Monday, October 12, 2020

Pandemics: Legal history and anthropology

Trionfo della morte (1446)
(Galleria Regionale di Palazzo Abbatellis)

This coming November 6 the Centre d'Histoire et d'Anthropologie du Droit at Université Paris Nanterre will host (online) what looks to be a very interesting program on the legal history and anthropology of pandemics: "Les crises pandémiques à travers les âges. Approche historique, juridique et anthropologique". The program includes fifteen talks on legal responses to epidemic diseases and their regulation from ancient Athens to modern times.

Registration ends October 29.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Early American history and modern American environmental law

A recurring theme in scholarship on environmental regulation is the roots of the American approach to environmental regulation, and to what extent this approach is exceptional. 

April's issue of Studies in American Political Development has an article in this vein by David Brian Robertson, "Leader to Laggard: How Founding Institutions Have Shaped American Environmental Policy". The abstract:

The U.S. led the world in environmental policy in the 1970s, but now lags behind comparable nations and resists joining others in tackling climate change. Two embedded, entwined, and exceptional American institutions—broad private property rights and competitive federalism—are necessary for explaining this shift. These two institutions shaped the exceptional stringency of 1970s American environmental laws and the powerful backlash against these laws that continues today. American colonies ensured broad private rights to use land and natural resources for profit. The colonies and the independent state governments that followed wielded expansive authority to govern this commodified environment. In the 1780s, Congress underwrote state governance of the privatized environment by directing the parceling and transfer of federal land to private parties and of environmental governance to future states. The 1787 Constitution cemented these relationships and exposed states to interstate economic competition. Environmental laws of the 1970s imposed unprecedented challenges to the environmental prerogatives long protected by these institutions, and the beneficiaries responded with a wide-ranging counterattack. Federalism enabled this opposition to build powerful regional alliances to stymie action on climate change. These overlooked institutional factors are necessary to explain why Canadian and American environmental policies have diverged.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Santa Barbara Oil Spill

H-Environment recently published a review by Samm Newton of Teresa Sabol Spezio's Slick Policy: Environmental and Science Policy in the Aftermath of the Santa Barbara Oil Spill (U. Pittsburgh Press, 2018). The Santa Barbara spill is often pointed to as one of the foundational moments of modern American environmentalism and environmental regulation, but Spezio seems to flesh out the picture.

Newton writes that Spezio

explores the relationships between oil pollution and political changes in the 1970s and asks how the Santa Barbara oil spill became a watershed moment in the history of environmental and science policy in the US, especially in regard to the Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA). To answer this question, Sabol Spezio analyzes how the oil spill influenced the CWA and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as well as the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She then turns to the changing science and technology that became essential to understanding marine oil pollution and how that contributed to detecting water pollution in fresh water systems. She argues that the US government’s reactions to the Santa Barbara oil spill improved their ability to address controlling, measuring, and regulating water contamination on a federal level. 

Her argument is broken into three sections. Part 1 describes environmental science and policy before 1969. Before the oil spill, no entity was officially in charge of managing the oceans. Federal waters were regulated by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the United States Geological Service (USGS) under the guidance of the very oil companies exploiting the resources located in those waters. Additionally, scientists used different protocols and technologies to measure oil pollution. Before 1969, water quality was measured by smell, taste, sight, and/or the presence of disease. The oil spill in California challenged that precedent, contending that measurement by the senses was inefficient. A flurry of new research methods and technologies, specifically gas chromatography, followed in an effort to estimate both oil in water and the dispersants used to combat oil pollution.


As Sabol Spezio argues, it took a salient crisis, like the debacle that was the oil spill, to make regulatory change possible. Several events in the 1960s and ’70s, such as the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and the Cuyahoga River fire, contributed to the salience of environmental degradation in the American attention cycle. Sabol Spezio adds to the literature by claiming that the Santa Barbara oil spill was not just one of many environmental crises but was the tipping point event that made the reform of US environmental regulation possible. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Water pollution regulation: an economic analysis

Last year the Journal of Economic Perspectives published "US Water Pollution Regulation over the Past Half Century: Burning Waters to Crystal Springs?" by David A. Keiser and Joseph S. Shapiro. The abstract:

In the half century since the founding of the US Environmental Protection Agency, public and private US sources have spent nearly $5 trillion ($2017) to provide clean rivers, lakes, and drinking water (annual spending of 0.8 percent of US GDP in most years). Yet over half of rivers and substantial shares of drinking water systems violate standards, and polls for decades have listed water pollution as Americans' number one environmental concern. We assess the history, effectiveness, and efficiency of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and obtain four main conclusions. First, water pollution has fallen since these laws were passed, in part due to their interventions. Second, investments made under these laws could be more cost effective. Third, most recent studies estimate benefits of cleaning up pollution in rivers and lakes that are less than the costs, though these studies may undercount several potentially important types of benefits. Analysis finds more positive net benefits of drinking water quality investments. Fourth, economic research and teaching on water pollution are relatively uncommon, as measured by samples of publications, conference presentations, and textbooks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Cow trials and climate change

Sorry for the long silence! I just got April's Environmental History in the mail, and there's an interesting article by Keith Pluymers, "Cow Trials, Climate Change, and the Causes of Violence". The abstract:

In 1641, according to the vicar Thomas Johnson, Irish rebels in Mayo, in “meere hatred and derision of the English,” tried a group of English cattle for unspecified charges. They were convicted and executed. Many historians have pointed to this striking event as an example of the deep hatred underlying popular violence in the rebellion. The trials, however, were merely the most spectacular iteration of long-standing conflicts over transformations in animal husbandry between the Munster Plantation in the 1580s and the rebellion of the 1640s. The new pastoralism that emerged during these decades threatened traditional practices and landscapes while creating new vulnerabilities to poor weather and economic downturns. The combination of economic crises and harsh weather associated with the Little Ice Age exposed these vulnerabilities. The cow trials show that environmental forces shaped the 1641 Rebellion but demonstrate that historians assessing the impacts of climate and weather must attend to the social and economic contexts that produce vulnerability.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Ecocentrists

U.S. Intellectual History Blog just finished a very interesting roundtable, organized by Anthony Chaney, on Keith Makoto Woodhouse's The Ecocentrists: A History of Radical Environmentalism (Columbia UP, 2018), the 2019 winner of the Society for US Intellectual History’s award for best book of intellectual history. The roundtable includes insightful essays by Roy Scranton, Natasha Zaretsky, Paul Murphy, and Daniel Wayne Rinn, as well as a response by Woodhouse.

An excerpt from Zaretsky's piece demonstrates the relevance of the series to legal and environmental historians and practitioners alike:

[The] fantasy of a world emptied of people casts humans as an invasive species and the non-human world as bouncing back once we have exited the scene. In The Ecocentrists, Keith Makoto Woodhouse terms this thinking “holism”—a tendency to portray human civilization as comprised of an undifferentiated mass of people bearing down on a planet with finite resources and capacities. This proclivity toward holism was at the heart of radical environmentalism, where it played a paradoxical role. On the one hand, it gave the movement its teeth and empowered activists to reject the incrementalism of mainstream environmental organizations and engage in direct action, often at personal risk. On the other hand, at its worst, holism could shade into misanthropy, a blindness to social and economic inequality, and even anti-immigrant nativism.

Woodhouse is keenly aware of this paradox, and the portrait of radical environmentalists that emerges are nuanced. This book neither pathologizes nor romanticizes radical environmental activists. Much of the book centers on the story of Earth First!, and at one point, Woodhouse stresses that Earth First!ers saw themselves as part of a movement rather than an organization. It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the depth of that distinction. Earth First! was founded in April 1980 at the start of a decade when the radical energies of many social movements of the 1960s and 1970s would be routed into a dense and well-funded liberal apparatus comprised of non-profit organizations, think tanks, and lobbying groups that sought to reform the system from the inside. Modern environmentalism was particularly vulnerable to this kind of institutional capture because of its reliance on litigation strategies. But Earth First!ers were “movement” people. To be a movement person is to set oneself apart from the dominant society, to feel swept up by the forces of historical change, and to place political commitment at the center of your everyday life in ways that people outside the movement often find baffling and inexplicable. These tendencies arguably ran even deeper for radical environmentalists, who were motivated by a sense of urgency predicated on the prediction that the planet was running out of time. The Earth First! slogan—“no compromise for Mother Earth”—captured the movement’s single-minded drive.

But that single-mindedness also created contradictions that dog radical environmentalism to this day. The portrait of an existential standoff between an imperiled earth and “human civilization” overlooked the histories of global capitalism, colonialism and imperialism, enslavement and coercive labor structures, the appropriation of indigenous lands, concentrations of wealth and resources in the global north, and widening social and economic inequality. When radical environmentalists simplistically argued that “people were the problem,” they failed to grapple with how these histories were entwined with assaults on land, air, and water. This critique of a “universal humanity” will be familiar to anyone who has followed the more recent debate about the Anthropocene, the geoscientific term used to mark the moment when human activity became traceable in the geological record. Scholars such as Jason Moore, Andreas Malm, and Donna Haraway reject the term “Anthropocene” for its universalizing tendencies, introducing instead clumsier but more precise designations such as the Capitalocene, the Chthulucene, and the Plantationocene. Woodhouse’s book reminds us that the current Anthropocene debate has deep historical roots. It has long proven difficult for radical environmentalists to simultaneously combat both the planetary threats posed by humans and the inequalities that exist among humans. (Radical environmentalists are not the only ones who struggle with this. Activists focused on human inequality have also tended to subordinate the non-human world, but that is a different–if not unrelated–story). 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Nature State

The latest English Historical Review has a review by Karen Jones of The Nature State: Rethinking the History of Conservation, edited by Wilko Graf von Hardenberg, Matthew Kelly, Claudia Leal and Emily Wakild (Routledge, 2017). Jones writes:
Building on the work of David Blackbourn, James Scott, Adam Rome, Paul Sutter, and Frank Zelko, the present volume asks us to take a fresh look at the mechanics of power and governmental activity in matters of conservationist enquiry, taking in ideas about global networks, modernity, localism and the politics of negotiation. Implicit here are two concepts: firstly, a challenge to the idea of American hegemony in leading the world in conservation thinking and, secondly, a sense that in embarking on various kinds of environmental governance, state organs were able to propagate their influence and reach. Here the book reveals a foundational tension, arguing for the ‘irregular but near-universal character of the nature state’ (p. 9), while also pointing to the way in which different geographies, constituencies and structures created a site-specific patchwork polity marked by formal and informal demonstrations of authority.
... the book is provocatively, but somewhat deceptively titled. In fact, in the story of environmental resources and political capital set out here across diverse geographies, we find not one state but many, sometimes redoubtable, sometimes hamstrung, and always complicated.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Italian forest commons

As summer bakes Jerusalem and flights are indefinitely suspended, thoughts of Italy's Cadore region, discussed in Giacomo Bonan's The State in the Forest: Contested Commons in the Nineteenth Century Venetian Alp(White Horse Press, 2019), are beguiling. (Bonan wrote an excellent paper, "Confronting Hardin: Trends and Approaches to the Commons in Historiography", for a collection I edited a couple of years ago.) ARO recently published a review by Richard Hölzl of the book; some excerpts:
At the center of Bonan’s book are the Alpine valleys of the Cadore, a region in the Eastern Italian Alps to the North of Venice and bordering on Alto Adige/South Tirol and Austria. The region came under the rule of the Serenissima of Venice in the early fifteenth century and remained so until its fall in 1797. After the brief but very important period of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, it was part of the Habsburg Empire from 1815 to 1866, when the Veneto was annexed to the new Kingdom of Italy. Since the thirteenth century the families of the Cadore, constituted as the Community of the Cadore, organized the local forests and their exploitation as commons under a system known as regole. Regole initially meant regular decision-making at assemblies by the heads of the households of several Cadore villages, who also appointed officers to enforce regulations of communal life. With the increasing success of Venice as a maritime and commercial power, the forests of the Cadore became of importance to the Venetian economy, as they provided timber for shipbuilding and city extension. Timber entrepreneurs of the Cadore cooperated with Venetian merchants and established a vibrant business that also dominated the income and livelihoods of the local households of the Cadore. Timber trade provided decently paid labor for members of every household and subsidized food imports to the mountain valleys, which did not support much agriculture. It also resulted in considerable population growth before and after 1800. Moreover, it furthered the stratification of local society in wealthy timber entrepreneurs, established families who claimed access to and common ownership of forests, and a class of newcomers and landless without such benefits.
The Napoleonic Age brought fundamental changes to this system – changes, which lasted the better part of the nineteenth century and had the established families of the Cadore look back nostalgically on the seemingly good old times, when the regole system was intact and the timber trade supported communities and households well. The advent of modern forestry in the Napoleonic and Austrian period meant that regional and central administrative officers were tasked with supervising the felling process as well as introducing new cutting and conservation measures. The administrative elite in Venice adopted the new scholarship on forests which emerged out of France and Germany and attempted to implement it on Venetian territory.
The Cadore, however, is an interesting exception to the general trend to abolish and privatize the forest commons in the early nineteenth century. Rather than abolishing the commons, the successive administrations tried to modernize their administration by transferring the management from the regole and villages to larger municipalities and regional forest authorities, and by using the profits from the forest commons for road building and schools, rather than supplementing food import. 

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Control of outdoor advertising

The Historical Journal recently published James Greenhalgh's "The Control of Outdoor Advertising, Amenity, and Urban Governance in Britain, 1893–1962". The abstract:
This article examines the control of outdoor advertising in Britain, tracking its development as a mirror of the practices of spatial governance. It evidences both a largely forgotten, yet radical change in the urban environment, whilst also functioning as a lens through which we might examine local government's role in driving change in the visual environment of cities and towns. The article argues that, despite important early work by preservationist organizations, local corporations and councils were the principal drivers of legislation, altering attitudes in central government that ultimately led to stringent control of outdoor advertising in urban space. Beginning in the nineteenth century, but coming to the fore during the interwar period, corporations and councils pushed for ever greater controls over the size and siting of billboards, hoardings, and posters. In doing so, they deployed a language of amenity, and conjured with seemingly social democratic notions of citizens’ rights to push their agenda. The study is thus revealing of the ways in which town planning, patterns of holistic control in the visual environment, and the philosophy of urban modernism shaped even the most mundane, extant urban areas and left a lasting impression on the urban landscape.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Historic Spanish conservation laws

The US Library of Congress's online Herencia collection, containing royal decrees, papal bulls, legal opinions, judgments, and royal orders from Spain from the 15th through the 19th centuries, has recently been running a crowdsourcing project to review transcriptions of the historic documents.

Two collections that might interest readers of this blog are the collections of laws and statutes on agriculture, conservation, hunting, and fishing, and that on disease and public health law.
Royal Order of December 12, 1748 concerning the conservation of forests and plantations (LOC)