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Discussion Questions

These discussion questions are designed as a resource for instructors teaching environmental politics and policies, Asia studies, and international affairs at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Additional resources, including excerpts from the book, an online exclusive, related links, and bilbiographies can be accessed through the home page.


1. What are the various ways in which citizens and other stakeholders in the cases express environmental values? What patterns are there across the country studies?

2. How important is economic status in shaping environmental values? In what instances in the cases do values transcend class distinction and levels of economic development?

3. As we saw in several of the cases, particularly the Sanjiang Plain wetlands case and the Kerala fisheries case, international involvement in a country's domestic policy can have unintended social and political consequences. How can these be avoided? Do international actors bear responsibility for the environmental injustices resulting from the promotion of environmental goals?

4. In his commentary Clark Miller emphasizes the need for citizen participation in order to achieve democratic global environmental governance. What do the case studies tell us about the requirements for citizen input? Do existing international institutions, such as the United Nations, provide an adequate framework for democratic global environmental governance?

5. Citizen environmental action in all case studies, except the China cases, takes the form of citizen protests and lawsuits. How effective are these in bringing about policy change? What institutional frameworks support effective citizen action?

6. Science can be a powerful ally in an environmental debate. Discuss the role of science (and scientists) in the environmental cases presented in the four country studies. How can the scientific community be made more accountable to the public? What other types of evidence other than scientific should be considered in environmental debates?

7. Economic development and environmental goals are often in conflict in the cases we examine. Is this a false dichotomy, as Robert Melchior Figueroa argues? How are the goals of sustainable development to be achieved in practice?

8. How specifically has economic and political globalization affected environmental debates in the four country studies?

9. How have citizens movements in the cases (e.g. fishworkers in Kerala, and the Nagara River anti-dam movement) made use of or resisted global environmental discourse?

10. Considering all of the case studies, in what instances did government policy most impact environmental values? What kinds of similarities and differences do we find across the cases?

11. Considering all of the case studies, evaluate the effectiveness of top-down and bottom-up environmental initiatives.

Case Specific

The Politics and Ethics of Going Green in China: Air Pollution Control in Benxi City and Wetland Preservation in the Sanjiang Plain

1. From a mainstream environmentalist perspective the cases of Benxi and the Sanjiang Plain can be seen either as success stories, where government leadership led to a significant change in policy, or they can be faulted for not going far enough in protecting the environment. From a socio-economic perspective the results are even less clear cut. Is either case a success story? What criteria should be applied in determining the success of the two campaigns?

2. Discuss the different reactions to the Benxi clean air campaign and to the effort to create the Sanjiang Nature Reserve? How important is effective education of the public in the success of the campaigns? How does corruption in each of the cases limit the effectiveness of education?

3. A unique feature of environmental policymaking in the Benxi and Sanjiang cases is the absence of any meaningful citizen involvement. Had there been adequate mechanisms in place for citizen participation, how might each of these government campaigns have been different?

4. The authors of the Japan chapter identify "framers" in the Japan cases - individuals who made a difference by translating the values of a local community into a language and ethos of the prevailing system, and in so doing helped to bring about policy change. Can you identify framers in the Chinese case? Compare the role of Ma Zhong in the Sanjiang wetlands case and Amano Reiko in the Nagara River dam case. What does this tell us about the transformative potential of individuals in both societies?

5. In what ways has Chinese environmentalism been shaped by the transition in China to a market economy?

6. The two China cases are notable in that they represent two relatively rare examples of proactive environmental action on the part of local governments in China. What insights do they offer into the opportunities and challenges for policy action in other locales of China? How do they contribute to our overall understanding of environmental policy in China and prospects for change?

From Kogai to Kankyo Mondai: Nature, Development, and Social Conflict in Japan

1. What explains the shift from kogai to kankyo mondai in Japan? What was gained (or lost) in the linguistic and conceptual shift from concerns about pollution to concern about "the environment"?

2. Evaluate the effectiveness of top-down initiatives such as Moyainaoshi Campaign for community healing. Under what conditions can such programs be successful? Was a grassroots Moyainaoshi Campaign possible? What are the advantages/disadvantages of a top-down reconciliation initiative?

3. What should be the primary goals of public works projects? Are any of the social or environmental costs that usually accompany massive public works projects justifiable in the name of the greater "public good?" What type of compensation is appropriate in such cases?

4. As the chapter explains, residents who had been in the area for generations were generally indifferent to the transformation of Lake Biwa's water because they saw it as a natural process. What additional cleavages in values and perceptions explain the lack of consensus between old and new residents on the development of the lake?

5. The authors outline three stages of environmental consciousness in Japan: the "embedded phase," the "disembedded phase," and the "balanced whole phase." Can similar stages be traced in the other case studies?

Rethinking Indian Environmentalism: Industrial Pollution in Delhi and Fisheries in Kerala

1. The Delhi case demonstrates the extraordinary role that the Supreme Court plays in environmental decision-making in India. How has the Supreme Court's role affected the democratic process in the area of environmental policy?

2. The authors of the chapter note the existence of "middle class environmentalism" in India. What precisely are its characteristics and to what extent do we see parallels in the books' other case studies?

3. How have prevailing definitions of the "national interest" and the "public interest" in India affected the environment and environmental decision-making in these two cases?

4. From an environmental justice perspective, how would you assess the role of NGOs in the Kerala and Delhi environmental controversies?

5. The TED (turtle exclusion devices) controversy in Kerala highlights the tension between international trade regimes, conservationist agendas and local livelihoods. What measures do governmetn policy makers need to take at the international and local level to reconcile the demands of species conservation and livelihood protection?

6. Nalini Nayak an activist associated with the Kerala fishworkers movement, advocates "contextual environmentalism," by which she means adapting international environmentalism to local conditions, utilizing local knowledge alongside technical and scientific knowledge, and including justice and livelihood concerns in environmental policy making. Based on the findings of the Kerala study, what local or international factors pose the biggest challenges to the goal of "contextual environmentalism?"

7. The factory workers in Delhi and the fishworkers in Kerala both fought to protect their livelihoods. Why were the Delhi workers unsuccessful in preserving their jobs, while the fishworkers' movement managed to wield considerable influence in state environmental policy?

Two Faces of American Environmentalism: The Quest for Justice in Southern Louisiana and Sustainability in the Sonoran Desert

1. In the Grand Bois case, the exemption of oilfield waste from federal environmental regulations ensured that the problem stayed "invisible" for many years - even invisible from the environmental justice community which existed to champion such causes. How is the Grand Bois case similar or different from other environmental justice cases in the United States?

2. In Grand Bois, the people affected by oilfield waste poisoning were briefly united in the lawsuit, and then following the lawsuit became divided. Along what lines did those divisions take place and how are they similar or different from the reactions of the affected populations in the other case studies in the book?

4. How is "community" defined in Grand Bois and Civano in relation to the environment and how do these definitions reflect upon residents' actions in those environmental debates?

5. Civano demonstrates some of the contradictions that arise when striving to achieve the goals of sustainable development in practice. Is Civano a sustainable community? Is it an environmentally just community? Why or why not?

6. To what extent are the Civano and Grand Bois cases characteristic of American environmentalism at a specific point in time? To what extent do they represent enduring tensions in American capitalism and democracy?

Read More: Environment, Environment/Sustainable Development

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