the evolution of these central (but often ignored) features of postwar urbanism in the context of the modern capitalist enterprise.

These new suburban corporate landscapes emerged from a historical moment when corporations reconceived their management structures, the city decentralized and dispersed into low-density, auto-dependent peripheries, and the pastoral--in the form of leafy residential suburbs--triumphed as an American ideal. Greenness, writes Mozingo, was associated with goodness, and pastoral capitalism appropriated the suburb’s aesthetics and moral code. Like the lawn-proud suburban homeowner, corporations understood a pastoral landscape’s capacity to communicate identity, status, and right-mindedness.

Mozingo distinguishes among three forms of corporate landscapes--the corporate campus, the corporate estate, and the office park--and examines suburban corporate landscapes built and inhabited by such companies as Bell Labs, General Motors, Deere & Company, and Microsoft. She also considers the globalization of pastoral capitalism in Europe and the developing world including Singapore, India, and China. Mozingo argues that, even as it is proliferating, pastoral capitalism needs redesign, as do many of our metropolitan forms, for pressing social, cultural, political, and environmental reasons. Future transformations are impossible, however, unless we understand the past. Pastoral Capitalism offers an indispensible chapter in urban history, examining not only the design of corporate landscapes but also the economic, social, and cultural models that determined their form.

Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health

We will not find “exposure to burning coal” listed as the cause of death on a single death certificate, but tens of thousands of deaths from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses are clearly linked to coal-derived pollution. As politicians and advertising campaigns extol the virtues of “clean coal,” the dirty secret is that coal kills. In The Silent Epidemic, Alan Lockwood, a physician, describes and documents the adverse health effects of burning coal. Lockwood’s comprehensive treatment examines every aspect of coal, from its complex chemical makeup to details of mining, transporting, burning, and disposal--each of which generates significant health concerns. He describes coal pollution’s effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems, and how these problems will only get worse; explains the impact of global warming on coal-related health problems; and discusses possible policy approaches to combat coal pollution.

Coal fueled the industrial revolution and has become a major source of energy in virtually every country. In the United States, almost half of the energy used to generate electricity comes from burning coal. Relatively few people are aware of the health threats posed by coal-derived pollutants, and those who are aware lack the political clout of the coal industry. Lockwood’s straightforward description of coal as a health hazard is especially timely, given the barrage of marketing efforts to promote coal as part of “energy independence.” His message is clear and urgent: “Coal-fired plants make people sick and die, particularly children and those with chronic illnesses, and they cost society huge amounts of money desperately needed for other purposes.”

Making and Keeping New Industries in the United States

Good Green Jobs in a Global Economy is the first book to explore the broad implications of the convergence of industrial and environnmental policy in the United States. Under the banner of “green jobs,” clean energy industries and labor, environmental, and antipoverty organizations have forged “blue-green” alliances and achieved some policy victories, most notably at the state and local levels. In this book, David Hess explores the politics of green energy and green jobs, linking the prospect of a green transition to tectonic shifts in the global economy. He argues that the relative decline in U.S. economic power sets the stage for an ideological shift, away from neoliberalism and toward “developmentalism,” an ideology characterized by a more defensive posture with respect to trade and a more active industrial policy.

After describing federal green energy initiatives in the first two years of the Obama administration, Hess turns his attention to the state and local levels, examining demand-side and supply-side support for green industry and local small business. He analyzes the successes and failures of green coalitions and the partisan patterns of support for green energy reform. This new piecemeal green industrial policy, Hess argues, signals a fundamental challenge to anti-interventionist beliefs about the relationship between the government and the economy.

Conservatives’ Opposition to Environmental Regulation

Since the 1970s, conservative activists have invoked free markets and distrust of the federal government as part of a concerted effort to roll back environmental regulations. They have promoted a powerful antiregulatory storyline to counter environmentalists’ scenario of a fragile earth in need of protection, mobilized grassroots opposition, and mounted creative legal challenges to environmental laws. But what has been the impact of all this activity on policy? In this book, Judith Layzer offers a detailed and systematic analysis of conservatives’ prolonged campaign to dismantle the federal regulatory framework for environmental protection.

Examining conservatives’ influence from the Nixon era to the Obama administration, Layzer describes a set of increasingly sophisticated tactics--including the depiction of environmentalists as extremist elitists, a growing reliance on right-wing think tanks and media outlets, the cultivation of sympathetic litigators and judges, and the use of environmentally friendly language to describe potentially harmful activities. She argues that although conservatives have failed to repeal or revamp any of the nation’s environmental statutes, they have influenced the implementation of those laws in ways that increase the risks we face, prevented or delayed action on newly recognized problems, and altered the way Americans think about environmental problems and their solutions. Layzer’s analysis sheds light not only on the politics of environmental protection but also, more generally, on the interaction between ideas and institutions in the development of policy.

Environmental Taxes and Fiscal Reform in the United States

Energy utilization, especially from fossil fuels, creates hidden costs in the form of pollution and environmental damages. The costs are well documented but are hidden in the sense that they occur outside the market, are not reflected in market prices, and are not taken into account by energy users. Double Dividend presents a novel method for designing environmental taxes that correct market prices so that they reflect the true cost of energy. The resulting revenue can be used in reducing the burden of the overall tax system and improving the performance of the economy, creating the double dividend of the title.

The authors simulate the impact of environmental taxes on the U.S. economy using their Intertemporal General Equilibrium Model (IGEM). This highly innovative model incorporates expectations about future prices and policies. The model is estimated econometrically from an extensive 50-year dataset to incorporate the heterogeneity of producers and consumers. This approach generates confidence intervals for the outcomes of changes in economic policies, a new feature for models used in analyzing energy and environmental policies. These outcomes include the welfare impacts on individual households, distinguished by demographic characteristics, and for society as a whole, decomposed between efficiency and equity.

Reconciling Air Quality, Climate, and Economic Goals

China’s carbon dioxide emissions now outstrip those of other countries and its domestic air quality is severely degraded, especially in urban areas. Its sheer size and its growing, fossil-fuel-powered economy mean that China’s economic and environmental policy choices will have an outsized effect on the global environmental future. Over the last decade, China has pursued policies that target both fossil fuel use and atmospheric emissions, but these efforts have been substantially overwhelmed by the country’s increasing energy demands. With a billion citizens still living on less than $4,000 per year, China’s energy and environmental policies must be reconciled with the goals of maintaining economic growth and raising living standards.

This book, a U.S.–Chinese collaboration of experts from Harvard and Tsinghua University, offers a groundbreaking integrated analysis of China’s economy, emissions, air quality, public health, and agriculture. It first offers essential scientific context and accessible summaries of the book’s policy findings; it then provides the underlying scientific and economic research. These studies suggest that China’s recent sulfur controls achieved enormous environmental health benefits at unexpectedly low costs. They also indicate that judicious implementation of carbon taxes could reduce not only China’s carbon emissions but also its air pollution more comprehensively than current single-pollutant policies, all at little cost to economic growth.

Climate engineering—which could slow the pace of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the upper atmosphere—has emerged in recent years as an extremely controversial technology. And for good reason: it carries unknown risks and it may undermine commitments to conserving energy. Some critics also view it as an immoral human breach of the natural world. The latter objection, David Keith argues in A Scientist’s Case for Climate Engineering, is groundless; we have been using technology to alter our environment for years. But he agrees that there are large issues at stake.

A leading scientist long concerned about climate change, Keith offers no naïve proposal for an easy fix to what is perhaps the most challenging question of our time; climate engineering is no silver bullet. But he argues that after decades during which very little progress has been made in reducing carbon emissions we must put this technology on the table and consider it responsibly. That doesn’t mean we will deploy it, and it doesn’t mean that we can abandon efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But we must understand fully what research needs to be done and how the technology might be designed and used. This book provides a clear and accessible overview of what the costs and risks might be, and how climate engineering might fit into a larger program for managing climate change.

Politics in the Age of Ecology

In this provocative call for a new ecological politics, William Ophuls starts from a radical premise: “sustainability” is impossible. We are on an industrial Titanic, fueled by rapidly depleting stocks of fossil hydrocarbons. Making the deck chairs from recyclable materials and feeding the boilers with biofuels is futile. In the end, the ship is doomed by the laws of thermodynamics and by the implacable biological and geological limits that are already beginning to pinch. Ophuls warns us that we are headed for a postindustrial future that, however technologically sophisticated, will resemble the preindustrial past in many important respects. With Plato’s Revenge, Ophuls, author of Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity, envisions political and social transformations that will lead to a new natural-law politics based on the realities of ecology, physics, and psychology.

In a discussion that ranges widely—from ecology to quantum physics to Jungian psychology to Eastern religion to Western political philosophy—Ophuls argues for an essentially Platonic politics of consciousness dedicated to inner cultivation rather than outward expansion and the pursuit of perpetual growth. We would then achieve a way of life that is materially and institutionally simple but culturally and spiritually rich, one in which humanity flourishes in harmony with nature.

Lessons from Abrupt Climate Change

Viewed from above, Greenland offers an endless vista of whiteness interrupted only by scattered ponds of azure-colored melt water. Ninety percent of Greenland is covered by ice; its ice sheet, the largest outside Antarctica, stretches almost 1,000 miles from north to south and 600 miles from east to west. But this stark view of ice and snow is changing—and changing rapidly. Greenland’s ice sheet is melting; the dazzling, photogenic display of icebergs breaking off Greenland’s rapidly melting glaciers has become a tourist attraction. The Fate of Greenland documents Greenland’s warming with dramatic color photographs and investigates episodes in Greenland’s climate history for clues about what happens when climate change is abrupt rather than gradual.

Greenland’s climate past and present could presage our climate future. Abrupt climate change would be cataclysmic: the melting of Greenland’s ice shelf would cause sea levels to rise twenty-four feet worldwide; lower Manhattan would be underwater and Florida’s coastline would recede to Orlando. The planet appears to be in a period of acute climate instability, exacerbated by carbon dioxide we pour into the atmosphere. As this book makes clear, it is in all of our interests to pay attention to Greenland.

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