ND-ECI Seminar: Matto Mildenberger


Location: Zoom

Please join the Environmental Change Initiative for a virtual seminar presented by Matto Mildenberger, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California Santa Barbara.

The talk title of his talk is "Prisoners of the Wrong Dilemma: Why Distributive Conflict, Not Free-riding, Characterizes the Politics of Climate Change."


Abstract: Climate change policy is generally modeled as a global collective action problem structured by free-riding concerns. Drawing on quantitative data, archival work, and elite interviews, we review empirical support for this model and find that the evidence for its claims is weak relative to the theory’s pervasive influence. We find, first, that the strongest collective action claims appear empirically unsubstantiated in many important climate politics cases. Second, collective action claims—whether in their strongest or in more nuanced versions—appear observationally equivalent to alternative theories focused on distributive conflict within countries. We argue that extant patterns of climate policy making can be explained without invoking free-riding. Governments implement climate policies regardless of what other countries do, and they do so whether a climate treaty dealing with free-riding has been in place or not. We then evaluate the politics of conditionality in climate pledges using a 10-country survey of the largest carbon polluting countries, again finding public preferences that are inconsistent with dominant accounts. We urge scholars to redouble their efforts to analyze the empirical linkages between domestic and international factors shaping climate policy making in an effort to empirically ground theories of global climate politics. 

Bio: Matto Mildenberger's research explores the political drivers of policy inaction in the face of serious social and economic threats posed by global climate change. Straddling comparative political economy and political behavior, Mildenberger's work focusses on comparative climate policymaking and the dynamics of US climate opinion. His current book project compares the politics of carbon pricing across advanced economies, with a focus on the history of climate reforms in Australia, Norway and the United States. Other ongoing work explores public environmental behaviors, political ideology, and the relationship between economic and environmental policy preferences. A previous book, Dependent America? How Mexico and Canada Construct US Power (Toronto 2011, with Stephen Clarkson), explored the political economy of North American trade and security relationships.