Climate politics: Environmentalists need to think globally, but act locally

This article was originally published in The Conversation, an open-access journal that allow republishing of articles under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Authors: Nives Dolsak, Professor of Environmental Policy, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, Walker Family Professor and Founding Director, Center for Environmental Politics, University of Washington

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The outdoor retail industry is moving its lucrative trade show out of Utah after disputes with state officials over land conservation (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

As President Trump pivots from a failed attempt to overhaul health care to new orders rolling back controls on carbon pollution, environmentalists are preparing for an intense fight. We study environmental politics, and believe the health care debate holds an important lesson for green advocates: Policies that create concrete benefits for specific constituencies are hard to discontinue. The Conversation

Opinion polls and hostile audiences at Republican legislators’ town hall meetings show that the Affordable Care Act won public support by extending health insurance to the uninsured. And this constituency is not shy about defending its gains.

The same lesson can be applied to environmental issues. In our view, environmentalists need to defend environmental regulations by emphasizing their concrete benefits for well-defined constituencies, and mobilize those groups to protect their gains.

Environmentalists should continue making broad, long-term arguments about addressing climate change. After all, there is an important political constituency that views climate change as the defining challenge for humanity and favors active advocacy on climate issues. At the same time, however, they need to find more ways to talk about local jobs and benefits from climate action so they can build constituencies that include both greens and workers.

Pork-barrel environmentalism?

Americans have a love-hate relationship with pork-barrel politics. Reformers decry it, but many legislators boast about the goodies they bring home. As former Texas Senator Phil Gramm once famously crowed, “I’m carrying so much pork, I’m beginning to get trichinosis.” And pragmatists assert that in moderate quantities, pork helps deals get made.

Classic studies of the politics of regulation by scholars such as Theodore Lowi and James Q. Wilson show that when benefits from a regulation are diffused across many people or large areas and costs are concentrated on specific constituencies, we can expect political resistance to the regulation. Groups who stand to lose have strong incentives to oppose it, while those who benefit form a more amorphous constituency that is harder to mobilize.

On Feb. 16, 2017, after signing legislation to repeal a rule regulating disposition of coal mining waste, President Trump celebrates with coal miners and legislators from Ohio and West Virginia. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

We can see this dynamic in climate change debates. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt contend that undoing carbon pollution controls will promote job growth. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, argues that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan will destroy coal jobs and communities, and that “green jobs” in clean energy industries are unlikely to be located in coal country.

Climate change can be framed in many ways, and there has been much discussion about which approaches best engage the public. Environmental advocates can do a better job of emphasizing how climate regulations produce local benefits along with global benefits.

One promising initiative, the BlueGreen Alliance, is a coalition of major labor unions and environmental organizations. Before President Trump’s recent visit to Michigan, the alliance released data showing that nearly 70,000 workers in well over 200 factories and engineering facilities in Michigan alone were producing technologies that helped vehicle manufacturers meet current fuel efficiency standards. Regulations can be job creators, but this truth needs to be told effectively.

Pipelines: Local jobs or global environmental protection

President Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines demonstrates the difficulty of fighting locally beneficial programs with global arguments.

Environmentalists argue, correctly, that both pipelines are part of the infrastructure that supports the fossil fuel economy. For example, by some estimates the KXL pipeline could increase global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 110 million tons annually by making possible increased oil production from Canadian tar sands.

Rally against the Keystone XL pipeline, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2014.
(Rocky Kistner, NRDC/Flickr, CC BY)

However, both the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters support the projects. They believe pipelines create jobs, although there is broad disagreement over how many jobs they generate over what time period.

By endorsing both pipelines, Trump is probably seeking to consolidate his support among midwestern working-class voters who believe, rightly or wrongly, that urban environmental elites are imposing job-killing regulations. But these pipelines also impose local costs, which have spurred Native American protests against DAPL and opposition to KXL from farmers, ranchers and citizens in Nebraska.

Local protests have not changed the Trump administration’s political calculus on DAPL or KXL, which is why opponents in both cases are turning to the courts. But in other instances environmental groups have successfully mobilized communities by highlighting local issues.

Conserving Utah’s public lands

Federal control of public lands is a sore issue for Republicans, particularly in western states. Utah offers a fascinating example. State politicians want to reverse President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and reduce the amount of land included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. But conservationists successfully blocked recent efforts by allying with the outdoor recreation industry.

By some estimates Utah’s outdoor recreation industry employs 122,000 people and brings US$12 billion into the state each year. Utah hosts the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show, which brings about $45 million in annual direct spending.

In response to Utah officials’ efforts to roll back federal land protection, the outdoor retail industry has announced that it will move the prestigious trade show to another state after its contract with Salt Lake City expires in 2018. Patagonia is boycotting the 2017 summer show and asking supporters to contact Utah politicians and urge them to keep “public lands in public hands.” The bicycle industry is also planning to move its annual trade show to a location outside Utah.

Governor Gary Herbert has reacted by offering to negotiate with the industry. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in January that called for selling off more than three million acres of federal land in Utah, but withdrew it after massive protests from hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Hunters and gun owners are important constituents for Chaffetz and other conservative Republican politicians.

Wetland restoration project sponsored by the hunting and conservation organization Ducks Unlimited, Barron County, Wisconsin
(Wisconsin DNR/Flickr, CC BY-ND)

Renewable energy means high-tech jobs

Environmentalists also successfully localized green regulations in Ohio, where Republican Governor John Kasich vetoed a bill in December 2016 that would have made the state’s renewable electricity targets voluntary instead of mandatory for two years.

As a politician with presidential ambitions who claims credit for his state’s economic success, Kasich knows that several high-tech companies in Ohio have committed to switching to renewable energy. As one example, Amazon is investing in local wind farms to power its energy-intensive data servers, in response to criticism from environmental groups.

Ohio froze its renewable energy standards for two years in 2014 after utilities and some large power customers argued that they were becoming expensive to meet. But when the legislature passed a bill in 2016 that extended the freeze for two more years, a coalition of renewable energy companies and environmental groups mobilized against it. In his veto message, Kasich noted that the measure might antagonize “companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years, such as high-technology firms.”

In sum, environmental regulations have a better chance of surviving if there are mobilized constituencies willing to defend them. And in the longer term, a local and job-oriented focus could expand the blue-green alliance and move the working class closer to the environmental agenda.

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Talkin’ Some More Trash (and Responsible Waste Practices While We’re at It)

Things are looking a little greener in the AUD building this spring. The compost pilot that previously launched on the 8th floor is now expanding to floors 5 + 2. In the first 8 weeks of the 8th floor pilot, we were able to divert 55.27 lbs of organic waste from one floor alone. Imagine how much waste we could divert campus-wide. Well, now is your chance to join in on the composting fun!

In an effort to further sustainability efforts on campus, compost bins will be available on floors 2, 5, and 8 to collect any organic compost. The bins are available in the following locations.

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On Floors 8 & 5 of AUD

  • Congress Parkway Hallway: Central Stairwell
  • Michigan Avenue Hallway: Southeast Elevators

Second Floor of AUD

  • Bridge to Wabash Building

Signs will be located above the compost bins to educate people on what they can and cannot compost.  At the end of the day, volunteers will pickup collected organic waste, weigh it in RU’s Urban Sustainability Lab so we can track home much food waste we’re diverting from the landfill, and take it to the Wabash Dining Center. Here food waste is composted through a SOMAT waste disposal system, located behind the scenes in the Wabash Dining Center. Once collected and taken offsite, it is converted into compost, with some eventually making it to the Schaumburg Campus to be used in the community garden.


Instructional Signage created by: Thomas Smith

Why is composting important you ask? Organic matter makes up about two-thirds of all refuse in the waste stream. By composting, we can keep organic matter out of landfills that could be used to provide nutrients and helpful micro-organisms to lawns, gardens, and potted plants. Think of compost as a protein shake for your garden. Even more importantly, we reduce the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by keeping organic waste out of landfills.

The ultimate goal of the pilot is to research and develop methods to make composting a campus-wide initiative.  The pilot would not have been possible without all the work done by RU alumni and current students, faculty, and members of Physical Resources. We appreciate your participation in this pilot program and welcome any feedback or suggestions that you may have as we continue to expand the program.

If you have any questions or suggestions, or would be willing to volunteer to perform a compost pickup, please contact Moses Viveros (, SUST Student Associate.

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RU Student Teams Tackle Campus Sustainability Projects in ACP/SUST 250 this Spring

Roosevelt’s Wabash Building (background) and Auditorium Building (foreground); source: Roosevelt University

This semester at Roosevelt in ACP/SUST 250 The Sustainability University, 39 undergraduate students are embarking on a new adventure to learn about the university and sustainability. Sophomores and seniors, economics and IMC majors — in short, students of all stripes and persuasions — are working together to create a “greener” environment here on campus.

Roosevelt University sits on a strong and solid foundation when it comes to being environmentally conscious and sustainable, as demonstrated last year when RU earned a bronze rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The goal for the class is to collectively help the University work toward and achieve the sustainability goals that were established in its Strategic Sustainability Plan in 2015.

The class was divided in small groups in order to maximize each individual’s different strengths and build upon his/her interests. Each group is working on practical, measurable, and engaging projects to help accelerate the sustainability efforts of the school! The teams’ focus areas include:

Beverage Container Policy
Energy Conservation
Fair Trade Certification
Recycling and Composting
Student Orientation
Sustainability Living and Learning Community
Water Conservation
Wabash Building Rooftop Garden

Finally, to better get acquainted with sustainability and its meaning in the urban environment, the whole class spent a few hours in the Gage Gallery observing the work of the photographer, Brad Temkin, whose exhibit is entitled Rooftop: Second Nature. Temkin photographed multiple green roofs in different urban environments, a project which inspires conversation about how art and sustainability can go hand in hand. This project was, for all the teams, great inspiration. Stay tuned to learn more about the projects the different teams are coming up with!

Rooftops opening reception at The Gage Gallery on Vimeo.

Text by Kyria Fortina of the SUST 250 Communications team. Edited by Yasmeen Lipprand, 250 Peer Instructor.

Posted in arts, courses, education, Roosevelt, service, students | Leave a comment

Climate Justice Conference at Loyola U this Week

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 3.11.01 PMFrom March 16-17, the Institute of Environmental Sustainability and Ann Ida Gannon, BVM, Center for Women and Leadership will be presenting Loyola University’s fourth annual Climate Change Conference. The conference will be focusing on how climate change undermines human rights.

The theme for this year’s conference will be “Climate Justice is Human Justice.” By standing up for environmental justice, one creates stronger communities through the reduction of inequality and ensuring that everyone has a healthy and safe place to live.

Some events for the conference include, but are not limited to:

  • A film screening and case study focusing on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
  • Stories from Standing Rock and a brief history of how the movement began
  • Lessons from frontline communities and their shared visions for a sustainable future
  • Corporate sustainability and how transformation change can occur from within an organization

Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special


Mary Robinson (source:

Envoy on Climate Change, and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Justice, will be a featured keynote speaker at the event. Her keynote event will be followed up by a Plenary Panel. The panel will respond to Mary Robinson’s keynote address and will delve deeper into issues raised during her event. Panelists Asma Lateef, Briana Mawby, and Josina Morita, will examine the startling impacts on climate change on the essential natural resources necessary to the flourishing of our people and planet.

Ticket prices and reservations for the event can be made online. The event will be held at the Mundelein Auditorium at Loyola University’s Lakeshore Campus from March 16th to the 17th.

For more information please contact Richard Williams, event planner, at 


Posted in activities, climate change, conferences, education, events, students | Leave a comment

Fighting Against the War on Sustainability

by Moses Viveros

When one is sworn in as President of the United States, one takes an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States to the best of their ability. The preamble to the Constitution is as follows:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more prefect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.



The purpose of this document is not only to establish a just government, but to also protect the rights and liberties of American citizens. The well-being of the American citizen should always be a top priority for any individual holding a position in public office. When an elected official begin to take action that deviates away from this, that is when they violate the oath that they took when they were sworn into office.

The mission of the new administration that has taken office is to “Make America Great Again.” But given the proposed legislation and policy changes that are set to take place or have been signed in to law by executive order, it seems as though our new leaders are working to Make American Great Again for a select few. Cabinet appointees, Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, and Rick Perry all have ties to the fossil fuel industry and have at one point or another, dismissed global climate change as pseudoscience. These individuals are also appointed to cabinet positions where they will directly be making decisions that can drastically affect our environment.

By appointing these individuals to their respective cabinet positions, our President elect has already violated an oath that he has taken only a couple of days ago by putting corporate interests before the needs and values of the American citizen. The new administration has waged a war against sustainability and conservation, a move that not puts the well-being of not only the American public, but the entire global population at risk.

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Sources report that the EPA has been asked to remove pages on its site that mention climate change. Photo Source:

Since taking office, the new presidential administration has undertaken several drastic measures that attempt to silence the scientific community from informing the public about global climate change, and has repealed or introduced policies that threaten the integrity of our planet. As Bill McKibbon reports, the President has even gone as far as to say that he was “‘To a large extent an environmentalist,’ but apparently his long participation in that movement had persuaded him that ‘environmentalism is out of control.’”

The reality of the situation, however, is not that “Environmentalism is out of control.” Environmentalism does not work to halt or slow down progress, but rather works to move it forward in an efficient manner. Environmentalism protects not only our planet, but the people who live on it and the resources that we use. The day that we deplete our fossil fuel sources is near and we need to prepare ourselves for that day. Halting and in some cases erasing the efforts of environmentalism does nothing but harm the progress that human race can make.

As someone who has dedicated my undergrad studies towards learning about environmental issues and what can be done to mitigate the effects of climate change, I have found it difficult to process and accept the change in leadership in our country. It seems as though years of environmental progress is just going to be wiped away, putting us back at square one.

We are in a position where we cannot afford to put more strain on our planet and its scarce resources. In 2016, average temperatures were 1.38 degrees celsius higher than what was experienced in the 19th century. This puts us dangerously close to the 1.5 degree Celsius limit that was agreed to in the Paris Climate accord. Any further global temperature increases will have devastating effects that include, but are not limited to, rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities and island nations, global food shortages, and an accelerated rate of extinction for many of the earth’s plant and animal species.

Knowing that all of these outcomes are plausible in the coming years is terrifying. But we don’t have to lay down and accept this as reality. If I have learned anything as a Sustainability Studies major at Roosevelt, it is that change does not come easily; but the persistence and dedication to challenge the status quo and push for change has the ability to bring about positive results. Time and time again, we have seen countless individuals and grassroots organizations stand up against the powers that try and shut them down to push for change.


Source: High Country News

This past year the battle that has been heard around the world is the push against the Dakota Access Pipeline. DAPL will be constructed over sacred land that historically belonged to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (Sioux territory protected under the 1851 Ft. Laramie Treaty; see map here). The tribe was never adequately consulted with during the planning process or prior to construction starting.

DAPL also has the ability to contaminate the water supplies for many should the pipeline leak. And there is a good chance that it will given that oil pipelines are notorious for leaking. The people fighting against DAPL thought they finally reached a victory when Former President Obama’s administration halted the construction of the pipeline pending an environmental review. Unfortunately, at the stroke of a pen, the current President allowed the pipeline to continue construction. 

To many, this came as a crushing disappointment and an extremely disrespectful gesture toward the people who have been on the front lines fighting for months to stop this pipeline from being completed. It represents a blatant case of environmental racism, as well, since an earlier route for the pipeline that crossed the Missouri River just north of the mostly-white capital city of Bismarck, ND, was rejected in favor of the Cannon Ball River crossing just north of the Standing Rock reservation.

Fortunately, opponents of DAPL are not letting this most recent announcement discourage them from fighting against the voices that are attempting to silence them. Allison Renville, media consultant, activist, and member of the Lakota Nation, stated that “Not only do I have faith in God, but I have faith in my people,” she said. “On the ground, we’ve had 10,000 people come in and learn to be organizers, [and by] … taking courses in nonviolent direct action and learning to set up a camp, utilizing tools, they’ll be able to get anything accomplished.”



These next four years are not going to be easy. There will be moments when sustainability advocates will feel defeated and powerless. And that’s OK. But just remember, there are always people out there who will continue to fight with you and fight for you when you are at your weakest. You can create positive change in many ways that can range from engaging your community to come together and plant a community garden, calling your representative in government and letting them know how you feel about a certain policy, or even attending a protest or rally. There are many ways to have your voice be heard.

Do not let anyone silence you or tell you that you don’t matter. The reality of the situation is that you are stronger than you think you are and you have the ability to create positive change. Let’s look up to our brothers and sisters who continue to fight against DAPL and learn from them that with persistence and dedication, we can accomplish anything. Together, we can take care of mother earth and her people. As Former President Obama put it, “I’m still asking you to believe — not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you.”

viveros-m-croppedMoses Viveros is a senior SUST major at Roosevelt University and the SUST Program’s Student Associate for 2016-17. As part of this work-study position, he is also serving as the assistant editor for the SUST at RU Blog this year.


Posted in climate change, community, conservation, energy, ethics, events, news, parks and public land, planning, policy, science, social justice, students, water

$1K College Scholarship Offered by Friends of Volo Bog

The Friends of Volo Bog is offering an Entering College scholarship and a Continuing College scholarship for $1,000 each to outstanding students interested in pursuing an environmental career.

To be eligible for the Entering College scholarship the applicant must reside in Lake, McHenry, Kane, Cook, DuPage, Kendall, or Will County, attend a high school in one of these counties, have a minimum B average for the first three years, and plan to attend an accredited college or university.  The applicant should be planning to enter a career directly related to preserving the natural environment.

To be eligible for the Continuing College scholarship the applicant must be currently enrolled in an accredited college or university pursing a degree directly related to preserving the natural environment, have a permanent residence in Lake, McHenry, Kane, Cook, DuPage, Kendall, or Will County, have graduated from a high school from one of these counties with a minimum B average, and currently hold a minimum B average in their college studies.

Applications are due by March 31st each year for the following school year starting in the fall. Application packets are available here.

The Friends of Volo Bog is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to promoting citizen awareness of the local natural heritage of Volo Bog State Natural Area, portions of which are dedicated state nature preserves, and to preserving the same through special events, educational and training programs, acquisitions of properties for such purposes and taking whatever steps deemed necessary to insure the continued care and preservation of Volo Bog State Natural Area as a natural site.

Posted in education, parks and public land, students

Summer and Fall 2017 Registration at RU Is Underway!

RU students in SUST 220 Water paddle the Chicago River in the Fall 2014

Advising and registration are underway for the Summer and Fall 2017 semesters at Roosevelt. If you’re an RU student, (1) look over the Summer and Fall 2016 schedules using this coursefinder, (2) check your remaining course requirements, and (3) email or call your assigned academic advisor with your planned schedule and any questions you have about your upcoming classes. Your advisor will provide you with an RU Access registration code so you can register. Click on selected titles below for detailed course previews!

Sustainability Studies courses offered in Summer 2016:

SUST 210 Sustainable Future (online, May 30 – Aug 8, Prof. Pickren)
SUST 390 Writing Urban Nature (Chicago, one-week intensive, May 22-26, Prof. Bryson)

Sustainability Studies courses offered in Fall 2016:

ACP 101 Our Sustainable Future (MW, 11am-12:15pm, Prof. Bryson)*
SUST 210 Sustainable Future (T, 2-4:30pm, Prof. Pickren)
SUST 210 Sustainable Future (online, Prof. Pickren)
SUST 220 Water (M, 2-4:30pm, Prof. Bryson)
SUST 230 Food (online, 9/12-12/10)
SUST 240 Waste (W, 2-4:30pm, Prof. Pickren)
SUST 310 Energy & Climate Change (online)
SUST 330 Biodiversity (Field Museum, Th 9am-1pm, Prof. Kerbis)
SUST 350 Service & Sustainability (Eden Place Farm, T 12-3pm, Prof. Bryson)
SUST 350 Service & Sustainability (online, Prof. Bryson)
SUST 390 Environmental Crime (MW, 12:30-1:45pm, Prof. Green)

* First Year Seminars are open to new full-time undergrads with 12 or fewer hours in transfer credit.

March is a super busy time of the academic year, but don’t neglect getting in touch with your advisor! It’s the best time to get signed up for classes. And for additional useful info, see this Advising Resources page on Prof. Mike Bryson’s faculty website.

Hauling straw in the Eden Place Nature Center's pickup truck during a SUST 350 Service workday on Chicago's South Side, Fall 2014

Hauling straw in the Eden Place Nature Center’s pickup truck during a SUST 350 Service workday on Chicago’s South Side, Fall 2014

Posted in courses, education, faculty, Roosevelt, students