Reviewed by Gregg Macey, Brooklyn Law School

David Hess delves into the politics and economics of the transition towards green energy and the development of a green workforce in the U.S.

Good Green Jobs in a Global Economy: Making and Keeping New Industries in the United States, by David Hess, The MIT Press, 2012, 304 pp.

In Good Green Jobs in a Global Economy (MIT Press, 2012), David Hess moves beyond the stale dichotomies of climate change response, such as mitigation vs. adaptation and market- vs. standards-based policies. The 111th Congress was our most dramatic attempt to enact a market-based solution to climate change. In the wake of H.R. 2454, S. 1733, and other dead bills, the Obama administration marshaled its existing executive authority, such as section 111 of the Clean Air Act, to adopt performance standards for stationary sources of carbon emissions. Hess offers a more nuanced approach to the congressional term and its crisis of leadership. He views it as a moment along a broader transition from a carbon-based economy. Good Green Jobs examines the unevenness of this “green transition,” how it leads to weaknesses in our industrial policy, and the prospects for bending the direction that the transition will take.

As a sociologist, Hess explores the transition with tools that are familiar to students of social movement theory: cultural frames, resource mobilization, and political opportunities. His past works share a concern for political opportunity structures used by locally owned organizations (Localist Movements in a Global Economy) and civil society groups aligned against harmful or risky technologies (Alternative Pathways in Science and Industry).  Good Green Jobs continues this focus, and at a particular level of analysis: social fields, and the definitional and object conflicts that happen within them. With qualitative data (interviews, observation of conference meetings, and surveys of industry reports) and statistical modeling (to explain variation in green transition policies), Hess locates the battle against climate change in cultural shifts at different levels of governance. These changes underlie the birth of a “developmentalist” ideology, which defends domestic industry through a mix of industrial policy and the remedy of unfair trade practices. This is the landscape in which our response to climate change takes shape.

Approaching climate change as a social movement challenge rather than a generic collective action problem yields substantial insights. Hess’s distinct form of field analysis isolates the “political ideologies associated with different types of policy interventions.” Change occurs at different scales (“organizational and urban scale to national or international”) in a social field, and by focusing on institutional change, Hess pivots from sociology’s preoccupation with how fields are reproduced. Hess uses these innovations to offer a roadmap for reform. He explains the green energy transition as an uneven selection of “demand” (e.g., cap-and-trade, renewable electricity standards) and “supply” (e.g., research and development, tax credits and subsidies, regional cluster development) policies. He surveys the role of coalitions in framing green development in each policy field, robust descriptive work that reveals constituencies that promote supply and regional demand policies, such as those found in California’s AB 32. He finds important variation across policy fields and scales of governance. The result is an account of the green transition’s political opportunity structures, and our slow, yet surprisingly robust transition from a carbon-based economy. Hess also suggests that we have entered a new generation of environmental policy, where sustainability and developmentalist design tools will predominate instead of market, command, or informational approaches. His multilevel study of policy fields, their shaping by localist and regional efforts, and the impact of systemic shocks such as funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, explodes the usual boundaries of environmental federalism. Stale fights over the benefits of state versus federal regulation, at times waged with little analytic backing, would benefit from Hess’s urgent and more complete analysis.

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