Course title: Comparative Environmental Politics: United States and Canada.
How do different societies address environmental problems? Answering this question requires cross-national comparisons of political institutions, regulatory styles, and state-society relations. This course relies on the theoretical tools of comparative politics to analyze different areas of environmental management, such as protection of natural resources, wilderness preservation, contamination and transboundary pollution management, global warming, renewable energy, and sustainability, among others. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness provides an ideal location to explore how Canada and the United States address their environmental challenges at different levels of analysis, from the local to the international. Students engage in discussions on nature conservation with members of the local community and take canoe trips to places of key environmental significance. The course is designed for undergraduate students with an interest in environmental studies, especially those pursuing environmental studies majors or minors, but no previous knowledge of political science is needed. While grounded on a comparative politics methodology, the course also draws from the natural sciences, economics, history and ethics to help students develop an interdisciplinary approach to environmental studies.
Senator Howard Metzenbaum as he looked down at the BWCA
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) was the subject of one of the most heated environmental debates in recent U.S. history. Between 1975 and 1978, those advocating mining, logging and motorized use clashed with environmentalists, who called for the preservation of this area as a wilderness. The BWCA Wilderness Act of 1978 designated the area as a wilderness, banned mining and logging and restricted motorized use to only a few entry lakes, but tensions still remain today. Pressures to open up surrounding areas for mining continue to split the local community and many still advocate motorized use within the wilderness.
The conflict around the BWCA Wilderness illustrates what political ecologists call a “politicized environment”, or how the environment becomes the site of struggles over resources. This course examines environmental politics at various levels, from the global to the local, taking the BWCA Wilderness as a case study. The wilderness borders Quetico Provincial Park on the Canadian side of the border. Logging has been banned in Quetico since 1971 and motorized use restricted to a single lake since 1979. The proximity and parallel histories of the BWCA Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario provide a valuable opportunity to develop a comparative approach to our study of environmental politics. The course compares environmental politics in the U.S. and Canada and reviews the role of key actors involved in green politics in both countries, including Congress, the states and local governments, the party system, and civil society groups, especially native American communities (known primarily as “first nation peoples” in Canada) and businesses. This course pays close attention to the differences and similarities that exist between both countries and explores how they try to reconcile economic development with environmental protection. This tension is particularly serious today in the area surrounding the BWCA Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park due to the pressure from logging, mining and tourist interests.
This course has three major goals. The first is to understand the relationship between development (in its myriad forms) and protection of the environment. By comparing the United States to Canada we can identify best practices. The second goal is to prepare the students for environmental activism. The course teaches them how the main actors further their economic and political interests within the framework provided by the decision-making institutions in each country. The third goal is to teach the students to conduct fieldwork by using the BWCA Wilderness as our laboratory. We interact with some local community leaders as well as representatives from some of the main interest groups. We also take canoe trips to visit some of the historical places where the history of the BWCA Wilderness was written.
The course is structured along three major areas, policy-process, actors, and themes. First we compare policy instruments in the U.S. and Canada at the local, state and federal level, including the role of environmental agencies and the court system. Then the course focuses on the key actors involved in environmental policy-making in both countries, especially the role of science and the scientific community, native American/First Nation communities, businesses and environmentalists, as well as government. Finally, students analyze the main environmental themes affecting the BWCA Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park, such as wilderness protection, forest, mining and tourist policies, protection of species, water pollution, pesticides, sustainability and, most importantly today, climate change. The expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012 will put an end to the only global binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The course ends with an analysis of the impact of climate change on the BWCA Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park ecosystems. We study the inability of the current international political institutions to address global environmental challenges, focusing on U.S. and Canada’s climate change policies and the role they play at the international climate change summits.
This course is particularly useful to students with an interest in environmental studies, especially those pursuing environmental studies majors or minors, but no previous knowledge of political science is needed. While grounded on a comparative politics methodology, the course also draws from the natural sciences, economics, history and ethics to help students develop an interdisciplinary approach to environmental studies.