Monday, November 30, 2015

Ecosystem services

I recently came across a very interesting article by Erik G√≥mez-Baggethun, Rudolf de Groot, Pedro L. Lomas, and Carlos Montes, "The history of ecosystem services in economic theory and practice: From early notions to markets and payment schemes", published in Ecological Economics in 2009. Beyond its explicit subject, it contains an extensive literature review of the history of thought about the environment in classical and neoclassical economics. (For an article by Agnar Sando on a similar topic, see here.) The abstract:
This paper reviews the historic development of the conceptualization of ecosystem services and examines critical landmarks in economic theory and practice with regard to the incorporation of ecosystem services into markets and payment schemes. The review presented here suggests that the trend towards monetization and commodification of ecosystem services is partly the result of a slow move from the original economic conception of nature's benefits as use values in Classical economics to their conceptualization in terms of exchange values in Neoclassical economics. The theory and practice of current ecosystem services science are examined in the light of this historical development. From this review, we conclude that the focus on monetary valuation and payment schemes has contributed to attract political support for conservation, but also to commodify a growing number of ecosystem services and to reproduce the Neoclassical economics paradigm and the market logic to tackle environmental problems. 
Harold Hotelling, whose 1931 "The Economics of Exhaustible Resources"
laid the foundations of modern resource economics

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Art and the history of environmental law - part II

Following Part I of this series, today I take up art and the conditions of environmental law.

A survey of paintings and other works of art from Western Europe and North American reveals that air pollution was a salient fact in the pre-1970 industrialized West. This point, while basic, is not trivial, as one might have imagined that the relative lack of advanced legislation in this area was due to clean skies, or at least to a lack of awareness of the problem. Yet it is clear that artists from Turner to the French Impressionists and on through the American Works Progress Administration were fascinated by air pollution. The aesthetics and politics of this fascination will be explored later; at this point it will suffice to demonstrate its prevalence.

A good place to start is the French Impressionists. Though associated today with paintings in and of nature, they were strongly attracted to scenes of industrialization and modernizing landscapes. The movement was named after Claude Monet’s Impression, soleil levant (1872-73, right), a painting relevant to our topic. The rising sun is indeed prominent in this landscape of Le Havre harbor, but the left side of the painting is dominated by smoke-belching smokestacks and their reflections in the water. Their activity suggests that the gray “mist” enshrouding the rising sun and streaked through the sky above and to the right is in fact the product of air pollution, not morning mists or the artist’s hazily romantic vision.

Many of Monet’s other paintings feature air pollution as well. His paintings of London typically feature chimneys and smokestacks spewing thick clouds of smoke into the air of a city covered in a thick layer of air pollution (often denoted “fog” in the works’ titles). Perhaps most striking are the paintings purporting to be studies of the effect of sunlight on the thick London air; the reference to sunlight in the names of these paintings seems almost ironic. In Le Parlement, effet de soleil (1903, left), for instance, the sunlight indeed plays upon the Thames on the right of the picture, yet in the overall composition the sun’s rays are overwhelmed by the thick, polluted air, much as they are in other paintings in the Houses of Parliament series.

Dickens provides a literary counterpart to Monet’s paintings of London’s air pollution in the opening of Bleak House:
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. . . . Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes—gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun . . . .

Friday, November 27, 2015

American Energy Policy in the 1970s

American Energy Policy in the 1970s, edited by Robert Lifset (U. Oklahoma Press, 2014), was recently reviewed by Peter Grossman in Environmental History and by Fredric Quivik in Business History Review. Grossman is critical:
In general the book seems to be stuck in the 1970s in the same way current policymakers are stuck. It is a major lapse that there is not a careful reflection on the assumptions behind the policies proposed and enacted during the period. Nowhere is there a discussion of the neo-Malthusian mindset that underlay much of the thinking of members of both parties and led to policies such as the enormous synthetic fuels program that were based on forecasts that seemed to fit the facts but turned out to be simply absurd.
Nor does there seem to be an appreciation of the conditions under which policy action was undertaken. Political leaders on both sides, as Jay Hakes argues correctly in his essay, often agreed on the need for aggressive policies—even when they disagreed on what precisely those policies should be. But the most radical legislation was enacted in a state of near panic in which the sense of national crisis was all pervasive. As policymakers, members of Congress and officials of the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations needed to be seen as “doing something” about a problem that was so deeply afflicting the general public (but which neither the public nor the policymakers actually understood). In the summer of 1979, for example, legislators were said to be afraid to go back to their districts for the July 4 holiday because of voter anger, and they were said to be ready to vote for any legislation that promised a solution “even if its [sic] wrong.”
There are other curiously 1970s-blindered claims. It is at least suggested that the United States missed a great opportunity to develop alcohol fuels—called gasohol then, ethanol, today—but the ethanol program made no sense, then or now. In fact, in 1978 the Department of Agriculture produced a report that ethanol would have a negative energy balance—more energy would be needed as an input than would be produced as output—and that it would raise food prices. Ronald Reagan, who often seems a bad guy in the story for killing some of these programs, did not end gasohol and synfuels because they were passed by Democrats, but rather because they made no economic sense in the 1980s and in fact never did unless you accepted the gloomy Malthusian vision especially prevalent in the Carter administration.
The most pertinent observation in the book is that of historian Joseph A. Pratt, which is noted only in passing. Pratt is quoted to the effect that a political system like that of the United States is “uniquely ill-suited to handle energy policy.” That seems an irreducible constraint on the kind of activist (often grandiose) energy undertakings of the 1970s and an issue that should have had a much larger place in these essays.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Art and the history of environmental law - part I

I'm happy to report that my article, "Art and the History of Environmental Law", has been published by Critical Analysis of Law. CAL's online format, along with excellent editing, made publishing an article with lots of color pictures a real possibility; my article has 29 color figures, a level of illustration impossible in print journals, even one as amenable as Environmental History to this kind of work.
Claude Monet, Boats in the Pool of London, 1871, private collection 
Since I really like the pictures I collected, I decided to share some of them on this blog as well, along with modified excerpts from the article, in a series of posts. Today's, the first installment, outlines the justification for the project.

The first reason for my turn to art is prosaic. Traditional legal sources—treatises, digests, national legislation, and appellate decisions—clearly dedicated to identifiably environmental topics were few and far between before the 1970s, and so legal-historical research of even the simplest sort—identification of the norms of positive law—needs to take up whatever tools, however indirect, it can find. Though the physicality of the environment seemingly makes environmental law a good candidate for historical investigation based on visual sources, the legal element of environmental issues has only been foregrounded infrequently in art, even when environmental issues are clearly the subject of that art. Beyond this seemingly technical task, art may be a useful source for two further dimensions of the historical understanding of environmental law: it might provide insight into the background conditions—environmental and cultural—against which and in reaction to the law developed; and it might provide data for assessing the effectiveness of environmental law.

It is, of course, problematic to assume that a work of art presents an accurate representation of historical reality;  even on the level of subjective perception, assuming that the work of an individual artist is somehow representative of general attitudes may be unwarranted. Nonetheless, the potential profit to be gained from this heretofore unexamined set of sources seems great enough to justify a tentative attempt at using art to try to learn something about the history of environmental law that we might not be able to learn otherwise. In this article I would like to use art mostly as evidence of historical attitudes towards environmental issues, but I believe that it also has some value as evidence of the physical environment in history. As Peter Brimblecombe writes:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Garrett Hobart

According to Michael McGuire at This Day in Water History, today is the 116th anniversary of US Vice President Garrett Hobart's death. McGuire writes:
While much is known about Hobart’s role as vice president (1897-99), his role in the formation of private water companies and his support of these companies through legislation is less well known. Hobart was elected to the New Jersey Assembly and Senate during the early part of his career. During the 1870s and 1880s there was a lot of legislative activity that appeared to be for the benefit of private water companies.
In 1881, one bill that was introduced by Garret A. Hobart, then a state senator, was designed to give private water companies the power to acquire and distribute water resources independent of municipal or state control.  While not explicitly stated, the bill purportedly had a single intention of giving one company, the Passaic Water Company, more power to access water supplies to prevent water shortages at the factories of Paterson which were forced to idle production in the summer season.
The bill was not successful, which was undoubtedly due in part to the widespread suspicion that the bill would grant powers to companies to export New Jersey water supplies to New York.  “[New York speculators] have been attracted by the magnificence and extent of New Jersey’s water-shed, and by the sweetness and purity of its waters.  Last year’s scheme was said to be intended to enable the tapping of New Jersey’s hills for the New York supply.”
Hobart was a resident of Paterson, New Jersey for most of his life. In 1885, Garret A. Hobart joined the Board of the Passaic Water Company and two years later was elected President of the Company.  Hobart was described in one source as representing a syndicate of New York capitalists. The company had been supplying Paterson and the surrounding area since 1857.
The East Jersey Water Company was formed on August 1, 1889 for the stated purpose of supplying Newark, New Jersey with a safe water supply.  All of the men who were shareholders of the new company (including Hobart) were identified with the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. However, the company’s vision extended far beyond a water supply for Newark. The company began as a confidential syndicate composed of businessmen who were interested in executing grand plans for water supply in northern New Jersey and New York City. Nothing came of these grand plans.
For more, including omitted citations, see the blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A pollution market in history

I recently came across a 2014 dissertation by Krystal Tribbett, "RECLAIMing Air, Redefining Democracy: A History of the Regional Clean Air Incentives Market, Environmental Justice, and Risk, 1960 -- present". The abstract:
Depending on whom you ask, the Regional Clean Air Incentive Market (RECLAIM), the nation's first regional smog market, is either a revolutionary approach to cleaning the air of the South Coast Air Basin, the most polluted region in the country, or a failed social experiment that put the interests of business and the marketplace above public health. In its original iteration, RECLAIM rules were intended to produce emissions reductions consistent with the command-and-control approach to compliance embodied in an Air Quality Management Plan, but with greater efficiency, effectiveness, and flexibility—a goal RECLAIM in large part met. In an ideal application of emissions trading, public welfare and economic growth should have been jointly protected, and previous studies of RECLAIM have focused on the normative implications of the program, condemning suspected environmental injustices or praising economic efficiency without exploring the significant historical roots of market-based solutions. A closer look at these historical roots reveals the ways in which RECLAIM actually succeeded in improving air quality through difficult compromises and negotiations by regulators, environmental activists, politicians, and businesses.
This dissertation recounts this fuller history. It is about the history of market-based mechanisms to control air pollution in Southern California, and, in a broader sense, the history of neoliberalism and the process of neoliberalising nature. It traces the history of American air pollution laws from the 1960s to the present and finds a symbiotic relationship between federal and state governing bodies that led to the establishment of RECLAIM. The history told here shows that the development of RECLAIM was not wholly neoliberal, imposed intentionally by policymakers, venture capitalists, or academics with a neoliberal agenda. What emerged out of the archives and newspapers was a story of the organic evolution of markets to address air pollution that was shaped both by political processes and academic/theoretical arguments intended to find a compromise between public demands for clean air, political concern about economic growth, and industry pushback against regulation. This dissertation thus argues that in the United States neoliberal policies to govern nature are outcomes of struggles to balance societal values (like clean air) with political, economic, and scientific realities.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The common cup

The blog This Day in Water History notes that today is the 105th anniversary of the abolition of the "common cup" by New York State. The blog explains:
November 15, 1910:  New York Times headline—Would Abolish Common Cup. “Albany, Nov. 15—“There is no excuse for a public drinking cup, on the train or anywhere else, now that penny-in-the-slot machines serve out paper cups and that metal collapsible cups can be purchased for a dime,” says a circular sent out by the State Department of Health. The Health Department is co-operating with the railroads to do away with the public drinking cup on trains and in railroad stations. It is stated that there is great possibility of the transmission of disease by the use of the common drinking cup….”
Commentary:  On October 30, 2012, we observed the 100th anniversary of the first drinking water regulation, which was adopted by the U.S. Treasury Department that prohibited the use of the common drinking cup on interstate carriers. Individual states like New York and Kansas led the way by raising awareness of this serious public health problem. Seven articles in my blog safedrinkingwaterdotcom provided a countdown to the anniversary date.
Click through to the October 29 post for a more extensive history.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Race and pollution

Brittany Fremion recently reviewed Ellen Griffith Spears, Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town (UNC Press, 2014) for H-Environment. From the review:
Even though scholars and activists did not begin identifying environmental racism until the 1980s, Spears reveals how the unequal allocation of environmental hazards extends across space and time. In the first four chapters, Spears explains how Anniston became a model city of the New South and home to the chemical industry, which developed close ties to the US military during the two world wars. In doing so, she unpacks the problematic relationship between the former by explaining how a lack of regulatory oversight led to the tragic contamination of human bodies and ecosystems. As the Cold War escalated, so too did the military’s involvement with chemical development and production, which found a new home at Anniston’s Fort McClellan in the 1960s, “the free world’s largest training center for chemical, biological, and radiological warfare” (p. 94). By placing the modern environmental justice movement within this historical context, Spears is able to show the ways in which privileged toxic knowledge developed among corporations and created hazardous landscapes in Anniston that reflected the legacy of social and environmental disparities in the United States.
But Anniston’s residents were not passive victims. In chapter 5, Spears explores the tradition of nonviolent protest in the city to demonstrate that residents owed much to the civil rights movement, which shaped contemporary environmental justice campaigns by linking social justice to environmental issues. Prior to the campaign to hold Monsanto accountable for PCB contamination and the initiative for safe disposal of chemical weapons, Anniston attracted national attention with the burning of the Freedom Riders bus on Mother’s Day in 1961. White and black residents were versed in the language and experience of protest—be it in support of equality or not. Thus the Anniston campaigns also revealed important challenges created by racial and class differences: white middle-class and professional people dominated the anti-incinerator fight whereas the African American community spearheaded the PCB initiative, largely as a result of residential geography. When activists in both efforts joined forces, they did so uneasily. For instance, Spears reveals that the Monsanto campaign linked whites whose relatives and friends had been mid-century instigators of racial violence with residents of color who had sometimes been the targets of that violence. Despite these conflicts, legal victory over Monsanto and the emergence of a national campaign that forced the army to both provide residents with protective equipment and operate with greater transparency revealed the the power of grassroots activism.
In the remaining chapters, Spears explores the rise of PCB as the world’s most notorious chemical and the factors that drove chemical policy reform in the early 1970s, most important, the passage of the Toxic Substances Control Act, which led to the end of PCB production. But as Spears reveals, the aftermath of those reform efforts bred citizen action. In Anniston, Monsanto began burying its chemical wastes and the army announced plans to build a hazardous waste incinerator to dismantle outdated Cold War-era chemical weapons at the Anniston Army Depot. In the late 1980s people locally began to question those practices. Thus, a grassroots, cross-class, and ultimately biracial and bipartisan movement emerged to challenge environmental injustice—activists used coffins to block Monsanto’s bulldozers, staged die-ins, filed lawsuits, and donned hazmat suits at rallies. In her final chapter and epilogue, Spears offers an assessment of their achievements.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The environmental amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution

The Environmental Law and Sustainability Center at Widener University recently hosted a talk by Franklin Kury on “The Environmental Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution: How It Came to Be and Where It is Going”. You can view the lecture here. The website explains:
Kury was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for three terms (1966–1972), where he was the author and lead advocate for the environmental rights amendment to the state constitution (Article I, Section 27).  In 1972, he was elected to the first of two terms in the Pennsylvania State Senate, where he became a leader in government reform. 
Nicholas A. Tonelli, Meander (Susquehanna River, Asylum Township)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why tragic commons endure

Zachary Bray recently posted "Texas Groundwater and Tragically Stable 'Crossovers'", an article that raises an interesting theoretical question for legal-environmental history. The abstract:
One recurring question in the academic literature on common-pool resources relates to the persistence of “tragic” commons regimes — systems that encourage, or at least tolerate, the inefficient, wasteful, hazardous, or unfair exploitation of a resource that is easily accessed for and diminished by individual use and consumption. Of course, not all commons are tragic: some common-pool resources invite individual access in efficient, fair, and durable ways. Yet many commonly held resources do lie under systems of governance that are not just tragic but persistently and stubbornly so. Often the tragic aspects of such commons regimes are well known; indeed, for some tragic commons regimes, they are almost self-evident.
Such persistent and obvious tragic commons regimes invite the obvious question: why do they endure? Some persistent tragic commons regimes are particularly puzzling in this respect, because at times they may appear to hesitate right on the verge of positive transformation, only to revert back to tragic stasis when apparent moments of change present themselves. In this Article, I claim that Texas groundwater law represents just such a persistent and puzzling tragic commons regime.
Recent literature has pointed out the ways in which tragically stable commons regimes can resist forces of change and emerging values from rival institutions and analogous commons contexts. In this Article, I pursue a related line of inquiry to examine a different and previously under-examined phenomenon. Using Texas groundwater as an example, I show how an internally dynamic commons regime on the cusp of positive change can be tragically stabilized by values and legal doctrines drawn from rival institutions and analogous commons contexts. I then argue that unless this tragic crossover is decisively broken, the law and institutions that govern Texas groundwater are likely to remain tragically stable.
[A Public Mineral Water Well], 1910, Boyce Ditto Public Library, Mineral Wells, Texas