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Digging Theories in Environmental Policy and Management Blog

WOPPR & EAWG 2012 Seminar Series

Welcome to the “Digging Theories in Environmental Policy and Management” blog, a product of the spring 2012 Workshop on Policy Process Research (WOPPR) seminar series, co-hosted with the Environmental Affairs Working Group (EAWG).  The spring seminar series seeks to understand the diversity and application of theories across the study of environmental policy and management.  The purpose is to develop a better understanding of the breadth of theoretical approaches, appreciate their differences, find value, and seek out similarities for innovative future research, policymaking, and management. 
We will be posting a blog entry written by the visiting scholar presenting corresponding to each seminar presentation, along with presentation slides.  Each blog entry describes their topical area of research and why it’s important, the theoretical approach(es) used in their research, the theoretical and practical lessons learned from the work and theory to date, and the unanswered questions and the future direction in the area.  

Seminar 9, May 9, 2012 

Andrea Gerlak, University of Arizona
Chris Weible, University of Colorado Denver

Integration: An Emerging Theme in Environmental Governence & Series Conclusion

The concluding seminar of the “Digging Theories in Environmental Policy and Management” series features an appearance by Andrea Gerlak from the University in Arizona and a concluding presentation by Chris Weible.  Andrea discusses the concepts of integration and “cross pollination” as the future of environmental policy scholars grappling with complex, multi-scale issues.  Chris discusses six lessons learned from the spring seminar: (1) Current topics or puzzles in the environmental field involve complex, multi-scalar, and inter-related problems; (2) Scholars draw from a diverse array of theories (and frameworks) to explore and study environmental topics and puzzles; (3) Using frameworks to guide the comprehensive description of problems or puzzles has strengths and limits; (4) In approaching frameworks and theories, some scholars push the edge, others maintain the center, while others pick and choose theories pragmatically; (5) Presenters rarely explored the practical lessons of their research, and; (6) Creating, developing, testing, and adapting frameworks and theories are among the toughest challenges found in the field.


 Seminar 8: May 2, 2012

Hank Jenkins-Smith, Oklahoma University

Applications of Grid/Group Theories to Frameworks of Policy Change and Learning

This discussion will evaluate the prospects for application of the "grid/group" cultural theory (CT), as advanced by Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky, to the Advocacy Coalition Theory (ACF) and other frameworks that seek to describe policy change and learning. CT would seem to be relevant to several key aspects of such frameworks, such as (1) explaining the content of the systems of beliefs that provide the basis for coalition formation and collective action; (2) explaining the remarkable resilience of belief systems and the implications for belief change and learning; and (3) understanding the structure of coalitions and the mechanisms for coordination and control within them. The discussion generally will consider the compatibility of the ACF's account of core belief and coalition structure with that of cultural theory; will discuss some recent empirical studies based on variations of CT that are of relevance to policy change and learning; and will apply CT accounts of change in cultural identities to the ACF.

Seminar 7: April 11, 2012

Ron Brunner, University of Colorado Boulder

Climate Adaptation and the Drunkard’s Search

Planning for climate adaptation in the U.S. has been expanding in recent years. However, conventional wisdom in this emerging area of policy has largely overlooked the significance of experience in disaster mitigation.   During recent decades, some local community-based initiatives with the assistance of state and federal agencies have significantly reduced their losses from floods, droughts, high winds, wildfires, and other extreme weather events.  In doing so, they have overcome frequently-cited barriers to making progress on the goal of climate adaptation policy, reducing vulnerability to future climate variability and change.  They have demonstrated additional paths for making progress, paths that often begin with direct experience of losses from extreme weather events rather than scientific scenarios or projections of climate change and its impacts.  And they have expanded the range of field-tested models available for other local communities to adapt and for state and federal agencies to support.  This critique of conventional wisdom suggests near-term opportunities to advance the common interest in reducing net losses from and vulnerability to climate change and helps clarify our roles and responsibilities as policy scientists.

Seminar 6: April 4, 2012

Denise Scheberle, University of Colorado Denver

The Night of Gas: Why Bhopal Matters

The disaster in Bhopal, India in 1984 is the largest industrial accident recorded in modern history.  As a result of an accidental release of a deadly pesticide at the Union Carbide plant, over 7,500 people lost their lives within a few days of exposure, with a staggering half million people affected by the event. Though this will always have a place in the history of environmental tragedies, the story continues, with on-going exposure to toxic materials, contaminated ground water and continuing human health issues.  This presentation explores the causes of the tragedy and whether this is a systems or “normal” accident.  The presentation offers other potential avenues for additional study, including the role of the Bhopal tragedy as a focusing event for new public policy in the United States and India.

Michele Betsil, Colorado State University 

The Politics and Governance of Global Climate Change

While nation-states have failed to negotiate a comprehensive multilateral climate change treaty, a complex, multi-level governance architecture has emerged involving actors and initiatives from the global to the local level in the public and private spheres. This talk will discuss global climate governance beyond the nation-state with a particular emphasis on three general questions: 1) who governs and how? 2) what are the politics of non-nation-state governance? and 3) can non-nation-state governance steer society to a low-carbon future? I will discuss these questions in the context of my current work on carbon markets, transnational climate governance, and cities and climate change.



 Seminar 4: March 14, 2012 

Lloyd Burton, University of Colorado Denver

Policy Learning, Political Culture, and Preventable Death: Wildfire Mitigation Law in Australia and the U.S. 

Southeastern Australia and the southwestern United States regularly experience catastrophic wildfires (in Australia, bushfires) that, over the course of the last decade, have killed hundreds of people and destroyed billions of dollars of property. The people and property affected were/are in the “wildlands/urban interface” (WUI)—the meeting place between wild open spaces and the human residential incursion into those spaces, which has dramatically accelerated in both countries over the last half-century.  Moreover, recently issued climate change studies (e.g., November, 2011 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predict that these disasters will become both more frequent and larger in scale in both of these regions.  In light of this threat, this presentation reports preliminary results from an ongoing comparative study of wildfire mitigation law (at the local, state, and federal levels of government) in southeastern Australia and the southwestern United States. Specifically, this research examines evidence—or lack thereof—of policy learning (policy change in response to catastrophic focusing events; per Birkland, Lessons From Disasters, 2006) in the fire-affected regions of these two countries in the wake of some particularly deadly and disastrous fire events: the 2009 “Black Friday” fires (which actually occurred over a period of weeks) in southeastern Australia; and the California “firestorms” of 1991, 1993, 2003 and 2007. 

Toddi Steelman, North Carolina State University

Communication Under Fire: Familiarity, Similarity and
Performance Effectiveness in Disaster Response

My scholarship focuses on the intersection of science, policy, and decision making.  My area of emphasis within this broader body of work has been on the role of the public and communities in decision making.  Scholarship, according to Ernest L. Boyer, the author of the Carnegie Foundation report entitled Scholarship Reconsidered, encompasses four key elements.  These include teaching, discovery and research (what is conventionally considered sholarship in the academy), application, and integration.  I like this dividion because it reminds us as scholars that our jobs are much broader than just conducting research or engaging in discovery.  With the significant legitimacy challenges facing the institution of higher education I feel it is incumbent on evey participant within the academy to more fully embrace the call of scholarship writ large.  We simply need to figure out how to make ourselves more relevant - and with that comes the responsibility to be more meaningful to society.  If one hopes to have an impact on policy or decision making with one's science, then it means becoming more fully engaged outside the wall of the acedemy.  Interjecting yourself into the halls, arenas, discussions, and fora where decisions are made is essential if you wish your science to influence. 



Sarah Hughes, ASP Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Center for Atmospheric Research

Building Theories to Understand the Underlying Mechanisms of Injustice in Urban Climate Governence

Cities around the world are developing strategies to address the causes and consequences of climate change. For example, mayors from 205 cities have signed the Global Cities Covenant on Climate, pledging to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the anticipated effects of climate change. These actions are critical to the global climate governance agenda. A majority of carbon emissions originate in cities and the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, making cities the dominant site of social and economic consequences of climate change. These trends have generated a body of research examining how and why local action on climate change takes place. However, a recent review of the state of knowledge on cities and climate governance found that existing research has not addressed the implications of urban climate governance for issues of equity in cities. Understanding these implications is a critical issue for urban residents, decision makers, planners, and advocates, particularly for cities in the developing and newly industrializing world. The aim of this paper is to identify the theoretical approaches used to explain why some people would be left out of urban governance processes, especially those governance processes that address environmental concerns. The paper then queries the assumptions and findings arising from work using each approach to determine the conditions under which we would expect urban climate governance to generate inequitable processes and outcomes. Finally, the paper highlights important unanswered questions and proposes promising avenues for future research that may contribute to the development of both effective and equitable urban climate governance.

Seminar 2 - Sarah Hughes.pdfDownloadable 2.15.12 WOPPR/EAWG Seminar Blog Posting.pdf

2.15.12 WOPPR EAWG Seminar Slides.pdf2.15.12 WOPPR EAWG Seminar Slides.pdf


Seminar 1: February 1, 2012

Tanya Heikkila, Univeristy of Colorado Denver

Digging for Frameworks, Theories, and Models in Environmental Policy and Management & why we need them

The study of environmental policy and management is a rich and diverse field that seeks to describe, analyze, and explain how processes, tools, and institutional arrangements shape human interactions with, and influence on, the natural world.  Environmental policy and management processes can be quite complex - involving diverse types of actors (e.g.: governmental, non-governmental, industry, courts, scientists, and local citizens) operating at all scales of decision-making (individual, organizational, governmental).  These processes address a wide range of issues, such as the effects of pollution on our water, air, and land; the protection of species and habitat, and the sustainability of the natural resources needed for human survival and economic growth.  Added to this complexity, the policy tools and institutional arrangements governing these issues are diverse, ranging from regulatory actions to voluntary programs, incentives, consumer education campaigns, collaborative agreements, management plans, and the like, that may be organized and implemented by actors at local, state, national, rregional, and international scales.  Arguably, theories, as well as frameworks and models, provide valuable tools to help scholars and students understand the complexity and diversity of this field by providing lenses through which one can simplify and then ultimately understand and analyze environmental policy and management.

Intro Statement to Spring Seminar.pdfDownloadable 2.1.12 WOPPR/EAWG Seminar Blog Posting.pdf

Intro to Spring Seminar.pdf2.1.12 WOPPR/EAWG Slides.pdf






















































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