Dec 5 2014

MANAGING ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE RISK: BEYOND FRAGMENTED RESPONSES

Reviewed by Jessica Gordon, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Framing resilience properly could lead to radical institutional reforms


Managing Adaptation to Climate Risk: Beyond Fragmented Responses, by Geoff O’Brien and Phil O’Keefe, Routledge, 2014

Managing Adaptation to Climate Risk provides a critical analysis of development, adaptation and disaster management, arguing for the importance of resilience as a means of connecting these siloed fields and developing a people-centred response to extreme events, which the authors see as the primary climate risk of concern. The book, to its credit, criticizes the various uses of resilience, recognizing that the term can lead to the abdication of political responsibility and the continuation of the status quo. The authors instead call for a framing of resilience that could lead to radical institutional change in the relationship between people and the environment, refocusing the discussion where sustainability has failed.  The authors make clear that their argument is grounded in a critique of capitalism and the neoliberal project, which has produced poverty, inequality and increased vulnerability. At the heart of the book is the assumption that humans can adapt and learn in times of stress, which we are currently facing given the urgency of climate change.

Written in clear and accessible language and filled with examples, the book is a useful text for newcomers to the topics discussed. The sections include detailed historical analyses and a literature review with helpful diagrams and tables.  The chapters feel a bit fragmented and certainly could be read separately. The final chapter links resilience to social capital and social learning, a refreshing addition to the argument, demonstrating how new ways of thinking and learning can support transformational change. In the end, the book calls for reform of governance and institutions, driven by proactive bottom-up processes and a concern about equity. This is a welcome thought, but it seems like a big mouthful for resilience to chew.


Dec 5 2014

WATER AS A CATALYST FOR PEACE: TRANSBOUNDARY WATER MANAGEMENT AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Reviewed by Yasmin Zaerpoor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

We should be looking for transformative approaches to water negotiations

Water as a Catalyst For Peace: Transboundary Water Management and Conflict Resolution, by Ahmed Abukhater, Earthscan, 2013

The central argument of Water as a Catalyst For Peace is that water negotiations can be used to promote cooperation if equity is ensured. Abukhater uses nine cases of bilateral water treaties from around the world to make the point that three types of equity (process, outcome, and perceived) require attention. He explores the commonalities and differences in each case, emphasizing the dispute histories and the treaty outcomes (in terms of types of equity achieved).

Of his nine cases, two are developed in greater depth. The 1994 Israel-Jordan Water Treaty (Chapter 4) is offered as an example of a “low” (or modest) outcome where low outcome and perceived equity were achieved. The 1986 Lesotho-South Africa Highlands Water Project Treaty (Chapter 5) is an example of a “high” outcome in which high outcome and perceived equity were achieved. The author is paradoxically critical of both treaties, arguing that both processes should have been more inclusive and transparent while, at the same time, recognizing the inherent complexities of hydro-diplomacy when substantial power differentials are at work.

He uses his cross-case analysis (Chapter 6) to develop what he calls a ‘transformative approach to conflict resolution’, highlighting the importance of the rules of engagement (international law), the mechanisms of engagement (equitable water sharing criteria), and third-party mediation. His comparative analysis also provides a useful, albeit hidden, summary of process equity parameters. These include, among others, involvement of all stakeholders, trust-building, an incrementalist approach; facilitation, mediation and other uses of third parties; socio-economic considerations; language of equity; joint fact finding; prioritization of uses and users; and monitoring arrangements.

This is a well-written and useful book for anyone interested in transboundary water management, conflict resolution or bilateral management of natural resources. It skillfully demonstrates the potential to use ‘low’ politics (i.e. hydro-diplomacy) as an entry point into ‘high’ politics (e.g., international relations).

 


Dec 5 2014

MEGACITIES AND THE COAST: RISK, RESILIENCE AND TRANSFORMATION

Reviewed by Daniel Gallagher, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

 A timely call for scholars of urban planning and coastal systems to join forces 

Megacities and the Coast: Risk, Resilience and Transformation, by Mark Pelling and Sophie Blackburn, Routledge, 2013

In their introduction to Megacities and the Coast, Mark Pelling and Sophie Blackburn argue that the lack of focus at the interface of megacities and coastal systems is a dangerous gap in scholarship. This edited volume responds to this gap through a comprehensive synthesis of an international study involving over 60 contributing authors from the environmental sciences, disaster risk management, urban governance, and climate adaptation.

The report explores the definitional challenge of identifying coastal megacities, and locates 23 such cities across five continents. It provides a comprehensive tour of the societal and environmental impacts of urban growth, pointing to strong existing research on earth sub-systems. Where more study is required, they argue, is on integrated, system-level research that captures the dynamic feedback between natural and social systems.

Of most value to policymakers and scholars of urban planning will be the report’s discussion on risk governance.  Drawing on empirical study of disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation, it shows how scholarship must move beyond the universalistic ‘good governance’ discourse to recognize that municipal government autonomy varies hugely with local politics and social networks. The authors argue convincingly that scholars of urban planning and coastal management ought to pursue more joined-up research that recognizes the co-evolution of political, economic and physical systems.

The scholarly argument is complemented by seven case studies of coastal megacities. Although brief, the case studies stay true to the joined-up perspective that the report calls for by stressing the particularities of political economy and context in which public policy responses are formed.

At a time when megacities continue to grapple with long-standing socio-economic issues and the added stresses of disasters and climate change, this volume will be of immense value to scholars of urban planning and coastal systems who seek to undertake cross-disciplinary research at the important intersection between their disciplines.

 

 

 


Dec 5 2014

SCARCITY: THE TRUE COST OF NOT HAVING ENOUGH

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
Getting the most out of what we have!

Scarcity: The True Cost of Not Having Enough, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, Penguin, 2014

When an economist and a psychologist come together to undertake an intellectual endeavour, the outcome can shatter many myths about everyday living. Together they manage to explain the most fundamental problems in all walks of life viewed through the science of scarcity, which the authors claim is still in the making. The lonely are lonely, dieters are plump and the busy are busy because they are caught in the ‘scarcity trap’.

The authors stretch the notion of fiscal scarcity to include social scarcity and cognitive scarcity as well as scarcity of time and calories. The multiple implications of scarcity not only make us dumber, but cloud our cognitive abilities. Far from making people more effective, as many would believe, scarcity leaves us with reduced fluid intelligence and more impulsive actions. Not without reason, scarcity leads us to borrow, and pushes us deeper into scarcity. Using stories from daily existence and studies from diverse social settings, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir conclude that the feeling of ‘less’ distorts our vision and judgment.

Scarcity is loaded with fresh insights. The idea of scarcity offers clues to managing our lives better during abundance such that there is no slackness when scarcity confronts us. Scarcity can make us wiser provided clear-headed thinking about trade-offs is thoughtfully applied. After all, scarcity is largely an outcome of environmental conditions that can be managed. Scarcity should make us experts, even if in a limited manner.

In a way, the idea of scarcity offers good news because it can help us organize our lives better and design more efficient systems.

Scarcity is a real page turner, overflowing with fresh insights and simple suggestions to transform the way we live and manage ourselves. If you think traffic on the road is clogged, you have fallen into a scarcity trap. You may need to put on your ‘scarcity cap’ to wriggle out of it. The authors argue that if all the cars went at the same speed, not only would the traffic flow smoothly, but more cars could be accommodated. It is the variation in the speed of the cars that causes congestion, as drivers vie for limited space (a reflection of scarcity).

Scarcity is often associated with dire consequences.  But,  Mullainathan and Shafir consider it a perfect trigger to enhance our abilities to make better choices. Scarcity is a must read, brilliant and engaging.


Dec 5 2014

THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF CLIMATE CHANGE: AN HISTORICAL READER

Review by Todd Schenk, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Societies are, in part, products of their changing climate

The Anthropology of Climate Change: An Historical Reader, by Michael R. Dove, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2014

From Hippocrates to Hurricane Katrina, this collection provides a wide perspective. While anthropogenic climate change may be a relatively recent phenomenon, scholars have been reflecting on the relationship between climate and society for millennia. Now more than ever, it is important that we learn all we can about these relationships. Yale University Professor Michael Dove has assembled a collection that demonstrates how anthropology can enhance our understanding of the relationship between climate and society.

Dove has organized his book around eleven themes including: Climate Theory; Climate Change and Societal Collapse; Climatic Events as Social Crucibles; Climatic Disasters and Social Marginalization; and Co-Production of Knowledge in Climatic and Social Histories. Each theme features two papers, although some threads weave throughout the collection. For example, the question of environmental determinism, or ‘climate theory’ – the notion that social development is driven and bounded by environmental conditions – emerges repeatedly.

Hippocrates (Ch. 1), Ibn Khaldûn (Ch. 3), and the Vedic texts (Zimmermann, Ch. 4) argue that societies are products of their environment. Montesquieu (Ch. 2) makes the related assertion that laws should reflect climatic differences. Ratzel (Ch. 7), Meggers (Ch. 8), McGovern (Ch. 9) and Weiss and Bradley (Ch. 10) make more modern arguments for environmental determinism, including that ‘civilized’ societies are more likely to be found in temperate climates than in the tropics. McGovern offers the collapse of Norse settlements during the ‘Little Ice Age’ as an illustration of how societies can be impacted by climate change. Weiss and Bradley draw on palaeoclimatic data to explain the social consequences of climatic change. There are also more subtle explorations. Soloway (Ch. 12) explores how drought in Botswana’s Kalahari provided a window for profound social change, while Scheper-Hughes (Ch. 15) explains how the dramatic impact of Hurricane Katrina was more a product of long-standing inequality and racism than a ‘natural disaster’. Taken as a whole, one might conclude that societies are in part products of their (changing) climates, but that one must acknowledge the myriad of other factors at play, including power and competing interests.

The collection is strengthened by Dove’s excellent introduction, in which he outlines key themes and situates each work. It is too bad we don’t hear more from him. Beyond the 30-page introduction and overview, Dove lets the mostly unabridged readings speak for themselves. His introduction gives us a taste of his astute interpretations, but  we are left wanting more of his analysis of what we can learn about climate and society from the canon of anthropology.

 

 


Sep 12 2014

THE FUTURE IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE: CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY SECURITY

Reviewed by Mike Gunter, Jr., Rollins College

 A thought-provoking analysis of the rather pessimistic prospects for dealing effectively with climate change and energy security

Jorg Freidrichs2

The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, by Jörg Friedrichs, MIT Press, 2013

International development scholar Jörg Friedrichs offers a thought-provoking analysis of the rather pessimistic prospects for dealing effectively with climate change and energy security. Arguing our industrial society is inherently transitory, Friedrichs goes beyond other recent analyses on climate change politics, spelling out in his sixth chapter the “moral economy of inaction.” Such inaction prevails thanks to the four obstinate obstacles of free-riding with collective action problems, psychological coping with seemingly intractable threats, and the discount factors of both time and space. This follows the logic of David Hume (1739) that the more distant a threat is, the less one cares.

After introducing his topic and discussing the links between climate change and energy scarcity in his first two chapters, chapters three and four delve into an intriguing set of case studies. With its focus upon climate change, the second case study in chapter three contrasts the medieval Norse settlements of Iceland and Greenland during the Little Ice Age (pp. 67–71) and makes a convincing argument that settlers in Iceland were more flexible then their Greenland brethren, adjusting agriculturally and becoming more accomplished fishermen.

Similarly, chapter four offers two case studies focusing upon energy scarcity. The latter study, which compares the Hermit Kingdom in North Korea to the Castro regime in Cuba, is more interesting. Both communist regimes were hurt by the loss of Soviet oil subsides at the end of the Cold War. However, while hundreds of thousands died from hunger in mid-1990s in North Korea, those in Cuba exploited the social capital offered by family, friends, and neighbors and survived.

Friedrichs next prescribes four solutions for our twin threats including lower energy consumption, better energy efficiency, the switch from fossil fuels, and carbon capture and storage. At the same time, he takes into account realistic limitations. The rebound effect, or Jevons paradox, for example, limits efficiency as there is considerable risk it will not lead to lower consumption, but will rather, because of reduced costs, actually encourage higher consumption.

Finally, despite its numerous strengths, the book falls short in the fifth chapter, a critique of the struggle over knowledge about climate change and peak oil. While Friedrichs is certainly correct that our knowledge base is flawed, one might take issue with his analysis as to why. Regarding climate in particular, Friedrichs gives the so-called skeptics too much credit. Mainstream climate scientists are labeled as alarmists while skeptics are assigned their preferred choice of terminology (instead of the deniers label) simply for the reason that they “openly talk about climate change” (p. 129).

Friedrichs justifies this reasoning by saying that the deniers label should only be reserved for those who avoid the issue altogether, but in doing so cedes significant rhetorical power to skeptics in terms of agenda setting. Additional references to skeptics as typically less published and less cited than peers (p. 133) is a gross understatement and there is a lack of attention to their financial connections to the fossil fuel industry.


Sep 11 2014

RIVER REPUBLIC: THE FALL AND RISE OF AMERICA’S RIVERS

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma, Independent Reviewer

An authoritative exposé of the political economy of river management in the United States

River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers, Colombia University Press, 2012

Dictatorships are loathed the world over for the fatalities they cause. But rarely have democracies been reprimanded for the living rivers they destroy. Isn’t it a fact that the United States of America has led the world in inflicting grievous damage on its rivers?

It indeed is! In its two centuries of experience in manhandling rivers, the US Army Corps of Engineer has dammed, diverted and dried up nearly all the country’s rivers. It apparently never occurred to this elite force that moving water could also be a resource. Pouring concrete to impound or divert flows has prevailed as a water development strategy known as ‘water hubris’ guiding river management. As a result, some 3.3 million small and big dams have converted free-flowing rivers into a series of interconnected reservoirs in the US. Yet none of these projects have lived up to the promise of being self-sustaining. Annual maintenance expenditures alone have caused the initial cost–benefit calculus to go haywire.

Dam building and river engineering generate sufficient political capital to sustain themselves while water projects have become instruments of power, prestige and political gamesmanship. To get a sense of how water hubris has been nurtured, Daniel McCool, Professor of Political Science at the University of Utah, provides bio-sketches of two leading agencies: the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Bureau of Reclamation. Through their relentless pursuit to “curb the sinful rivers,” these two agencies have turned water hubris into a moral right, almost in religious terms, to conquer rivers. No wonder, then, that calls for new water projects are almost always accompanied by dire projections of impending “water crises.” The actual crisis is that the real requirements of water management are lost in the din.

The collapse of the Teton Dam on World Environment Day in 1976 may have been the tipping point. From a 27 km long reservoir, 80 billion gallons of water swept through the 305-feet-high earth-filled dam killing about a dozen people in Rexburg, Idaho. Ironically, the disintegration of the Machhu Dam in Gujarat in 1979, which killed as many as 25,000, hasn’t had any impact on the prevailing water hubris in India.

It has been officially acknowledged that there are 15,237 dams in the US with high hazard potential. As many as 890 of these dams have been dismantled due to public outrage. Water hubris appears to be giving way to a new water ethic in the US. Inspiring accounts of citizen triumphs against the institutionalized annihilation of rivers are worth emulating.

McCool confirms that not only has the status quo been challenged, but that some rivers are returning to their free-flowing condition. River instigators are working their way through a maze of institutional obstacles. River restoration is now something of a cottage industry. Indeed, there are as many as 2,500 non-profit groups in the US partnering with the agencies that originally built the dams now working to restore rivers to their pristine status.

River Republic is an authoritative exposé of the political economy of river management in the United States. McCool stresses that the great challenge for this generation is to figure out a way to reverse the downward corkscrew of our rivers before we reach a point where there is nothing left to save.

Personal anecdotes and insightful analysis make it an important book. River Republic offers essential lessons for entrenched water bureaucracy.

 


Sep 10 2014

CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION IN PRACTICE: FROM STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT TO IMPLEMENTATION

Reviewed by Danya Rumore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The book fails to provide a cohesive message or specific take-aways

Climate Change Adaptation in Practice: From Strategy Development to Implementation, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013

For those working in the field of climate change adaptation, the fundamental question is, “What does effective adaptation look like in practice?” We have many theories and ideas about how to help communities and ecosystems become more resilient; yet, just how these approaches will play out remains to be seen. Hence, it was with quite a bit of curiosity—as well as some skepticism—that I picked up Climate Change Adaptation in Practice.

The book draws together diverse case studies from the European Climate Change: Impacts, Costs, and Adaptation in the Baltic Sea Region (BaltCICA) project. The chapters, written by a range of academics and practitioners, review case studies ranging from efforts to support participatory adaptation decision-making in Kalundborg, Denmark, to ways of modeling climate change effects on groundwater in Hanko, Finland.  In so doing, the book seeks to illuminate a wide variety of technical and political approaches to preparing for and managing climate change risks.

While it does provide a snapshot of early adaptation efforts, possible technical approaches, and various engagement strategies, the book’s usefulness is limited.  The cases are largely descriptive, devoid of empirical evaluation. Although it is written in a scholarly style, the cases offer little by way of theoretical development. Additionally, like many scholarly collections, the book fails to provide a cohesive message or specific take-aways. Given that adaptation scholarship and practice are still in their early stages, a descriptive collection like this may prove useful to those looking for information on what is going on in communities worldwide, particularly the Baltic Region of Europe; however, beyond this, it is not clear that Climate Change Adaptation in Practice makes an important contribution to the field.


Sep 9 2014

MANAGING OCEAN ENVIRONMENTS IN A CHANGING CLIMATE: SUSTAINABILITY AND ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Extremely useful for anyone focused on climate science and climate policy development

Managing Ocean Environments In A Changing Climate: Sustainability and Economic Perspectives, Elsevier, 2013

Managing Ocean Environments in a Changing Climate provides a state-of-the-science examination of several high profile threats to the ocean environment. These include acidification, warming, hypoxia, sea level rise, pollution, and over extraction of resources (the primary focus is fisheries). Where this book differs from others with similar aims is that it does not to discuss each of these global stressors in isolation, rather, it speaks to their relationships to each other, including their synergies, amplifications, and feedbacks across scales. Given such a complex scope, it cannot achieve everything it sets out to do. Some of the more successful chapters include a very practical section on Policy Recommendations, as well as its concluding chapter on Multiple Stressors. At times the discussion of the relationships among the stressors felt a bit vague; however, this does not detract from the overall effectiveness of the volume.

This book is written for a diverse audience, including academics, policy makers, and NGO personnel. The book’s concise and well-written literature reviews of the most up-to-date science in the field are very helpful, and they do converse with one another in the later chapters. The authors also use scenarios to be intentionally consistent with the IPCC Assessment Report 5. The use of scenarios, or storylines of possible future development and resource requirements, help to make the book accessible to the wider audience it is seeking to reach. The scenarios generate a narrative feel that makes for more interesting reading as compared to a technical document like the IPCC report it is meant to accompany. The focus on the relationships among six key stressors also helps to achieve consistency with the research aims of the IPCC Assessment Report 5. Thus, this volume is extremely useful for anyone focused on climate science and climate policy development. It is a timely read in the run up to COP 19 in Lima.


Jul 4 2014

ENVIRONMENTAL ECONOMICS: AN INTRODUCTION by Barry C. Field and Martha K. Field

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Probably the best environmental economics textbook

An Introduction

Environmental Economics: An Introduction, by Barry C. Field and Martha K. Field, McGraw Hill, 2012

Nearly everyone who has taken a course in environmental economics has some experience with the textbooks of Barry and Martha Field. In Environmental Economics (6th edition), they continue with their uniquely clear and logical overview of the field and its analytical tools. Light on pure math, but strong on useful description, concrete definitions and clear explanation of otherwise complex topics (such as discounting), the text is a must for any undergraduate or graduate interested in the discipline and looking for a standalone primer. Of the many environmental economics texts available, the Fields’ work stands out because they write in a style that is technically sophisticated but easy to read. This is atypical of most economics texts.

Substantial sections of the book are dedicated to reviewing key concepts in environmental economics and how they can be applied; showing how theory meets practice. These are the stronger chapters. They include overviews of cost–benefit analysis, trading of permits or “incentive-based strategies,” top-down command-and-control regulation, and so on. The weakness of the book, as with many economics texts, is that it overlooks the political dimension of environmental analysis. When they discuss cost–benefit assessment, for example, it appears as though costs and benefits occur uniformly across all members of society (when that is not the case). They do not address issues of power or access in environmental decision making, or mention environmental justice at all. They do include contemporary case studies, or “exhibits,” which showcase what happens when environmental economics is applied in the real world. Here is where some of the missing elements in their theoretical exposition appear. Some of the better exhibits touch on the “intelligible principle” of the Clean Air Act, and incentives for deterring offshore oil spills.

Given the large difference in price between old and new versions of this textbook, the cases are not sufficiently innovative or contemporary to justify the massive price increase.



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