haddad book focuses on enviro politics in east asia

John E. Andrus Professor of Government Mary Alice Haddad, a Bailey COE faculty member, recently published her latest book: Environmental Politics in East Asia. In it, she focuses her research on environmental politics in East Asia, with comparisons between China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, looking at the importance of prof-business solutions in creating environmental change in these countries and the common factors of success. Haddad also has a deep interest in the power of local governments and their ability to create tangible progress. I was able to sit down with Professor Haddad to talk about her book and her work. 

Your latest book is Environmental Politics in East Asia, about East Asian politics and environmental advocacy. Could you tell me a little bit about that project and the research that went into it?
My dissertation was on grassroots volunteer engagement in Japan. Within that project, I had a question that I asked of all my interview subjects: What is the biggest difference between the early days and now? I thought the answer would be something like ‘young people don’t want to volunteer’ or ‘we don’t have enough money.’ But many of them answered, ‘democracy.’ 

My second solo-authored book, Building Democracy in Japan,  looked at a grassroots story of Japanese democratization. The traditional story told is: Japan lost the war, Americans came in and gave them a constitution, and then—poof!—democracy. We tried that in a bunch of places where it didn’t really work. Japan is one of the very first non-white, non-western, non-Christian places to really democratize, and the way its democracy works is very different than in the United States. And so I wanted to try to get at: How do you have a political culture shift? How do you take a political culture that’s really non-democratic, and democratize it? 

While I was doing that research, I was teaching both a Japanese politics class and a Chinese politics class—two political systems that are super different. The thing that was true in both cases was that environmental issues were the first issues where citizens organized, made demands on the state, and won. So I organized a research project that looked at Japan, Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, and China. All of them are pro-business governments, mostly, and all of them have pretty cutting-edge environmental policies. So my research question going in was: How do you get cutting-edge environmental policy out of fairly conservative pro-business governments? The premise was that environmental advocates in all of these places were doing something that worked. So I wanted to figure out which advocacy strategies work.

What turned out was that no matter who I talked to—in the government, out of the government, advocate, environmentalist, or researcher—there was a consistent set of six things that people did that worked, and it didn’t really matter what the political system was. Political systems really matter if you do advocacy and you fail. If you fail in Japan, you go home, you have a beer, you’re sad. In China, you could disappear. The consequences of failure are different, but what works is the same. And it’s not the things that get all the press in the US. It’s not public protests. It’s not big media campaigns. Those things help. But in terms of what actually works, there’s a set of six things: education, cultivate allies in power, make it work locally, make it matter through art, make it work for business, and think outside the box.”

And so that was the motivation for Effective Advocacy: Lessons From East Asia’s Environmentalists, which is a more of an academic book. And then I came up with this class idea for environmental politics in East Asia, because I thought it was a really good idea to try to do an environmental politics class that was outside of the North American, European context. But when I looked around for course material, I couldn’t find a book for it. That’s why I wrote Environmental Politics in East Asia a minibook that is organized around environmental issue areas rather than advocacy strategies. It looks ar three areas: green business (East Asia does well), pollution (mixed results), and environmental justice (East Asia performs poorly).

It’s so interesting to me when you’re talking about China, because I feel like the common narrative that I’ve heard in my environmental studies and government classes is that China is one of the biggest polluters in the world. They invest in a lot of oil and natural gas around the world. So I wouldn’t have expected for their government to be so environmentally conscious. Well, actually, it’s the national government that is environmentally conscious.

A lot of the big actions are at the national government level while most of the big problems are at the local government level. So the biggest challenge in China is enforcement. China has really good laws on the books, but the enforcement mechanisms are quite poor. 

It is a really common narrative in the US that China’s polluting, and China’s doing this, and China’s doing that. But on a per capita basis, they pollute way, way less than us. If you look at renewable energy installations and projects like that, they do so much more than us. So, what’s your metric? The increase of coal-fired power plants in China is, without a doubt, a problem. And it’s a problem in the region, because China has been funding them. But they’ve mostly stopped that.

What drew you to this project?
In terms of how I got interested in Japan: I was born in Tokyo. You could say I’m a structurally determined person. I was born in Tokyo, and I grew up in Washington, DC. I was very active in outdoor education stuff when I was young, and I spend a lot of time outside, hiking and cross-country skiing, now. And I have a long-standing commitment and interest in environmental topics. Also, I’m discovering that there’s a life cycle in academic lives. At some point, probably once you reach full professor rank, you start to think: What can I do that actually matters? I’ve been spending a lot more time thinking about how I can take my research agenda, which is scholarly, to figure out ways it can make a real difference in the actual world. Not just how to improve our understanding about it. But how can we get progress on an actual issue on the ground? I’m still trying to figure that out. But part of the shift in this area was also not just an intellectual interest, but also a sort of moral practical one.

So what’s your next project?
My next project is a comparative urban policy project, with a working title of “City Diplomacy: Solving the World’s Biggest Problems.” In it, I’m trying to look at how these international city networks and city collaborations across countries are actively engaging in and, in fact, making real headway on the biggest issues that we’re facing.

Think of it this way: If there’s a natural disaster, a climate change related disaster, and the streets are flooding, Republican mayors have to fix the flooding in the streets and Democratic mayors do, too. And Chinese mayors have to fix the flooding in the street. And Latin American mayors have to fix the flooding in the street. A lot of big problems are the same. For pretty much any policy you can think of, there are mayors working on it—and there are millions and millions of people working in their own small way to make positive change. I love this area because there’s so much doom and gloom in the world. But there’s so much really positive stuff happening on the ground.

One of the things I really like, as I’ve done the research into this, is that there are two big differences at the city diplomacy level compared to international relations. First, security concerns are gone. New York City is not worried that Shanghai is going to invade, so there’s no zero-sum political game between the cities. Also, it’s not nearly as much of the rich white Northern countries telling the poor brown Southern countries what to do. Because it’s often the Southern mayors that have cheap, innovative, effective policies. So the knowledge and policy innovations really go in both directions.