Summary of Module
To face the challenges posed by the Anthropocene, the policy sector has become a crucial arena for identifying solutions for a better future. However, decisions made in the policy sector have also contributed to the planetary crises we face today. Because of this, people around the globe have organized themselves to push for change. This module explores how environmental policy decisions get made at multiple levels as well as the tensions inherent to them as conflicts over priorities and perspectives emerge.
policy, commons, indigenous knowledge, local knowledge, sustainable development, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, polycentric governance, agency, intergenerational dependence, ecosystems services
Learning Outcomes (beginner, intermediate, advanced)
After completing this module, readers will be able
- to summarize the limits, tensions, and possibilities inherent to addressing environmental change at the local to global levels.
- to outline the recent history of environmental policy by the United Nations.
- to explain how water policy in Bolivia’s recent history demonstrates some of the tensions inherent to global economic and development policies and environmental justice.
- to compare and contrast current models of governance and policy frameworks and explain how new models of governance might be necessary in the Anthropocene.
- to chart how our varying notions of accountability, responsibility, and stewardship affect policy decisions.
- to explain how “polycentric governance” addresses some of the challenges of policy in the Anthropocene.
- to outline the various models for “ecosystems services” based policy and summarize the various critiques that have been leveled against them.
Beginner Questions, Readings, and Activities
- What environmental policies have international organizations and governments attempted to implement at the global level? What challenges do they face?
- How has the United Nations responded to environmental challenges since the 1990s?
- How do Bolivia’s “water wars” help us better understand the conflicts between notions of environmental justice and global economic and development policies? How do they help us better understand the tensions between local practices, state policies, and international trade agreements?
- Barra, Muireann de, and Aisling Crudden. Water Rising, 2015.
- Goldman Environmental Prize. Oscar Olivera: 2001 Goldman Prize Winner, Bolivia, 2013.
- Heink, Ulrich, Elisabeth Marquard, Katja Heubach, Kurt Jax, Carolin Kugel, Carsten Neßhöver, Rosmarie K. Neumann, et al. “Conceptualizing Credibility, Relevance and Legitimacy for Evaluating the Effectiveness of Science–policy Interfaces: Challenges and Opportunities.” Science and Public Policy 42, no. 5 (2015): 676–89.
- University-Community Partnerships. “How Governmental Policy Is Made [in the United States].” Best Practice Briefs. Michigan State University, November 2005.
- Ostrom, Elinor, Joanna Burger, Christopher B. Field, Richard B. Norgaard, and David Policansky. “Revisiting the Commons: Local Lessons, Global Challenges.” Science 284, no. 5412 (1999): 278–82.
- Scientific Advisory Board of the UN Secretary-General. “Indigenous and Local Knowledge(s) and Science(s) for Sustainable Development.” UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board, October 5, 2016.
- Nino, Florencia Soto, and United Nations. “Sustainable Development Goals – United Nations.” United Nations Sustainable Development, 2015.
- RMIT University. How Does the United Nations Work?.
- United Nations. “Kyoto Protocol.” United Nations, 1997.
- ———. “Paris Agreement.” United Nations, 1997.
- ———. “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.” United Nations, 1992.
- “Paris Agreement.” Wikipedia.
Identify a water source near your house (e.g. lake, stream, aquifer). Contact your local leaders, government organizations, academics, and librarians to determine who makes policies and decisions about it. Who is responsible for flood control? drought? access to the water for recreation, domestic, and industrial use? wells? pollution? monitoring of chemicals? drainage? fish? wildlife? remediation? What are the state/regional, national, and international regulations each of these groups are responsible for following? Who makes these policies? Who enforces them? Are these groups thinking about the effects that Anthropocenic environmental change might have on this water source?
Create a chart that connects all of the government and policy structures involved in making decisions about the future of the source. Knowing this, how can you work with your community and these organizations to effect responsible practices and policies for this water system?
Intermediate Questions, Readings, and Activities
- In what ways might the Anthropocene prompt us to imagine new models for governance? What tensions might be inherent to these different models?
- What does it mean to be an “agent” of environmental change? Is this “agency” individual or collective or both? How do our notions of “agency” affect our concepts of environmental accountability, responsibility, and stewardship? What effects might our notions of “agency” have on our policy decisions?
- Chatterton, Paul, David Featherstone, and Paul Routledge. “Articulating Climate Justice in Copenhagen: Antagonism, the Commons, and Solidarity.” Antipode 45, no. 3 (2013): 602–20.
- Shultz, Jim. “Latin America Finds a Voice on Climate Change: With What Impact?” In NACLA Report on the Americas, 43:5–6. Taylor & Francis Ltd, 2010.
- World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change, and the Rights of Mother Earth. “Peoples’ Agreement.” World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, January 5, 2010.
- Biermann, Frank. “The Anthropocene: A Governance Perspective.” The Anthropocene Review 1, no. 1 (2014): 57–61.
- Delanty, Gerard, and Aurea Mota. “Governing the Anthropocene: Agency, Governance, Knowledge.” European Journal of Social Theory 20, no. 1 (2017): 9–38.
- Kartha, Sivan, Baer Paul, and Tom Athanasiou. “The North-South Divide, Equity and Development: The Need for Trust-Building for Emergency Mobilization,” Development Dialogue (2012): 47–71.
- White-Newsome, Jalonne Lynay. “A Policy Approach Toward Climate Justice.” Black Scholar 46, no. 3 (2016): 12–26.
- Ogden, Laura, Nik Heynen, Ulrich Oslender, Paige West, Karim-Aly Kassam, and Paul Robbins. “Global Assemblages, Resilience, and Earth Stewardship in the Anthropocene.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, no. 7 (2013): 341–47.
- Seitzinger, Sybil P., Uno Svedin, Carole L. Crumley, Will Steffen, Saiful Arif Abdullah, Christine Alfsen, Wendy J. Broadgate, et al. “Planetary Stewardship in an Urbanizing World: Beyond City Limits.” Ambio 41, no. 8 (2012): 787–94.
- Vijge, Marjanneke Johanna. “Why Is There No World Environment Organisation?: Explaining the Absence of International Environmental Governance Reform” Proceedings of the Berlin Conferences on Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change (2010).
- Russell, Bertie. “Beyond Activism/Academia: Militant Research and the Radical Climate and Climate Justice Movement(s).” Area 47, no. 3 (2015): 222–29.
- Mistry, Jayalaxshmi, and Andrea Berardi. “Bridging Indigenous and Scientific Knowledge.” Science 352, no. 6291 (2016): 1274–75.
- Vergara-Asenjo, Gerardo, and Catherine Potvin. “Forest Protection and Tenure Status: The Key Role of Indigenous Peoples and Protected Areas in Panama.” Global Environmental Change 28, no. Supplement C (2014): 205–15.
Read Rockström, Johan, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, Eric F. Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton, et al. “A Safe Operating Space for Humanity.” Nature 461, no. 7263 (2009): 472–75.
What are the practices and policies in your locality that are contributing to the stress on planetary boundaries? What groups in your community are working to limit these stressors? With whom are they working? Consult a local scientist to identify what Anthropocene-related environmental change is likely to look like over the next several decades. Who in your community is most likely to be adversely affected by environmental this change? How is your local government responding to and/or planning for environmental change associated with the Anthropocene?
Contact your local government representatives and let them know what you have found and how you think they should respond.
Advanced Questions, Readings, and Activities
- What is “polycentric governance” and how does it address some of the challenges of policy in the Anthropocene?
- What are “ecosystems services,” and how have they been used to frame new policy approaches to the environment? In what ways have scholars critiqued this approach?
- Camargo, Alejandro, and Diana Ojeda. “Ambivalent Desires: State Formation and Dispossession in the Face of Climate Crisis.” Political Geography 60 (2017): 57–65.
- Jackson, Sue, and Lisa Palmer. “Reconceptualizing Ecosystem Services Possibilities for Cultivating and Valuing the Ethics and Practices of Care.” Progress in Human Geography, no. 2 (2015): 122-145.
- Abson, D. J., H. von Wehrden, S. Baumgärtner, J. Fischer, J. Hanspach, W. Härdtle, H. Heinrichs, et al. “Ecosystem Services as a Boundary Object for Sustainability.” Ecological Economics 103, no. Supplement C (2014): 29–37.
- Bourguignon, Didier. “Ecosystem Services: Valuing Our Natural Capital.” European Parliament Briefing. European Parliamentary Research Service, March 2015.
- Cole, Daniel H. “Advantages of a Polycentric Approach to Climate Change Policy.” Nature Climate Change 5, no. 2 (2015): 114–18.
- Dryzek, John S. “Institutions for the Anthropocene: Governance in a Changing Earth System.” British Journal of Political Science 46, no. 4 (2016): 937–56.
- Lele, Sharachchandra, Oliver Springate-Baginski, Roan Lakerveld, Debal Deb, and Prasad Dash. “Ecosystem Services: Origins, Contributions, Pitfalls, and Alternatives.” Conservation and Society 11, no. 4 (2013): 343.
- National Research Council of the National Academies. Valuing Ecosystem Services: Toward Better Environmental Decision-Making. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005.
- Ostrom, Elinor. A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change. Policy Research Working Papers 5095. The World Bank, 2009.
- Schröter, Matthias, Emma H. van der Zanden, Alexander P.E. van Oudenhoven, Roy P. Remme, Hector M. Serna-Chavez, Rudolf S. de Groot, and Paul Opdam. “Ecosystem Services as a Contested Concept: A Synthesis of Critique and Counter-Arguments.” Conservation Letters 7, no. 6 (2014): 514–23.
- Gutsa, Ignatius. “Climate Change and Policy Making in Zimbabwe: In Search of Evidence Based Policy Making?” Acta Universitaria 24, no. 6 (2014): 21–28.
- Morrison, Tiffany H. “Evolving Polycentric Governance of the Great Barrier Reef.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114, no. 15 (2017): E3013.
Identify an environmental challenge facing your region that has been or will be amplified because of climate change. In what ways is your local and state/regional government planning for these changes?
Create a visual model of current governance and policy regimes that are addressing this environmental challenge. In what ways might a polycentric governance model improve on current practices? What are the gaps that exist? What would be the most effective solutions for addressing these gaps?
Draft a position statement to a local, state or federal agency that encourages the development of a new public policy.