Political and Economic Theories of Environmental Impact: An empirical test of the causes of Air Pollution in the U.S.

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Presentation at the 2009 American Sociological Association Annual meeting.

Presentation at the 2009 American Sociological Association Annual meeting.

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  • 1. Political and Economic Theories of Environmental Impact An empirical test of the causes of Air Pollution in the U.S.
  • 2. Types of air pollution
    • EPA tracks six principal air pollutants:
      • sulfur dioxide (SO 2 )
      • nitrogen oxides (NO x )
      • carbon monoxide (CO)
      • particulate matter smaller than 10 µm (PM-10)
      • ground-level ozone (O 3 )
      • lead
    • Lead is not included because data on lead emissions does not exist prior to 1970, and because lead emissions have declined so dramatically that it is no longer a national problem on the same scale as the other pollutants
    • EPA does not track historical levels of ground-level ozone, but it does track Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which produce ozone in the air. Therefore VOCs are included but a direct measure of ground-level ozone is not included.
  • 3. Harmful effects of air pollution
    • Can cause or exacerbate respiratory illnesses
    • Dangerous to people with heart disease
    • Causes acid rain, which damages plants, water ecosystems, fish, etc.
    • Creates ground-level ozone through chemical reactions, which damages plants directly and hurts crop yields
  • 4. Sources of air pollution
    • Sulfur Dioxide (SO 2 ):
      • electric utilities, especially coal (67%)
      • industrial processes, primarily petroleum refineries, cement manufacturing, and metals processing (18%)
    • Nitrogen Oxides (NO x ): fuel combustion
      • motor vehicles (55%)
      • electric utilities (22%)
      • industrial, commercial, or residential fuel combustion (22%)
    • Carbon monoxide (CO):
      • motor vehicles (56%)
      • non-road vehicles such as construction equipment, boats, and other engines (22%)
  • 5. Sources of air pollution
    • Particulate matter smaller than 10 µm (PM-10):
      • produced by NO x and SO 2 in the atmosphere
      • emitted directly as fugitive dust through construction, unpaved roads, agriculture, and other dust-producing processes
    • Ground-level Ozone:
      • produced by atmospheric chemical reactions of other pollutants such as NO x , CO, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
      • main source of VOCs is chemical solvent manufacturing
    • EPA does not provide exact statistics for sources of PM-10 or VOCs
  • 6. 3 Measures of Air Pollution
    • An index of sulfur dioxide (SO 2 ), carbon monoxide (CO), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.904)
    • Nitrogen oxides (No x )
    • Particulate matter smaller than 10 µm (PM-10)
  • 7. Political Forces on Air Pollution
    • Modernization Theory and the Environmental Kuznets Curve
    • Political Economy Perspective
    • Pollution Haven Hypotheses
    • Political Process Model
    • The Environmental Movement and Political Opportunities
    • The influence of Policy
  • 8. Modernization Theory
    • Overcome ecological limits through social & technological advances of modernization.
    • Associated with the Environmental Kuznets Curve:
      • Pre-industrial societies have very low impact
      • Impact grows significantly in the early and middle stages of industrialization
      • Impact eventually declines as societies move into post-industrialism.
  • 9. Political Economy Perspective
    • Ecological balance is impossible under capitalism
    • Associated with the treadmill of production theory:
      • Under capitalism any gains in ecological efficiency are offset by increased production
      • The treadmill is a spiral of efficiency gains, increased production, and continued ecological impact
  • 10. Pollution Haven Hypothesis
    • Affluent countries improve their own environments by displacing ecological problems to poor countries that act as pollution havens.
    • Combined with the treadmill of production theory, predicts that the decline in U.S. air pollution is due to the fact that the U.S. employs pollution havens.
  • 11. Political Process Model
    • Politics matter
    • Continuous movement mobilization + political opportunities policy less air pollution
    Air Pollution Environmental Movement Environmental Policy Political Opportunities
  • 12. Political Opportunities
    • Moderate the relationship between environmental movement and policy
    • Three kinds:
      • Allies in Congress and the White House
      • Weak opposition, in this case weak business
      • Divided government
    • Political opportunities might also influence policy directly
    • A fourth kind: media coverage of environmental problems. Different from the others, but still relevant.
  • 13. Policy
    • Policy matters, but only when it’s enforced
    • Continuous mobilization of the environmental movement, plus political opportunities, ensures that policy will be enforced.
    • Without continuous mobilization OR without political opportunities, policy is merely symbolic and does not influence air pollution.
  • 14. Economic Hypotheses
    • Modernization theory: a quadratic relationship between Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and air pollution (controlling for energy imports to rule OUT the pollution haven hypothesis).
    • Political Economy: a linear relationship between GDP and air pollution (controlling for energy imports to rule IN the pollution haven hypothesis).
  • 15. Political Hypotheses Air Pollution Environmental Movement Environmental Policy Political Opportunities These relationships will hold (but possibly decrease) when controlling for economic factors
  • 16. Descriptive Statistics Table 1. Descriptive statistics for all variables (n = 50). Variable Mean S.D. Skewness Kurtosis Air Pollution: Standardized Index of Sulfur Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide and Volatile Organic Compounds 0.00 0.97 0.215 0.010 Nitrogen Oxides 0.00 1 0.112 0.000 Particulate matter smaller than 10 µm 0.00 1 0.908 0.000 Real Gross Domestic Product per 1000 people (billions) 0.021 0.006 0.347 0.006 Strength of the Environmental Movement Environmental Social Movement Organizations per 1000 people 0.008 0.003 0.182 0.001 Sierra Club membership per 1000 people 0.896 0.837 0.083 0.001
  • 17. Descriptive Statistics Table 1 continued. Descriptive statistics for all variables (n = 50). Variable Mean S.D. Skewness Kurtosis Political Opportunity % Northern Democrats in Congress 38.98 5.74 0.045 0.814 Democratic President 0.440 0.501 0.441 . Congressional Hearings on the Environment (Logged) 3.70 0.93 0.308 0.004 Divided Government 0.60 0.49 0.201 0.000 New York Times mentions of Energy or the Environment (Logged) 2.99 0.71 0.264 0.808 Environmental Policy (Logged) 1.92 0.85 0.108 0.905 % Energy Imports (Trillion BTUs) 17.741 8.361 0.660 0.000
  • 18. Methods
    • Stepwise OLS regression
    • A series of models testing each hypothesis individually and combined
  • 19. Critical Tasks for the Future
    • Construct a measure for air pollution policy, based on key legislation regulating the air pollutants included in this analysis.
    • Find data on tax revenue from corporations, as a % of total tax revenue. Use it to measure the power of business interests.
    • Run the analysis!