Dec 21 2012


Reviewed by Leah Stokes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Biermann and Pattberg examine how international institutions for the environment are changing with time due to new actors, new mechanisms and growing fragmentation.

Global Environmental Governance Reconsidered, by Frank Biermann and Philipp Pattberg, Eds., Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 320pp

Global Environmental Governance Reconsidered, edited by Frank Biermann and Philipp Pattberg, summarizes ten years of collaborative research on global environmental institutions. The book identifies three global governance trends: first, new actors are participating at the global scale; second, new private governance mechanisms are paralleling international treaties; third, new fragmentation in rules and institutions is occurring, both horizontally and vertically. These three concepts create the architecture for the book’s three sections and taken together they point to a decline in the state’s role in global environmental governance. The criticisms of private governance mechanisms, including poor implementation and a lack of capacity building, highlight problems in moving away from state-centered environmental institutions. However, as the chapter on market-based transnational governance experiments argues, increasing fragmentation in governance, while undermining multilateral negotiations, is a process likely to expand in the future.

The book is an interesting compilation of research projects, yet it has some weak points. While it examines international bureaucracies and transnational businesses, it does not focus enough on environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) or the role of the state. We know from earlier work that ENGOs are critical to raising awareness and transforming public opinion on environmental issues, catalyzing state action. In addition, the book’s focus on high-level institutional analysis eliminates some of the rich policy details that explain outcomes in specific cases, for example differences in genetically modified organisms (GMO) regulations, and causes for ambitious renewable energy policy. Nevertheless, the book provides an excellent summary of a collaborative, long-term study and should provide new material for debates on the use of science, the role of neoliberalism and the relevance of power in international environmental negotiations.

Dec 21 2012


Review by Isabelle Anguelovski, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

In this book Park and Pellow explore environmental privilege in relation to the international flow of goods, services, and people and to the exacerbation of poverty and exclusion.

The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants Vs the Environment in America’s Eden, by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Pellow, New York University Press, 275pp

Much of the extensive literature on environmental justice has examined inequities in exposure to contamination. Historically, minorities and low-income populations have suffered from greater environmental harm from waste sites, incinerators, refineries, transportation, and small-area sources than white and well-off communities. However, inequalities exist not only in the distribution of environmental ills. They are also manifested in the territorial allocation of environmental goods and services, including parks, coasts, and open spaces, which scholars have recently started to pay more attention to.

In The Slums of Aspen, sociologists Lisa Park and David Pellow examine the flip side of environmental burden: environmental privilege. In Aspen, Colorado, the authors show how a municipal resolution from 1999—under the discourse of environmental protection and embodying nativist claims of population growth through immigration being responsible for environmental degradation—attempted to limit immigration and eliminate Latino immigrants from the seemingly serene and pristine landscape of Aspen. The power of Pellow and Park’s fine, in-depth and nuanced qualitative study is to show that wealthier and white groups are actually able to enjoy natural areas like Aspen thanks to the invisible work of immigrant and poor workers, whom they in turn accuse of damaging natural resources and attempt to exclude from spaces of environmental privilege.

In this book, Pellow and Park portray two different worlds: the world of Saudi princes and American millionaires living in their 6,000 square foot mansions with heated driveways and consuming an absurd amount of resources and energy, and the one of Latino immigrants hidden in small trailers 100 miles away from the exclusive resort, but working daily to maintain the lifestyle of Aspen’s residents and visitors. The Slums of Aspen thus raises two fundamental questions: who is actually responsible for environmental damage and resource depletion? And how does the international flow of goods, services, and people contribute to this environmental state and to the exacerbation of poverty and exclusion?

Dec 21 2012

ENVIRONMENTAL LAW AND SUSTAINABILITY AFTER RIO by Jamie Benidickson, Ben Boer, Antonio Herman Benjamin and Karen Morrow

Review by David Wirth, Boston College

An accessible collection of essays from around the world, offering insights into legal and political issues surrounding environmental law and sustainability.

Environmental Law and Sustainability After Rio, by Jamie Benidickson, Ben Boer, Antoni Herman Benjamin and Karen Morrow, Eds., Edward Elgar, 413pp

At first glance, the copyright date of 2011—immediately before the Rio+20 conference—seems strange for a collection of 21 essays ostensibly devoted to developments in domestic and international law since the original Earth Summit in 2002. Upon closer examination, however, it appears that the volume memorializes a conference held in 2007, timed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of Rio and midway between the two subsequent international follow-up meetings held at ten-year intervals.

The work segments the larger question of the law of sustainability into five categories: principles and concepts; environmental rights and access to justice; natural resources; nature conservation; and energy and climate change. Even within those themes, the individual contributions are largely free-standing and independent from one another. The tone is largely academic, with the individual pieces thoroughly documented with references. Although the work examines these and other issues through a legal lens, the treatment ought to be accessible to generalists, and appropriately synthesizes both law and policy.  The subject matter ranges from the theoretical to the practical, such as Karen Morrow’s analysis of public participation in British court proceedings.

While some readers might be interested in reading the entire collection cover to cover, the appeal of the book is more likely to be the unusual and innovative insights offered by particular papers in the collection. Joseph Dellapenna and Flavia Loures, for example, trenchantly critique the International Law Commission’s draft articles on transboundary aquifers. Other unusual subject matter is addressed by Robert Kibugi’s examination of access to environmental justice in Kenya, Arlindo Daibert’s treatment of damages in civil environmental cases in Brazil, Willemien du Plessis’s assessment of cross-border natural gas pipelines in southern Africa, Emmanuel Kasimbazi’s evaluation of climate policy in Uganda, and Marcelo Nogueira Camargos and Solange Teles da Silva’s scrutiny of sustainable management of mangrove swamps in Brazil.

Dec 21 2012


Review by Professor Lawrence Susskind, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Zeitoun’s work argues that attempts to monopolize control of the water supply in the Middle East is seriously undermining hopes for peace in the region.

Power and Water in the Middle East: The Hidden Politics of the Palestinian–Israeli Water Conflict, by Mark Zeitoun, IB Tauris, 224pp

Mark Zeitoun is an experienced water engineering affiliated with the Center of Environmental Policy and Governance at the London Science of Economics and Political Science. His focus is on the ‘hidden politics’ behind the Israeli–Palestinian water conflict. As Elon Tal says in his long review of this book, “Zeitoun argues that Israel has successfully made its domination of water resources part of the subconscious paradigm that drives the decisions and menu of policy options held by Palestinian water managers and politicians. In so doing, it has turned the pragmatic Palestinian professional community into accomplices in Israel’s post-colonial larceny of its neighbors’ hydrological resources.”

I take Zeitoun’s analysis very seriously, but I also find parts of Tal’s defense compelling. Having interacted with a number of Palestinian water professionals, I don’t think Zeitoun’s charge is fair. The water professionals in Palestine know exactly what is going on at every level. And, having talked with a number of senior Israeli water policy analysts, I don’t find Tal’s defense entirely convincing. Israel is preoccupied with its long-term security (what country wouldn’t be?). It won’t agree to sort out questions of fundamental rights to water on a permanent basis until all the details of a stable two-state solution are clarified. Palestinian water professionals don’t want to wait, and who would blame them, given that the small share of the region’s water that goes to the Palestinians is unacceptable.

What if Israel offers to sell the Palestinians (and Jordanians) all the water they could possibly want? The National Water Plan for 2040 calls for Israel to provide 70% of its water from desalination. If this happens, there should be more naturally occurring water available for the Palestinians. If Israel agrees to sell unlimited amounts of water (generated through multiple use of the same water supplies, more efficient agricultural production, reductions in the loss of ‘virtual water’ by cutting back shipments of fruits and vegetables out of the region, and massive investment in desalination), at modest prices, is it further evidence of hydro-hegemony? Or, is it a step toward economic interdependence? While future attacks on Israel might be met by turning off the water spigot, Palestinian investment in independent desalination facilities—and Israel’s willingness to share new low energy desalination technology—might be jointly planned moves toward peace.

Dec 21 2012


Review by Masahiro Matsuura, University of Tokyo

Reviewing approaches to the use of scientific evidence in regulatory governance, this book provides a new perspective on the role of science in global environmental policies.

Science and Risk Regulation in International Law, by Jacqueline Peel, Cambridge University Press, 416pp

In recent policy-making processes, ‘science’ is often a crucial element of controversy that has to be resolved by decision-makers and stakeholders, not just by scientific experts. For instance, environmental policy problems are subject to controversy over the interpretation of scientific analysis; Ozawa and Susskind (1985) characterized them as “science-intensive policy disputes.” Nowadays, the significance of science in public policy has increased as strategic actors in policy processes submit ‘scientific evidence’ in order to promote their own preferred policy choices.

The trend of stressing the need for evidence before implementing new policies and regulations, which started in the field of medicine, has extended to a wide range of policy areas.International law is not an exception. Science and Risk Regulation in International Law, a recent publication by Jacqueline Peel, raises a question about the appropriate use of scientific information in risk governance on the global scale. The first half of the book provides a thorough review of approaches to regulatory governance and the use of science. Instead of simply criticizing strategic uses of sound science by industries and political parties, the author characterizes sound science and precautionary principle as competing risk regulatory paradigms.

By applying this framework to the analysis of disputes over World Trade Organization’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Agreement, and other controversies in the field of international law, the author reframes the issue from these competing paradigms to the democratization of science. Both sound science and precautionary principle rely on scientific information. The problem lies in how such information is produced and used. By drawing on literature in science, technology and society studies (STS), the author argues for different ways of incorporating scientific information in global regulatory governance. While its conclusion could be a little more empirical by drawing on practices of environmental policy in North America, such as joint fact-finding and negotiated rulemaking, the book provides a new perspective on the role of science in global environmental and regulatory governance.

Dec 21 2012


Review by Sean Nolon, Vermont Law School

Joel Mintz’s work offers fascinating insights into changing approaches to environmental law enforcement in recent decades.

Enforcement at the EPA: High Stakes and Hard Choices, by Joel A Mintz, University of Texas Press, 323pp

This book presents a fascinating historical account of how EPA’s approach to enforcing environmental laws has changed over the last forty years. Fortunately, this book has many moments where the author brings a potentially dry topic alive through the use of quotes and personal accounts from agency insiders.  Professor Mintz has written an enjoyable and informative volume that follows in the tradition of great qualitative research such as Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

This work is the product of many years of research and the author’s passion to make sense out of the tangled path that EPA has followed since being created by President Nixon in the 1970s. Professor Mintz reviewed EPA enforcement policy documents from 1970–2009 and interviewed over 190 present and former government officials. This behind-the-scenes presentation of how presidents from Carter to Bush II affect enforcement at the EPA is fascinating. Some of the highlights addressed are: EPA’s style of enforcement over the years; the effect of congressional oversight, including decentralized committees and budget authority on EPA’s ability to enforce; the relationship of political appointees to agency staff under different administrations; the decline of agency effectiveness in recent years; and an exploration of the threat and reality of agency “capture.”

By giving a thorough historical account of enforcement at EPA, readers will see more detail of the shadow under which many environmental negotiations take place. Readers with an interest in environmental regulation and those who enjoy the evolution of institutions and how they respond to changes in society will enjoy this volume.

Dec 21 2012


Reviewed by W. Todd Jarvis, Oregon State University

Shafiqul Islam and Lawrence E. Susskind provide an interesting new framework that is both innovative and complementary to existing water negotiations frameworks.

Water Diplomacy: A Negotiated Approach to Managing Complex Water Networks, by Shafiqul Islam and Lawrence E. Susskind, RFF Press, 334pp

The days of groundwater problems being solved by hydrologists watching water move through well screens or across computer screens is quickly being replaced by the political melodramas typically found on the movie screen – negotiating over water use and reuse. This is where the new book by Shafiqul Islam and Lawrence Susskind is an important addition to the library of postmodern hydrologists. The objective of the book is to provide “a 21st century approach to water management that acknowledges the complexity and uncertainty of natural and societal systems, accepts the increasing interconnectivity and consequences of important decisions, and rejects the unquestioned authority of hierarchical governance structures.”

Water Diplomacy reads like three books under one cover. The first book develops the water diplomacy framework with an introduction to complexity theory, scale and networks through the clever use of a fable about a fictitious river basin, Indopotamia. The second book sets the stage for negotiations by examining a non-zero sum approach to water negotiations. Special features of the first two ‘books’ include many excerpts from selected journal articles related to each chapter topic, followed by short commentary by the authors.

The reader revisits Indopotamia in the third book, where a well-documented role play simulation is offered as a capacity-building exercise. I participated in this role play simulation during the 2012 Water Diplomacy Workshop. The book, the annual workshop and the role play are wonderful additions to the many other trainings and frameworks on negotiations over water resources.

Oct 10 2012

NATURAL CAPITAL by Peter Kareiva, Heather Tallis, Taylor H. Ricketts, Gretchen C. Daily and Stephen Polasky

Reviewed by Marina Alberti, University of Washington

Natural Capital uses a series of assessment models to translate the science of ecosystem services into practice.

Natural Capital: Theory and Practice of Mapping Ecosystem Services, edited by Peter Kareiva, Heather Tallis, Taylor H. Ricketts, Gretchen C. Daily, and Stephen Polasky Oxford University Press, 392pp.

The concept of ecosystem services has provided a useful framework to explicitly link nature conservation to human wellbeing. Although the inextricable links between natural processes and human society trace all the way back to Greek philosophers such as Plato, the explicit recognition of nature’s benefit to humanity is relatively recent. Daily’s Nature’s Services (1997) is perhaps the first attempt to systematically assess ecosystem values and advance the notion that valuing ecosystem services may provide an effective approach for conservation. During the last decades, we have learned a great deal about the role of ecosystem functioning to provide critical services such as clean water, carbon sequestration, and crop pollination. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) has provided a powerful framework to assess global ecosystem services and a first synthesis of potential threats. However, we know much less about how to integrate the emerging science into everyday decisions.

Natural Capital takes on this challenge with an essential first step. A diverse team of scientists has put together a compelling synthesis of explicit links between ecosystem services and human benefits and has developed a series of assessment models to translate the science of ecosystem services into practice.

As the authors indicate, it is only a beginning. Next steps will imply refining methods and accounting for complex feedback loops, dynamic effects and uncertainty. Yet to fulfil the objective of translating the knowledge to practice, the authors recognize the need for the natural and social science to address some difficult questions about quantification, predictability and cultural values. I would highlight that among them, the greatest challenge is understanding the complexity of decision processes, the diversity of decision makers and dynamic of institutional change. Primarily grounded in ecology and economics, the science of ecosystem services will need to expand the disciplinary boundaries. Natural Capital poses important challenges and creates new opportunities for building bridges with a diversity of social sciences and humanities.

Oct 9 2012


Reviewed by Matthias van Maasakkers, MIT

Douglas Kysar exposes a critical flaw in the dominant environmental law and policy paradigm of risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis.

Regulating from Nowhere: Environmental Law and the Search for Objectivity, by Douglas Kysar, Yale University Press, 336pp

Cost-benefit analysis has become virtually inescapable in environmental decision-making. Yet, as Douglas Kysar points out in this nuanced yet profound critique of that method and the narrow assumptions of welfare maximization it is based upon, there are plausible alternative frameworks to inform decision-making in the environmental realm. This book moves beyond mounting ethical, theoretical and practical arguments to show the shortcomings of cost-benefit analysis, although it probably is the most detailed and sustained development of those arguments since Mark Sagoff’s The Economy of the Earth.

The book is most effective when describing the ways in which precaution is not only a viable alternative, it is also already embedded in many environmental laws and activities in the United States and elsewhere. In the appendix, a draft Environmental Possibilities Act is included, showing Kysar’s commitment and ability to translate precautionary philosophies into specific, if hypothetical, policies. The Yale Law School professor moves between practical examples and French philosophers like Derrida. He produces a sustained argument that cost-benefit analysis restricts informed decision-making as opposed to enabling it because of increasingly untenable restrictions on standing and the assumption of impermeability of national boundaries. Important questions regarding legal standing that are emerging in relation to new biological and genetic manipulation technologies are described in detail.

This book is important not so much because of its current and compelling critique of cost-benefit analysis, but mainly because of its impassioned and effective reframing of the precautionary principle as an active and effective idea in environmental decision-making. Kysar reclaims the centrality of morality in environmental law, without ignoring the need for practical engagement.

Oct 9 2012

PLANNING WITH COMPLEXITY by Judith Innes and David Booher

Reviewed by Shafiqul Islam, Tufts University

This book presents a new theory of collaborative rationality to help make sense of the new practices.

Planning With Complexity: An Introduction to Collaborative Rationality for Public Decision-making, by Judith Innes and David Booher, Routledge, 256pp

In Planning with Complexity, this scholar-practitioner team looks at planning and public policy through the lens of complexity science. They explicitly recognize that many social policy, planning and management problems are “wicked” as defined by Rittel and Webber (1973). They argue that there is no consensus even on the definition of the problem, much less on goals to achieve. The uncertainty inherent in such complex systems means that even powerful actors and knowledgeable experts cannot predict how uncertainty in information, action and perception will manifest itself on a particular policy prescription. A central aspect of their argument is that for wicked problems, there is no solution that can be shown to be predictable and optimal.

They propose a new form of planning and policy called, collaborative rationality. This is a welcome departure from traditional instrumental rationality for decision-making. Their collaborative decision-making theory – Diversity, Interdependence, Authentic Dialogue (DIAD) – is based on three conditions embedded within it. It is theoretically elegant and grounded in the work of Habermas (1981) and the notion of communicative rationality. When all of the ordinary constraints on the free exchange of ideas (such as differences in status, power, etc) are lifted, Habermas believes that good faith discourse between individuals will allow them to reach a consensus about the truth. Authors explicitly recognize that collaborative rationality requires an equalization of power among all stakeholders (P. 111).

It is not clear, however, how pragmatic such an equalization of power is for planning and management of wicked problems. This is partly because rationality based on scientific method and positivist approach is a highly contested notion, while collaborative decision-making relies heavily on interpretive, pragmatic and experiential way of knowing. How to make these apparently dichotomous ideas into collaborative decision-making process in a politically real world is a practical challenge. Authors are pragmatic in acknowledging that “dialogues cannot directly change the deep structure of power (P. 110)” but actions can have second or third order effects. Their observation that planning has to proceed independent of trust  is somewhat puzzling. Recent literature on planning and management of common pool resources (Ostrom 2011, Susskind and Islam 2012) suggest creating trust and values to be fundamental in this regard.

To summarize, Innes and Booher have provided a fresh look and theoretical foundation on how to think about planning and managing wicked problems from complexity science perspectives. Hopefully, their future contribution will provide more insight on how to practically manage wicked problems within the context of collaborative rationality.

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