Global Environmental Politics

Master's Degree Programs in Global Environmental Policy and in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development


United States–Cuba Agricultural Relations and Agrarian Questions

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Dr. T. Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, a GEP professor, has published an article in the Journal of Agrarian Change on the agricultural opportunities in Cuba that come with the start of economic shifts and U.S. trade opportunities. She writes about the new problems and prospects that result from exchange with the U.S., and how Cuban farmers and cooperatives are working to avoid potentially harmful business paths.  Read the abstract for “United States-Cuba Agricultural Relations and Agrarian Questions” below!

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Greenpeace USA

Greenpeace is one of the most well-known and visible non-governmental environmental organizations in the world, with offices in over 40 countries and a history of attention-grabbing campaigns. Professor Judith Shapiro’s Global Environmental Politics class had the honor of visiting the Greenpeace USA office. Bill Richardson, the US Deputy Executive Director, introduced the class to the beautiful and environmentally friendly D.C. office, the core mission of Greenpeace, and Lisa Ramsden, their Actions and Logistics Coordinator. Lisa gave the class a presentation on the kind of conspicuous protests that Greenpeace is most famous for, such as banner hanging, whaling ship interventions, homeless polar bear sign bearers and message-bearing blimps. The kind of direct communication that the organization does, such as hanging banners on a corporation’s headquarters, is one of their methods undertaken if a company is unwilling to change their harmful practices. Riskier endeavors, such as last year’s direct action to stop a Shell Oil ship from leaving Oregon on its way to an ocean drilling site in the Arctic, are less common but often incredibly effective; the 13 climbers hanging from St. John’s Bridge stopped the Shell vessel the Fennica from joining the rest of the fleet. Later that year Shell announced plans to withdraw from Arctic drilling, citing high costs and difficult regulations; environmentalists around the world welcomed the news and lauded Greenpeace for the bold action.

Save the Arctic Ice Ride in Santiago

2000 people take part in the ‘Ice Ride’ event in Santiago City, Chile, which is part of a Global Day of Action in a collective protest against Arctic oil drilling and aims to draw the world’s attention to the threats facing the Arctic.

But behind any protest or demonstration that Greenpeace does there is an immense amount of work and research, led by people like Charlie Cray. Charlie, a member of the Greenpeace research department team since 2010, told the students about his work to bring to light the individuals and corporations behind environmentally detrimental policies. Investigation and documentation are the first steps that an organization like Greenpeace has to take before they can pursue action to publicly confront a business or a politician. Often the corporation will work with Greenpeace to avoid the kind of large-scale public naming and shaming campaigns that businesses like Kimberly-Clarke and Exxon have been privy to.

Marine biologist John Hocevar broke down some of the actions that Greenpeace is taking to try and slow down the rampant over-fishing done by big seafood companies, and the different approaches that they can take. Many companies are concerned with the potential for public backlash due to the success of Greenpeace actions, and are now much more willing to work to change their policies without as much media coverage. This kind of pressure has been especially useful in moving grocery store chains in the US to shift to more sustainable practices, taking the difficult task of choosing ocean-healthy fish out of the hands of the consumers and placing it with the suppliers. John works with companies to promote fishing methods that keep ocean populations from being unsafely decimated and limit the amount of bycatch, such as stopping the use of fish aggregating devices. The protection of the oceans has always been one of the foundations of Greenpeace, and the continued depletion of the sea is a huge threat. The class left Greenpeace feeling “incredibly inspired” and “blown away,” by the huge successes that the organization has achieved since its founding in 1971. The visibility and strength that Greenpeace has is all the more impressive when coupled with the fact that they receive no funding from corporations or governments; the determined support of individuals is what makes Greenpeace so influential.


Fast Fashion: How the Clothing Industry Impacts the Environment

About the Author 

Maria Belen Marquina-Barrientos, born in Peru, is beginning her third semester in the International Relations M.A., focusing on International Development.  She is passionate about education, human rights and sustainability, and has volunteered for initiatives to assist refugees and promote workforce development among minorities. She has worked for the USA for UNHCR, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, and currently works as an Admissions Counselor position at 2U, Inc., a tech company that powers online higher education from renowned university partners.

Fast Fashion

The fashion industry has caused a stir in the environmental world, as organizations like Greenpeace expose the labor and consumption practices in the production of clothes. The harvest of cotton, use of petrochemicals and azo dyes to treat the fabrics, waste and contamination of water, use of landfills, and evidence of slavery and child labor in the clothing industry has created the need for a business model that satisfies the needs of consumers without the social and environmental impact that we see today. A number of methods are used to reduce the ecological footprint of corporations in the fashion industry, including shaming campaigns and production of haute couture by high-end designers with a conscience. However, it is my suggestion that the most effective tactic to combat the damage produced by fast-fashion is the investment in the eco-fashion industry, which not only attaches a campaign to their products, but aims to change the consumer behavior that continues to drive corporations.

Campaigns by organizations like Greenpeace have called attention to these practices, compelling some transnational corporations to at least disclose the ecological footprint of their work and the unfair treatment of factory workers involved in the process. Some companies, like H&M, have as a result launched fair-trade, organic clothing lines to counteract the impact of the rest of their lines. Next, designers like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood have partnered with organizations to produce high-end clothing lines that boast of a low ecological footprint and fair-trade. Just as important as the reduced pollution is the investment in local artisans of countries like Kenya and Bangladesh, many of whom are women, who can now call themselves entrepreneurs and artists. Much of the fashion trends of today begin in fashion shows, and the support of designers is invaluable to the necessary change in the practices of fast-fashion. Nevertheless, the price tags of gowns by Westwood and McCartney are unattainable by most consumers, many of who continue to drive the demand for affordable, disposable clothing.

The eco-fashion industry utilizes a strong combination of tactics that include a message of sustainability and a production of apparel that satisfies the fashion needs of consumers without the harmful impact of fast-fashion. Today, unless consumers actively search for sustainable clothing shops online, they are unlikely to stumble upon such stores at the mall. While prices and designs are key factors that influence a purchase, studies show that consumers make decisions largely based on their experience inside the stores where they shop, which are rare in the eco-fashion world. Investing in entrepreneurs who produce clothes fairly and within a sustainable supply chain can shift the practices of the industry entirely. In essence, making the eco-fashion industry the mainstream can adjust what consumers perceive as the price premium, and what they expect to see in the labor and environmental practices of their brands.

The Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University is a diverse and inclusive community. The program does not necessarily endorse the ideas contained in this or any other guest post. Please understand that our aim is to provide a space for the expression of a range of perspectives on global environmental concerns.

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Kristine Smith (GEP '15)


Getting a job in the Federal Government: A Q&A with GEP Grad Kristine Smith

Graduates of the Global Environmental Politics Program work in the government, nonprofit, and private sectors. While the path to a job can vary immensely for all three sectors, there are ways to improve your chances of landing a full time job with the federal government after graduation. Recent Global Environmental Policy (GEP) (’15) grad Kristine Smith worked for two years in the private sector before arriving at American University with an eye towards employment with the federal government. Kristine held two internships with the State Department during her degree, including a Pathways internship, which she recommends for any student who is interested in working for the federal government. Kristine is now a full time employee in the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, working in the Native American and International Affairs Office. Kristine volunteered to give advice to current and future students in the Global Environmental Politics Program on how to get a job in the federal government. David Gross (NRSD ’16) sat down with Kristine for a Q&A to discuss her path to a full-time job with the federal government, including the Pathways program:

David Gross (DG): What was your first position with the federal government?

Kristine Smith (KS): I started as an unpaid intern at the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources in the Office of Alternative and Renewable Energy. I was researching the potential for renewable energy in Africa and looking at energy distribution in various power pools using an industry database.

DG: How did you get that position? Continue reading

cover for China's Environmental Challenges 2nd edition


New Book: Judith Shapiro’s Global Environmental Challenges (2nd Edition)

The American University community celebrated the publication of the 2nd edition of Dr. Judith Shapiro’s book, China’s Environmental Challenges, last month. Dr. Shapiro, known as Judy by her students and colleagues in the School of International Service, is the director of the GEP Program’s dual degree track in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development. Yet, she is also, as Simon Nicholson described it, “One of the world’s leading China scholars.” In addition to China’s Environmental Challenges, Dr. Shapiro co-authored the 1983 memoir, Son of the Revolution and published Mao’s War Against Nature in 2001. Continue reading