The Politics of Sustainability

  • Why are local governments leaders in sustainability?
  • What is the state of national politics, and what are its implications for sustainability?
  • How is policy important to the development of green infrastructure?

There is an old argument put forth by many politicians and industry leaders that protecting the natural environment and economic growth are incompatible goals. However, the contrary is true – economic growth depends on a sustained, functioning natural environment.  There is a political argument that must be made to invest in a sustainable future through a portfolio of federal, state, and local policies and programs.  The politics behind passing needed policies and implementing important programs are complicated, require long-term thinking, and tough choices.

Take infrastructure as one example.  Infrastructure is the backbone of economic growth in capitalist societies making the transfer of goods and services possible. Building railroads, ports, bridges, and interstate highways facilitated economic transformation and prosperity. This construction was made possible through far-sighted policy and investment by the government- and by the fact that distributing public resources made elected leaders more influential. The present situation is no different; we need public investment to spur the development of green infrastructure. We need to develop green transportation for people and goods as well as for the production, transmission and storage of clean energy. The development of smart grid infrastructure is essential for the development of distributed, decentralized generation of energy.

The following blogs report on and analyze environmental policy on the national, state, and local stages. Topics that appear often include the EPA and the Clean Air Act, the BP oil spill, and state-specific subsidy programs that encourage sustainability. Over the past several years, I have kept a close eye on the environmental policy decisions made by the Obama Administration and by Congress, and these decisions are analyzed from a political perspective and from a sustainability one in the posts that follow.


Trump’s Attack on Renewable Energy (June 19, 2017)

We’ll Always Have Paris: Trump’s Impact on the Climate Agreement (June 5, 2017)

A Small Senate Victory Maintains Methane Regulation (May 15, 2017)

The “Can’t-Do” Approach of the American Auto Industry (March 27, 2017)

Trump’s Budget Will Harm the Planet and the Economy (March 20, 2017)

A State and Local Strategy for Protecting the American Environment (March 13, 2017)

The Future of Public Health and Safety Depends on Countering EPA Head Scott Pruitt (February 27, 2017)

Save the EPA (February 20, 2017)

The Distracted, Dysfunctional Presidential Transition and the EPA (January 17, 2017)

Environmental Science and Speaking Truth to Power (January 4, 2017)

Leon Billings, Tom Jorling, and the Origins of U.S. Environmental Law (November 28, 2016)

Earth Observation Science, Public Policymaking, and the Trump Administration (November 28, 2016)

Climate Denial and Sea Level Rise (September 6, 2016)

President Obama Continues to Build His Climate Legacy (August 29, 2016)

Climate Change and Complexity of Science (July 25, 2016)

Changing Environmental Values and a Changing World (July 18, 2016)

Trump’s Nonexistent Environmental Platform (June 13, 2016)

Miracle on the Potomac: The New Bipartisan Law Regulating Toxics (May 31, 2016)

The False Trade-Off Between Economic Growth and Environmental Protection (May 23, 2016)

The Importance of New York City’s Water Infrastructure (April 11, 2016)

The Presidency and Sustainability (March 21, 2016)

Slowly Moving to Protect the Environment (March 7, 2016)

Federal Environmental Policy Can’t Find the 21st Century (February 15, 2016)

The Clean Power Plan Overcomes Another Attack (January 25, 2016)

Microbeads, Marine Debris, Regulation and the Precautionary Principle (December 28, 2015)

Electoral Politics and Environmental Sustainability (December 21, 2015)

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Quiet Green Revolution (December 7, 2015)

Symbolic Politics, the Keystone Pipeline, and Climate Policy in the Real World (November 8, 2015)

Getting Sustainability on the Agenda of Our Dysfunctional Federal Government (November 2, 2015)

The White House Pushes Clean Energy While Coal States Push the Past (October 26, 2015)

Sustainability Requires Technology, Ethics and Political Will (October 19, 2015)

Sustainability Has Entered the Political Mainstream (October 12, 2015)

California Takes the Lead on Climate Policy (September 8, 2015)

A Sustainable City Would Continue to Keep Cars Out of Times Square (August 24, 2015)

The Environment and the 2016 Elections (August 10, 2015)

Hillary Clinton is Right on Climate Change and the New York Times is Wrong (August 3, 2015)

Revising the Toxic Substances Out-of-Control Act (June 29, 2015)

Sustainability Policy is Taking Hold in China (July 6, 2015)

The Centrality of Sustainability (June 22, 2015)

How the Transition to Renewable Energy Could Come (June 15, 2015)

A Carbon Tax is Not Feasible or Practical (June 8, 2015)

Sustainable Shipping and EPA’s Truck Mileage Standards (June 1, 2015)

The Right Wing’s Endless War on Environmental Regulation (May 26, 2015)

Lessons of the Move from Hybrids Back to SUVs (May 18, 2015)

Federal Dysfunction Continues to Underfund Science and Infrastructure (May 4, 2015)

Earth Day’s Importance and Evolution Since 1970 (April 20, 2015)

California Dreaming: Drought and Development (April 6, 2015)

We Need to Finance and Subsidize Mass Transit (March 30, 2015)

The Emergence and Importance of President Obama’s Climate Policy (March 23, 2015)

The Divestment Distraction and a Positive Vision of Sustainability (March 17, 2015)

Preventing Sea Level Rise in New York City While Cleaning the Air in India and China (February 23, 2015)

The Defeat of Climate Denial (February 2, 2015)

Science, Policy and Decision Making (January 26, 2015)

How Governmental Sustainability Policy Can Speed the Transition to a Cleaner Economy (January 19, 2015)

Coal Ash and Fracking Fluid: Two More Victories for Environmental Protection (December 22, 2014)

Everyone Likes to Breathe (December 1, 2014)

The Importance of the U.S.-China Climate Accord (November 17, 2014)

Under the Republican Congress, All Environmental Politics Will Be Local (November 11, 2014)

The Symbolic Politics of Climate Diplomacy (October 27, 2014)

Why We Are Working With Colleagues in China to Develop Sustainability Metrics (October 20, 2014)

The Transition to Renewable Energy Is Difficult But Feasible (October 6, 2014)

It’s Time to Abandon the Delusion of a Carbon Tax (September 29, 2014)

Mayor Bill de Blasio Pivots Toward a Sustainable New York City (September 22, 2014)

Learning from the Era of American Environmental Leadership (September 8, 2014)

Plastic Bags, Nuclear Waste and a Toxic Planet (September 2, 2014)

Solar Could Grow Faster if We Had a Functioning Federal Government (August 25, 2014)

Will de Blasio and Cuomo Make Sustainability a Higher Priority? (August 11, 2014)

Our Dysfunctional National Government is Incapable of Building a Sustainable Economy (August 4, 2014)

Sustainability Science Requires the Freedom to Observe and Understand the Planet (July 10, 2014)

The Culture of Environmentalism and Sustainability (June 30, 2014)

Two Cheers for President Obama’s Proposed Climate Regulation (June 2, 2014)

Understanding Environmental Policy (May 27, 2014)

A Small Victory in the ‘War on Coal’ (May 5, 2014)

Why a Climate Treaty or Carbon Tax is Unlikely (April 21, 2014)

Understanding How Americans View the Environment (March 24, 2014)

Our Aging and Dangerous Urban Infrastructure (March 17, 2014)

Pete Seeger and the Power of Principle (February 3, 2014)

West Virginia Suffers the Impact of Our Toxic Technology (January 13, 2014)

Reducing the Toxicity of Modern Technology (January 6, 2014)

China Can Clean Its Air (December 16, 2013)

Adapting to Climate Change Does Not Mean Accepting It  (November 4, 2013)

Sandy’s Lessons  (October 28, 2013)

Better Late than Never: Obama, Climate Change and the Renewable Economy  (June 24, 2013)

The Science and Politics of Preserving our Beach Communities  (May 20, 2013)

Understanding the Shifting Politics of Climate Policy and Sustainability Management  (February 4, 2013)

Obama’s Second Term and the Sustainability Agenda  (January 22, 2013)

Sustainability by the Numbers: The Growing Reality of the Green Economy (November 19, 2012)

The Attack on Green Energy (October 22, 2012)

The Inevitability of Sustainability Politics, Technology and Management (September 24, 2012)

The Presidential Politics of Climate and Energy (September 17, 2012)

Effective Regulation and Sustainable Economic Growth (August 20, 2012)

All Sustainability Politics is Local (August 6, 2012)

Climate Change and the American Political Agenda (July 23, 2012)

Sustainability and the Politics of Environmental Protection (July 9, 2012)

The Benefits of Tolerance (May 14, 2012)

Hydrofracking Politics and Sustainability Management (May 7, 2012)

The Limits to Political Spin (April 23, 2012)

The Business of Presidential Media Politics (April 2, 2012)

Why Are We Letting Local Governments Go Broke? (February 20, 2012)

The Republicans Misread of Environmental Politics (January 30, 2012)

Symbolic Politics and the Keystone Pipeline (January 23, 2012)

2012’s Not-Quite Hopeless U.S. Climate Policy (January 9, 2012)

Sustainability, Politics, and Consumerism (December 28, 2011)

Stop the Solar Trade War (December 19, 2011)

Understanding the Failure of the UN’s Climate Talks (December 12, 2011)

We Need a Practical and Comprehensive Jobs Program (October 31, 2011)

Rick Perry’s Fossilized Jobs Program (October 24, 2011)

The Political Impact of Occupy Wall Street (October 17, 2011)

The Green Economy Will Easily Overcome Solydnra’s Bankruptcy (September 19, 2011)
Hopeless Obama (September 6, 2011)

The Right Wing Threat to Technological Innovation and America’s Wealth (August 22, 2011)

Congress Can’t Even Change a Light Bulb (July 18, 2011)

The Political Power of Environmental Protection (May 9, 2011)

The Tea Party Attack on Environmental Protection Will Fail (April 18, 2011)

The Political Demise of Nuclear Power in the U.S. (March 21, 2011)

An Environmental Tale of Two Governments: New York City and the United States of America (February 14, 2011)

The Transition From Environmental Politics to Sustainability Politics (January 31, 2011)

We Need a Smart, Agile and Innovative Environmental Police Force (January 19, 2011)

Congress and the Coming Fact-Free Climate Policy Debate (January 4, 2011)

Defending EPA Against the Coming Right Wing Attack (December 28, 2010)

A Modest Green Agenda for the Coming Congress (December 23, 2010)

Cancun and the Fundamentals of the Global Climate Crisis (December 8, 2010)

The New Congress and the Environmental Sustainability Agenda (November 29, 2010)

Understanding the Electorate’s Support for the Sustainability Agenda (November 4, 2010)

Let’s Keep the Tops on Our Mountains (October 18, 2010)

There is Still No Way to Fund Sustainable Infrastructure in America (September 13, 2010)

Here Comes Some Old Fashioned Command and Control Climate Regulation (July 26, 2010)

If The Cap Holds: The Long Term Political Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill (July 19, 2010)

A Mistrusted, Incompetent Federal Government Cannot Build a Green Economy (June 24, 2010)

The Gulf as President Barack Obama’s Bay of Pigs Moment (June 17, 2010)

The Gulf Oil Spill’s Impact on the Politics of Sustainability (June 14, 2010)

Changing Obama’s Management Style Alone Will Not Prevent the Next Environmental Catastrophe (June 7, 2010)

The Gulf Spill as a Breach of Our Environmental Security (June 1, 2010)

The Gulf Spill and Effective Management of Regulation (May 14, 2010)

Move Resource Regulation Out of the Department of the Interior (May 27, 2010)

The Gulf Oil Spill Will Change the Politics of Energy and Environment (April 30, 2010)

Climate and Energy Politics and the Mid-Term Election (April 5, 2010)

EPA’s Pragmatic Approach to Regulating Climate (February 24, 2010)

Under-taxed Americans are Too Broke to Finance Sustainability Infrastructure (February 20, 2010)

The State of the Union: Jobs, Energy and Climate (January 28, 2010)

The Real Politics of Climate Policy 2010 (January 24, 2010)

A Successful Year For Our First Sustainability President (January 8, 2010)

The Real Climate Choice Before Congress: Cap and Trade or Command and Control? (January 5, 2010)

Climate Politics and Copenhagen (December 10, 2009)