November 27, 2018

Leigh Raymond is a Professor of Political Science at Purdue University and the Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Sustainable Economy at the University of Ottawa for fall 2018. Smart Prosperity Institute caught up with Dr. Raymond for a Q&A in advance of his Dec. 11th public lecture on Strategies for Carbon Pricing Success--register today!


Hi Leigh, and a very belated welcome to Canada! Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you are working to achieve during your time as a Smart Prosperity Institute Fulbright Visiting Research Chair?

Sure.  I have many years of experience working on interdisciplinary environmental policy research, dating back to my Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management from U.C. Berkeley in 2000.  Since then, I spent two years as a lecturer in environmental studies at the University of Chicago, and then have been at Purdue University in Indiana in the political science department since 2002, where I teach and do research on environmental policy questions. I was also Director of an interdisciplinary Center for the Environment at Purdue from 2012 until 2017, that had many similarities to the University of Ottawa Institute for the Environment, so this Fulbright position was especially appealing to me because of the mission of the Institute.

I am working on applying some of the insights I gained from studying carbon pricing policies in the U.S., especially policies using a cap and trade approach, to recent Canadian experiments with this instrument. My work on the U.S. culminated with my book in 2016, Reclaiming the Atmospheric Commons, where I analyze how the idea of auctioning emissions rights became politically possible in the U.S., opening a new era for carbon pricing policy. At the moment, I’m focusing in particular on explaining the design and creation, and subsequent repeal, of the Ontario cap and trade program which was quite similar to the main case in my U.S. research – the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Unlike RGGI, Ontario’s program did not endure over time so I’m especially interested in trying to see what differences in the two programs might explain that different outcome.


Your research focuses on environmental policy and the influence of normative values and beliefs on political behavior. What topics and research areas are you looking at currently?

My main focus is on extending the findings of my recent book on U.S. carbon pricing, including how important norms of fairness were in the design of successful U.S. carbon pricing programs, to other cases such as Canada’s multiple carbon pricing policies.

In addition, I am involved in several collaborations at Purdue that arose from my involvement in the Center for the Environment there, including a large grant on making “net zero” housing a realistic option for affordable housing developers. This includes programs to engage residents in conservation behavior through norm-based feedback on their energy use, and also a grant on understanding how norms of precaution and other messages related to environmental risk management have affected how governments have responded to pressing new environmental health challenges. An example would be the outbreaks of vector borne diseases such as the Zika virus in Miami in 2016.


What are some of the “big questions” you are approaching through your latest research?

The biggest question is how can we improve our understanding of policy choices by understanding the role of non-economic factors shaping those choices, especially the influence of the unwritten rules of appropriate behavior, or social norms.

Another important question is how can we better explain sudden and large policy change. In general, political science is good at explaining policy stability and incremental changes, but struggles to incorporate large, short-term changes in policies into our theories. I think norms can help us better understand and predict large policy changes.

Finally, like many environmental policy scholars, I am interested in what policy designs and strategies make a policy to address challenging problems such as climate change or biodiversity loss possible, even in the face of serious political obstacles.


What are the potential policy implications of your findings?

If we can better explain how norms affect or make sudden, non-incremental policy change possible, we can increase the chances of more significant political steps required to address problems like climate change.

Similarly, if we can better understand how norms and values shape individual behavior, we can improve policy designs to shape those behaviors to go beyond economic incentives and be more effective on issues ranging from energy conservation to protecting endangered species and habitats on private lands.


Why are these big questions important right now, at this political, economic and environmental moment?

Climate change is clearly a defining environmental crisis for our time. Any work that can help us understand what makes more ambitious climate change policies realistic politically is therefore crucial.

In addition, there is growing recognition among academics and policymakers that although economic incentives are very powerful at influencing behavior, they are also limited in important ways when they conflict with deeply held norms and values. To get the most out of economic approaches to solving environmental (and other) challenges through policy, we have to better understand how those economic incentives interact with non-economic factors shaping our behavior.


The Fulbright program is about academic exchange and cross-border collaboration and understanding. What lessons from the American experience can be applied in Canada?

I believe that a number of the lessons I have developed regarding principles for a more politically successful carbon pricing policy are likely to also apply in Canada. Of course, norms of fairness and other factors vary between our countries (and within regions of both countries). However, my expectation is that there is sufficient overlap – for example in the norms of fairness that were important to policy success in a program like RGGI – that should also be important in many Canadian carbon pricing contexts.  So far, my initial work in Canada suggests that those overlaps do indeed exist, although with important limitations.  Part of the excitement of the Fulbright program for my project is that my research is fundamentally grounded in understanding how key cultural ideas about fairness and environmental equity affect politics, and therefore how those cultural ideas vary across nations and regions.


What do you hope to bring back to your work at Purdue from your time here at SPI?

I see my work at SPI during the Fulbright as the start of a larger research agenda on Canadian climate policies related to economic incentives. I will bring new contacts from Canada, including SPI, back with me to Purdue as I continue to pursue this research on factors explaining the political success or failure of different Canadian carbon pricing policy approaches. This would include through the new SPI Greening Growth Partnership grant, which I have been lucky to be a part of.


What topics or research areas excite and captivate you moving forward?

Understanding how change advocates can use the power of ideas to create substantial and lasting political change is exciting.  I am fascinated by how certain ideas about fairness or justice in particular can overcome significant economic incentives and political forces aligned against policy change.  Continuing to try to understand that process and explain it in the context of pressing global environmental challenges is something I continue to hope to do going forward.

I also really enjoy understanding how people think about fairness, especially in terms of property rights and the right to access different environmental resources. This is a rich area of political philosophy, which I have studied, and it is quite exciting to see many of those philosophical ideas from scholars ranging from Locke to Hegel to modern legal scholar Morris Cohen all appearing in contemporary arguments about pressing issues of limiting access to different environmental resources, such as the atmospheric capacity to absorb carbon safely.


Click here for more information on Dr. Raymond's Dec. 11th public lecture on Strategies for Carbon Pricing Success and reserve your seat!