PSE Director Dana R. Fisher recently wrote about how the 2016 election will affect the energy transformation taking place in the United States on the Huffington Post. The full text is available here.
In his recent post on the blog of the Science, Knowledge, and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association, PSE Fellow Joe McCartney Waggle writes about the presidential candidates, Congress, and the prospects for scientific research following the 2016 election . Read it here.
By Ann H. Dubin
With all of the intense focus on the presidential race, it’s easy to forget that voters have a lot of important decisions to make on November 8th, beyond who will occupy the White House. In Florida, one such decision is the fate of Amendment 1, “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice.” The title’s political genius is positively Orwellian: it all sounds good—consumer rights, solar energy, choice—but gives no indication at all of what voters are actually being asked to approve or reject. Depending on who you talk to, this constitutional amendment will either protect consumers from predatory energy providers, or shield investor-owned utilities (IOUs) from having to compete for customers in a free solar market.
While there is ample potential for solar energy expansion in a place like Florida, current policies do not necessarily encourage the technology. For example, Florida has no renewable portfolio standards (RPS), nor are power purchase agreements (PPAs) allowed that might open up the solar market. In the August statewide primary, voters did approve Amendment 4, a non-controversial measure that extends tax abatements for residential solar users to commercial users, as well. But barriers remain, such as high insurance premiums for those who install solar. Duke Energy, the state’s second-largest utility, requires a $1,000,000 insurance policy for private solar users generating more than 10 kilowatts. In short, the state lacks an RPS that might spur solar development; PPAs that might make it easier for consumers to afford solar are prohibited; and despite tax abatements, insurance policies for solar installers are a steep price to pay. Thus, even though the opportunity is there, Florida lags behind other states, such as Nevada, with similar solar capacity.
By William Yagatich
In our research on the Watershed Stewards Academies (WSAs), Dr. Dana R. Fisher, Anya Galli, and I have focused on how participating in environmental stewardship diversifies democracy and roots citizens to their localities in meaningful ways. Situating our work within the context of civic participation and American democracy, we highlight how groups like the WSAs represent a countertrend to declining rates of civic engagement. That is, we see the WSAs and organizations like them as part of a national movement of groups training corps of volunteers to address environmental problems at the grassroots level. In this research, we ask how the WSAs mobilize participants to become environmentally and civically in engaged in their communities. This project is funded by Maryland Sea Grant.
Through surveys and interviews with participants of the WSAs in Maryland, we found the Master Watershed Steward program mobilizes volunteers for a number of reasons (you can find a more detailed breakdown of the demographics of the WSAs we surveyed and interviewed here in our whitepaper here). This training program enables participants to become knowledgeable about issues of watershed health and how to address those issues, as well as how to network in their own local communities to educate their friends and neighbors. In turn, it fulfils the desire of some volunteers to take a more hands-on approach to watershed stewardship. At the end of the initial survey, we asked, “Briefly, why did you join the Watershed Stewards Academy?” One respondent submitted an answer that paralleled most other’s where they wrote:
“I've been interested in environmental issues since high school and feel that working small scale, on a sub-watershed basis, may ultimately be more effective in reversing the decline of the Bay and its [tributaries] than all the government programs that are so slow to evolve. I love working outside with plants and was impressed with the commitment and goals of the WSA, so I decided to join so that I could work under the umbrella of that organization.”
In our findings about mobilization in the WSAs, which are based in data collected through the interviews with participants, we find these sentiments to be echoed again and again: respondents felt they needed the training in order to learn exactly what threatens the health of their watersheds and what they could do about it. For some, their motivation was very personal, and they felt that the training would give them the ability to address a problem they saw in their own backyard. Speaking of her own community, specifically of a problem with high levels of bacteria in recreational waterways, a participant from the Anne Arundel county WSA said, “…Initially I wanted to understand what was happening and if there was any way that I could help. I doubted if I could do anything or contribute anything valuable, so my goal was to learn and then to put any of what I learned to use.” During the training and after, participants would go to their communities and apply what they learned.
During their training and after receiving their certifications, participants apply what they learn by engaging with members of their communities projects to address storm water runoff (installing rain barrels, rain gardens, etc.) and by doing educational outreach projects. As one respondent detailed, what Master Watershed Stewards did and where they did it mattered: doing the projects was not enough, but rather it was just as important to engage and encourage members of their community to follow their example. For instance, this respondent decided to install rain gardens on his own property because many of his neighbors walked by his property. While he was working with other volunteers installing the rain garden, he had the opportunity to talk to members of his community about what he was doing and encourage them to follow suit. According to another respondent of the Anne Arundel county WSA, the result of the program is that stewards:
“…[H]ave a lot of people that really, really care. And they’re in the middle of communities, and they’re talking and really having a conversation, and no other organization does that. No one’s had that kind of impact that they can motivate people.”
All of this works to address an issue that many respondents reported as their primary motivation to join the WSAs in the first place: the opportunity to take a hands-on approach to addressing environmental issues. This is an important point, as it encourages a grassroots approach to environmental stewardship and affords participants a means of civic and political participation beyond donating to an organization. Continuing the conversation above, this respondent lamented that when it comes to other local environmental groups, donating money did not lead to meaningful engagement. While describing donating to another watershed group, he said that the leader of the group:
“[G]ets a bunch of donations and he’ll do a project or two and pay himself a salary and pay a couple of staff people and helpers, but all you are is a donor with that organization and you don’t get any leverage when your organization is just the people that are working as part of the organization. And in our watershed we’re dying a death by a thousand cuts, it’s no good to have a little organization bandaging up cut by cut. You need a thousand people working at the same time.”
Beyond simply understanding what threatens the health of the watershed and the steps one can take to improve its health, the act of organizing, engaging, networking, and working is what appeals to volunteer stewards in the WSAs. The WSAs provide volunteers with the sense of making a difference and the tools to lead their communities in making a difference. The opportunity to learn, to network, and to participate in a grassroots movement of environmental stewardship are the reasons the WSAs are successful in mobilizing participants.
William Yagatich is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology and Graduate Fellow in the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland.
By Anya Galli and Amanda Dewey
Environmental sociology was a popular topic this year at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in Seattle. As current graduate students in the Department of Sociology and Fellows at the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, we were thrilled to see the wide range of environmental topics covered on panels and in sessions this year. The offerings included (but were by no means limited to) a presidential panel on climate change and social movements, a thematic session on reimagining the environmental and climate justice movements, a session on environmental policy, three separate sessions on environmental sociology, a series of three sessions on current research taking place in the Environment and Technology Section from micro to macro levels of analysis, and a lively Environment and Technology roundtable session with 14 different tables.
Of particular interest was a Saturday morning session on environmental policy, with papers on disclosure conflicts surrounding crude oil trains and frack chemicals, scientific and public knowledge about the dangers of non-stick chemicals, and the relationship between World Bank structural adjustment policies and forest loss. Given our work on US climate and energy policy for the Climate Constituencies Project, we were especially interested in a paper by Joshua Basseches of Northwestern University entitled “Rethinking the Legislative Process: ‘Buffering Opportunities’ as Limits of Social Movement Influence in Environmental Policymaking.” In it, Basseches describes the ways in which certain gatekeepers have the ability to limit social movement influence over policy-making. He finds that legislators in privileged positions keep discussions of policy matters private, thereby limiting the ability of social movement organizations to strategize and influence legislation. Overall, each of the papers in this session provided unique vantage points into highly relevant environmental policy debates.
The Environment and Technology session series on advances in micro, meso, and macro level research were also popular, with standing room only crowds of environmental sociologists in attendance. Each session included strong research across a range of methods and units of analysis. William Ryan Wishart’s presentation, “The Coal Coalition and Energy Policy Planning Network in 2009: Class Capacities and Climate Politics,” raised interesting questions about the influence of the coal industry on policy-making on the meso-level panel. John Aloysius Zinda also presented interesting work on vegetation gain in China and the effects of community officials’ strategies on local economic and environmental change. On the micro-level panel, PSE Director Dana R. Fisher presented work (with PSE Fellows William Yagatich and Anya M. Galli) on volunteer stewardship and the Maryland Watershed Stewards academies. Keep an eye on the PSE Blog for an upcoming post about this project.
The popularity of these sessions indicates three things about the ASA Section on Environment and Technology: we have a robust membership, we have generated a substantial amount of interest in environmental research, and the section organizers might want consider booking bigger rooms for its sessions next year! It is exciting to see so many scholars finding innovative ways to understand environmental problems, and to have the opportunity to discuss such interesting work in person. The Section on Environment and Technology has grown substantially and we look forward to seeing even more great environmental research at the ASA 2017 Annual Meeting in Montreal!
Anya Galli is a PhD Candidate and Amanda Dewey is a second-year graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland. Both are Fellows at the PSE and research assistants on the Climate Constituencies Project.
In the past few weeks, the media and tweetosphere have been abuzz about climate denial, public opinion on energy and climate change, as well as how these issues are related to political polarization more broadly. Much of the discussion has suggested that there is a link between public opinion and voting behavior, as well as the behavior of the policy actors who make the decisions about energy and climate policy in the United States.
This summer, the Climate Constituencies Project surveyed the top policy actors involved in climate and energy issues at the federal level and in four swing states: Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio. In each, the ‘top policy actors’ were identified using a methodology adapted from our previous work, which has been published in Nature Climate Change, and Contexts. The pre-election survey component of the study closed in the beginning of September. As part of it, we asked these policy actors their attitudes about the science of climate change. Responses were scored on a scale of 1-5 ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree, mean scores are reported in the table above.
The results show that there is an overwhelming level of consensus around the science of climate change among policy actors at the Federal level and in these four swing states. In fact, even with all of this talk of climate denial, opinions have gotten even stronger and the numbers have gone up since summer 2010 when we conducted a previous round of this research. Across the four swing states and the federal level, there are no statistically significant differences in opinions on these questions.
When asked about potential policy instruments to address climate change and energy options, however, there was much less agreement. Opinions around a potential cap-and-trade bill were statistically significantly different across the swing states and the federal levels, with policy actors in Florida and at the federal level having much lower opinions than the other states.
- Dana R. Fisher (email@example.com)
In this first blog post on our new Climate Constituencies Project, we look at how the Clean Power Plan is being discussed via social media at the federal level in the US. Building off of all of the organizations identified as collaborators, opponents, or those particularly active on social media from informant interviews, the diagram above presents the Clean Power Plan Federal Mention Network. In other words, it depicts who mentioned whom when discussing the Clean Power Plan on Twitter through April 2016.
As can be seen, there is high reciprocity and low centralization in this network, indicating that there is disbursed cooperation among different actors. Many of energy and business interests are engaged in the dandelion-shaped cluster in the upper right, while most environmental organizations are connected through less dense clusters to the bottom left. Future research will assess how this network changes when we look at the universe of groups discussing the Clean Power Plan.
--Dana R. Fisher and Lorien Jasny
The Anacostia River, Recreation, and Health: Is there an Association between Limited-contact Recreation and Adverse Health Outcomes?
Rianna Murray, PhD Candidate, UMD School of Public Health
Despite being one of the region’s most important urban waterways and valuable resources, the Anacostia River is severely polluted due to littering, stormwater runoff, sewer overflows and contamination by toxic chemicals. These problems have placed the Anacostia in the top 10 of the nation’s most contaminated rivers, and it has also been cited by the U.S. EPA as a ‘‘major area of concern’’ for the Chesapeake region. While remediation efforts are slowly being made to solve the Anacostia’s major pollution problems, one key element missing from these efforts is the assessment of the risk to human health due to this pollution.
Photo courtesy Skip Brown
Joe Braun and Felipe Westhelle, Ph.D. students at the University of Maryland Department of Government and Politics, presented their research project titled “Caring is Sharing? The Role of Social Pressures in Climate Advocacy” on April 20th. This research received an award through the 2015-2016 PSE Graduate Travel and Research grant program. While individual awareness of the gravity of environmental crises is growing, comparatively few have systematically altered their behavior in support of those concerns. Their research explores the role social pressures may have in bridging the gap between climate change attitudes and behavior.
To simulate social pressure, they conducted a survey experiment and exposed some participants to an image of “watching eyes,” while asking them to sign a pro-environment petition or donate to an environmental cause. They found certain groups of individuals are greatly influenced by the effects of the eyes. Mainly, participants exposed to the image of watching eyes were more likely to sign a pro-environmental petition. This effect was particularly pronounced among political liberals and those with very “environmentalist” social networks. This contributes to our understanding of the role that social dynamics play in individual decisions about the environment, and the degree to which pressures from within one’s social networks may be effective in motivating action.
Their future projects include closer investigation of effective ways of creating social pressure, field experiments, and strategies for socializing climate change. For more information, contact the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
On April 4th, 2016, Dr. Dana Fisher, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, joined a panel hosted by the UMD School of Public Policy to discuss the implications of the recent climate agreement reached at the meeting of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. The panel, titled "Post-Paris Download: the UN Climate Negotiations and What's Next for Climate Action," also included climate experts from the School of Public Policy including Dr. Robert Orr (Dean, School of Public Policy), Dr. Nate Hultman (Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Director, Center for Global Sustainability), and Dr. Anand Patwardhan (Professor, School of Public Policy). Dr. Fisher discussed the role of civil society in the achievement of the Paris Agreement and the potential for continued activism and civil society participation in climate politics.
The event was featured in the Diamondback. Photos from the event are posted on the Policy School website, and video of the event can be viewed below or on YouTube.