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Climate Social Science Network Announces Climate Obstruction Research Grant Recipients

April 26, 2022

Today, the Climate Social Science Network announced its second series of grants for social science research into the structural, political, and institutional dynamics of climate change politics.

Thirteen scholars from twelve universities in six countries are being funded in eight project teams:

Thomas Daniels, University of Pennsylvania: Agricultural Organizations and Their Messaging About Climate Change and Recommended Responses

US agriculture contributes an estimated 10 percent of the nation’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through changing the types of livestock or crops raised and the adoption of practices that reduce manure and fertilizers and enhance soil carbon is highly desirable. Nine US agricultural organizations represent meat producers and growers of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Historically, these organizations have expressed skepticism about climate change and whether growers should alter what they produce and how. This study analyzes the communications and publications of these nine organizations from 1990 to 2022 to identify changes toward accepting climate change and advocating for climate-friendly crops and livestock and production practices. The study will also identify the actions each organization is recommending to re-orient federal policies, USDA programs, and producer practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Omar Faruque, Queen’s University, Canada: Climate Vulnerability and the Paradoxes of Energy Policies: Understanding the Barriers to a Low Carbon Sustainable Energy Future in Bangladesh

Although the Paris Agreement and the UN SDGs have institutionalized a new global policy framework for low carbon development, many countries like Bangladesh face substantive barriers to sustainable energy transition. Several studies suggest a huge potential for renewable energy to meet Bangladesh’s growing demand. Moreover, the falling costs of renewable energy technologies are making it cost-effective and affordable. Despite this promising reality and its international commitments, the Bangladeshi government remains committed to fossil fuels. Scholars argue that various actors with uneven power and divergent interests are engaged in a battle to shape the overall policy agenda. Building on this insight, this study examines the influence of both exogenous and endogenous actors on formulating public policies in the power and energy sector in Bangladesh. In so doing, it aims to contribute to the emerging scholarship on energy transition and climate obstruction in the Global South.

Noel Healy, Salem State University: Exploring Regulatory Capture at the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority (FERC)

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) wields enormous but overlooked power over our energy future, making some of the most consequential decisions about how the US government tackles climate change. Yet this is not matched by proportionate research into the structural, institutional and political dynamics that affect FERC’s permit decision-making. This research will provide one of the first systematic, peer-reviewed studies of regulatory “capture” at FERC. It will fill a critical gap in knowledge on the structure of power in US government decision-making on energy by investigating the links between fossil-fuel interests and federal energy regulators. 

Jennifer Jacquet, New York University; Viveca Morris, Yale University: The role of U.S. industrial meat and dairy producers in the climate change countermovement

The fossil fuel industry’s role in the extensive “climate change countermovement” has been studied for decades, but relatively little is understood about the ways in which the animal agriculture industry has influenced public understanding of the sector’s contributions to climate change. This research examines the relationship between the meat and dairy industries and prominent researchers and university programs. We ask 1) whether and how these relationships have challenged the linkage between the meat and dairy industry and climate change; 2) how they have approached disclosure of financial ties to the meat and dairy industry; and 3) how the media has reported on industry-funded research.

Tariro Kamuti, University of Cape Town: Politics of Climate Change in Zimbabwe: Integrating Energy Transition and Ecosystem Restoration

Zimbabwe has a climate change dilemma that is centered around energy production and biodiversity loss. The country’s majority population who are subsistence farmers do not have access to electricity so, they rely on firewood for their energy needs. On the other hand, a greater proportion of the country’s electricity is produced through coal-powered stations and the country is investing more in that sector to meet outstanding demand. The country needs to take an alternative course of action anchored on a just energy transition in tandem with the restoration of ecosystems. Using an institutional approach, the study aims to understand the workings of the policy processes and governance contexts in the integration of various strategies to tackle climate change in Zimbabwe. These contexts will give the state of politics of climate change in Zimbabwe with a special focus on the need for integration of a just energy transition and ecosystem restoration.

Laura Kuhl, Northeastern University; Jamie Shinn, West Virginia University; Saleemul Huq, Independent University, Bangladesh; M. Feisal Rahman, Durham University: International climate finance: obstructing transformational change on-the-ground?

International climate finance is an integral part of the global climate policy regime, with its goal increasingly articulated as catalyzing transformational change. Significant barriers related to the amount and quality of finance have been identified, but less attention has been paid to how competition for scarce resources incentivizes countries to design projects that are driven by the priorities of the funds. The objectives of the project are to 1) analyze the deliberative process within the Green Climate Fund (GCF), as a key case study, to articulate the ways in which investment criteria and their interpretation by key decision-makers shape on-the-ground transformation, 2) to understand perceptions of what is an acceptable or unacceptable transformational change from the perspective of both applicants and funders, and 3) compare the conceptualization of transformation in the GCF and other sources of climate finance, including multilateral development banks (MDBs) and bilateral donors.

Jeremy Walker, University of Technology Sydney: Primary evidence for the origins and evolution of the Atlas Network’s global climate policy obstruction, 1981-2013.

The project aims to present an account of the origins,  aims and evolving strategies of the Atlas Network, and its role in advancing fossil fuel industry objectives from its 1981 founding (as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation) –  notably at a time when major corporate donors such as ExxonMobil and Shell possessed detailed scientific projections of catastrophic global impacts by the early 21st century- into the present.

Edward Walker, Andrew Malmuth, University of California, Los Angeles: Contesting the Coast: Real Estate Interests and the Obstruction of Climate Adaptation in California

As sea level rise threats continue to grow along the California coast, this project will analyze the politics of California’s coastal adaptation, including, most notably, the powerful real estate interests that are shaping possibilities for future action. The project will use data from historical records, interviews, and participant observation to identify the effects of real estate interests (developer firms, industry groups, and wealthy owners, as well as their allies) as they slow efforts at adaptation through their engagement with the state. In so doing, we will trace the strategies used by real estate coalitions to curb (or redirect) state power and analyze the circumstances under which real estate interests are able to preserve the coastline as a space for private value extraction. These findings will not only advance sociological theorizing on the politics of climate adaptation but also provide a theoretically-informed basis for considering on-the-ground solutions—and proposing a more just politics of SLR adaptation.

Grants start in June 2022.

Image Credit: Shutterstock/connel