Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Labor unions and forest protection

The connections between working-class environmentalism and environmental law is an understudied theme that I've had occasion to highlight before (e.g. here and here and in my forthcoming article on historical analysis in environmental law). Last year I noted that Erik Loomis won an award for his article, "When Loggers Were Green: Lumber, Labor, and Conservation, 1937-1948". Now Robert Walls has a review of Loomis's book, Empire of Timber: Labor Unions and the Pacific Northwest Forests (Cambridge UP, 2015), for Environmental History. From the review:
Focusing on everyday labor and the designs of union activists, Loomis provides a complex portrait of how the industry’s base attempted to advance its goals of securing both sustainable forest resources and health and safety protections for men and women in an often dangerous workplace. The result is an informed analysis of labor’s successes and failures, one that broadly encompasses the radicalism of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the challenge of the International Woodworkers of America (IWA) to midcentury forestry policy, and organizing efforts by countercultural reforestation cooperatives in the 1970s to oppose herbicide exposure.
Drawing productively on Thomas Andrews’s notion of “workscapes” and Rob Nixon’s concern with “slow violence,” the author demonstrates how the IWW, and the industry-sponsored Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, initiated reforms to an increasingly industrialized work environment that punished bodies through the speed of production or the creeping pathology of disease from poor camp sanitation. A more holistic approach to the “total work environment” (p. 133) was later adopted by the IWA to moderate the debilitating impacts of postwar production technology; the union marshaled evidence from scientific sources and eventually called upon Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations to combat the effects of new ailments, such as the auditory and neurological consequences of prolonged chainsaw use and the toxic impact of chemicals, such as pentachlorophenol, used in mills.
Loomis’s description of union critiques of industrial forestry’s destructive practices—decades before the modern environmental movement—is equally illuminating.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Colorado water law yet again

Colorado water law continues to spur scholarship. The recent issue of Environmental History has a review by Michael Weeks of  Robert Crifasi's A Land Made from Water: Appropriation and the Evolution of Colorado’s Landscape, Ditches, and Water Institutions (University Press of Colorado, 2015). From the review:
While the book presents no definitive argument, Crifasi is skeptical of claims that water management in the West has been synonymous with concentrated power. Rather, his often meandering narrative suggests that water developed roughly along practical and evolutionary lines, with users and institutions responding logically to changing water needs.
Most of the text centers on the period from Colorado’s 1858 Gold Rush to the early twentieth century. Heavy doses of environmental determinism appear throughout. Crifasi argues that failed adventures in ditchdigging and the need to move water across property lines pushed farmers to enlist the aid of the territory/state of Colorado to form water districts and employ water commissioners and state engineers to oversee water management. Shared need propelled farmers to pool their resources to form mutual irrigation companies. The evolution of Colorado’s Doctrine of Prior Appropriation was a commonsense response to shared need that enabled users to quantify and prioritize water rights as well as prevent property owners from hoarding the resource. In Crifasi’s telling, even corporate attempts to monopolize and privatize water in the late nineteenth century were a natural part of the region’s agricultural evolution since concentrated capital propelled the development of sophisticated canals that could bring uplands into production.
One of Crifasi’s most intriguing, yet underdeveloped sections addresses water measurement and distribution. Employing William Cronon (Nature’s Metropolis, 1991), he argues that for water to be fairly distributed in an arid climate, it had to become a commodity that could be broken down into discrete measurable units. This meant water users had to translate malleable units such as the miner’s inch into standardized ones such as cubic feet per second. It also explains why users employed Colorado State Water Engineers to monitor stream measurements, water priority, and the carrying capacities of canals and ditches, as well as why the state agricultural college produced some of the nation’s first irrigation engineers. With a fine attention to detail, Crifasi then shows how water, once commodified, enabled irrigation companies to call for water releases based on their shareholders’ water rights, the priority of their holdings, and the availability of the resource.
Within these strengths of the book lies two of its weaknesses.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The political ecology of land reclamation in the Veneto

Environmental History recently published Elisabetta Novello and James C. McCann's "The Building of the Terra Firma: The Political Ecology of Land Reclamation in the Veneto from the Sixteenth through the Twenty-first Century".  The abstract:
The 1963 Vajont disaster and the devastating floods that hit the Veneto as well as other areas of Italy in 1966 brought about a significant revision of the policies on soil defense and civic protection. This was the last step in a long process of environmental management intending to build a balanced human-environmental system from the early modern period to the present. This essay explores the changing political ecology of soil and water management in the Veneto region in northern Italy. More specifically, the study traces the evolution of land reclamation works in the longue durée—in particular over the last five centuries—and the economic and social consequences of human actions on the territory. In order to fully outline the policies adopted in different historical periods, it is necessary to understand how the concept of land reclamation changed and gradually came to include drainage, hygienic, agrarian, and environmental factors, with attention paid to the specific ecologies of plains, mountains, and lagoon areas. In this long process, the changing relationships between landowners, farmers, and the state have altered human/natural interactions, with implications for land and water use.
Regional Land Reclamation Museum of Ca' Vendramin 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Water management and American liberalism

Water Alternatives recently published a review by Joe Williams of JJ Schmidt, Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity (NYU Press, 2017). From the review:
The central argument – which might rankle were it not so meticulously made – is that as critical hydro-social scientists we have been getting things wrong for years. Schmidt contends that the old story about the separation of society and nature under modernity and the entrenchment of binary Enlightenment thinking does not apply to water management. The conceptual starting point of many critical scholars, of the transformation of naturally occurring and materially messy 'water', to the industrial product 'H2O', delineated, separate from nature, is, according to Schmidt, a false premise. The logic of water management conceived in the United States in the late 1800s, that has since spread across the world, has instead always connected human society, through water, to the land and geological history in particular and politically significant ways. "The difficulty", he argues, "is not a society/nature dualism or even unique human agency. Rather, the problem is the historical attempt (and ongoing consequences) of a failed strain of social science in the United States that sought to do away with the society/nature dualism" (190). This philosophy of water, through which American (and now global) societies are intimately connected to the land, is given the conceptual handle of 'normal water'. By this, Schmidt refers to the "program of bringing water’s social and evolutionary possibilities into the service of liberal forms of life" (6). Normal water, then, describes a normalised and entrenched set of socio-cultural practices, economic conventions, technological and institutional structures, and geological processes, that link together human society, biological life and planetary evolution under the logic of liberalism. The book traces the development of normal water through its inception at the beginning of American expansionism, its internationalisation under post-war development, and into the Anthropocene.
The political, techno-institutional and conceptual emergence of normal water, according to Schmidt, is premised on three assumptions: "that water was once abundant, that it has now become scarce, and, as an outcome of mismanaging scarcity, that water is now an issue of security" (41). The book is correspondingly structured into four parts. Part one, Abundance, concerns the framing of water as a resource central to the development of American society. It focusses on several key figures associated with the Washington DC-based Cosmos Club around the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, notably W.J. McGee and John Wesley Powell. Water was seen by these men as having geological agency that, if combined with human agency, could form the basis of the most advanced form of liberal society. The driving principle of normal water in the era of abundance, Schmidt says, was that the agency of water could be "synced with the coevolution of American society and the mutual adjustments that water and society made to each other" (79). In an attempt to cement American independence from European colonialism, W.J. McGee even proposed that currency should be tied to water rather than the gold standard. In this respect he was unsuccessful, but the corresponding principle that water was a public good that should be managed for 'the people', Schmidt argues, has formed the bedrock of normal water. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Environmental timelines

A while back Environmental History carried a review by Daniel Simberloff of Ian Rotherham's Eco-history: An Introduction to Biodiversity and Conservation (White Horse Press, 2014). Simberloff notes:
The high point of Eco-history is a remarkable 42-page “Timeline,” detailing in linear fashion 224 key points in the history of British nature conservation from AD 1000 to 2000: laws especially, but also extinctions, introductions, establishment of nature reserves and environmental organizations. Rotherham concisely lists the impacts of each event, with further explication for about half of them. This section alone could be published as a short book that almost any environmental historian would value.
I don't think they're related, but there's also a very elaborate website called "Environmental history timeline", itself packed with little known nuggets of environmental-legal history, such as the fact that in 1970 US President Richard Nixon "issued an executive order... requiring industries to obtain a federal permit before dumping wastes into U.S. waterways or face criminal charges. This was the beginning of the US National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting process." Or that in 1779
Johann Peter Frank (1745-1821), writes A Complete System of Medical Policy in Germany advocating governmental responsibility for clean water, sewage systems, garbage disposal, food inspection and other health measures under an authoritative “medical police.” This idea was well received and influenced policy in Germany, Italy and other nearby nations. The authoritarian approach did not sit well with the French, British or Americans, where direct government controls developed only in areas of specific problems such as communicable disease and sanitation.
There's a lot more in this timeline, worth perusing and bookmarking.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

TVA and the Grass Roots

The Tennessee Valley Authority continues to produce environmental-legal history. Now (as we learned from Legal History Blog and Legal Theory Blog) Atif Ansar has posted "The Fate of Ideals in the Real World: A Long View on Philip Selznick's Classic on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)". The abstract:
Philip Selznick’s first book —TVA and the Grass Roots: A Study in the Sociology of Formal Organization (1949) ("TGR")—tells the story of how the the ideals of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) were thwarted by the reality of political pressures from its environment. Although TGR boasts one of the highest citations for a scholarly work in management, project management scholars do not cite it. Why has project management scholarship lost one of its founding classics? We investigate why TGR meets the criteria of a classic. We show that TGR’s focus on societal outcomes and ideals is an improvement on conventional project management’s focus on technical outputs and efficiency. Moreover, TGR contributes process theories — e.g., goal displacement and values depletion — for how major projects often fail. We conjecture that project management scholars ignore TGR because it represents uncomfortable knowledge. Project management discipline is in a crisis. We call for a humanist paradigm shift.
For more on the TVA, see here.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Empirical environmental law scholarship

Robert Fischman and Lydia Barbash-Riley recently posted "Empirical Environmental Law Scholarship". Beyond taking a look at the recent history of environmental law scholarship, the article is interesting for our purposes both for its view on what constitutes empirical scholarship and for its argument about the connection between descriptive and prescriptive work. The abstract:
The most important development in legal scholarship over the past quarter century has been the rise of empirical research. Drawing upon the traditions of legal realism and the law and economics movement, a variety of social science techniques have delivered fresh perspectives and punctured false claims. But environmental law has been slow to adopt empirical tools, and our findings indicate that it lags behind other fields. There are several clear benefits from an empirical agenda to explore how to make environmental law more effective. But no previous article has applied the lessons from empirical scholarship in other fields to environmental law. This Article fills that gap by assessing the state of environmental empirical scholarship, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of published approaches to answering empirical questions, and recommending methods to advance the empirical research agenda.
Where environmental law scholarship has employed empiricism, it has done so mostly in the pollution control area. More empirical environmental law research relies on analysis of existing data than on the generation of new data, and experimental treatments are completely absent from our review of the literature. One strength of the empirical work in environmental law is analyzing existing data to determine correlations using regression analysis and statistics. But empirical environmental law scholarship underperforms in offering policy prescriptions. This assessment of the field identifies several methods and sources of data that may prove useful in advancing and sharpening empiricism’s contribution to law reform and implementation.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Animal colonialism

A little while back AJIL Unbound published a piece by Mathilde Cohen, "Animal Colonialism: The Case of Milk". The abstract:
Greta Gaard writes that “[t]he pervasive availability of cows’ milk today—from grocery stores to gas stations—is a historically unprecedented product of industrialization, urbanization, culture, and economics.” To these factors, I would add colonialism and international law; the latter understood broadly to include the rules considered binding between states and nations, transnational law, legal transplants, international food aid, and international trade law. Until the end of the Nineteenth Century, the majority of the world population neither raised animals for their milk nor consumed animal milk. Humans are unique in the mammalian realm in that they drink the milk of other species, including beyond infancy. With the European conquest of the New World and other territories starting in the Sixteenth Century, dairying began to spread worldwide—settlers did not set out to colonize lands and people alone; they brought with them their flora, fauna, and other forms of life, including lactating animals such as cows and sheep.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Beach access and American conservatism

Bixby Creek Bridge near Big Sur, California
(Bill Lane Center for the American West)
The issue of public beach access has played a major role in the history of environmental law (see, e.g., here, here, and here). It also may be responsible for some of the backlash against environmental regulation. Last year the Journal of Policy History published Jefferson Decker's "Pacific Views: Property Rights, the Regulatory State, and American Conservatism". The article opens:
In November 1976, a bookkeeper named Viktoria Consiglio used money from an inheritance to purchase a plot of land overlooking the Pacific Ocean just south of Carmel, California. Two years later, Consiglio and her husband prepared to build a one-bedroom house for use during their retirement. They submitted applications for a building permit only to have their request denied. The impediment was the California Coastal Commission, a statewide regulatory agency that Californians had recently established in order to protect the state’s coastline from environmental damage and overcrowding. The commission ruled that Consiglio’s house would block the view of the ocean from a nearby highway, disrupt a path to a rocky cliff above the sea, and reduce public access to the beach below the development site. Using powers that had been delegated to it by the state legislature, the commission denied Consiglio’s application for a building permit. Consiglio could continue to own this scenic property overlooking the Pacific Ocean, but she would not be permitted to build a home there.
Consiglio eventually sought help from the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit, “public-interest” legal foundation established in 1973 by Ronald Zumbrun, a former aide to California governor Ronald Reagan, with help from several prominent California lawyers and businessmen. Zumbrun’s organization photographed the gray-haired woman, standing on a rocky cliff overlooking the Pacific surf, and put the image on the front page of its bimonthly newsletter. The accompanying article, titled “What Happened to the American Dream?” began: “Viktoria Consiglio, unhappy, confused, and angry, wonders what happened to her dream of owning a home by the sea. A dream that has turned into a nightmare of government red tape and legal costs that have taken a big chunk of her income from her job as a clerk-bookkeeper.” Lawyers at the foundation prepared to file suit, on the grounds that the Coastal Commission’s decision was inequitable, unjustified by law, and interfered with the woman’s property rights. The state of California may have certain powers to zone or plan for new development, the foundation argued, but it could not render this woman’s property nearly useless to her. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Explaining the Persistence of 'Command-and-Control' in US Environmental Law

That's the title of a paper recently posted by Daniel Cole. The abstract:
Economists and legal scholars have known for decades that "economic instruments," including cap-and-trade regimes and effluent taxes, can reduce emissions at lower cost than command-and-control regulations. Yet, the US system of environmental law remains heavily dominated by command-and-control. How can we explain this remarkable persistence?
This paper considers three alternative explanations: (1) path-dependency; (2) public choice theories of interest-group politics; and (3) social-welfare/economic efficiency. Using examples, mainly from the US Clean Air Act, the paper finds that none of the three alternatives offers a sufficient and complete explanation of the persistence of command-and-control. But all three contribute significantly to a comprehensive explanation.