Political Pollution Cycles

Book Project

Political Pollution Cycle: The Inconvenient Truth and How to Break It.  Based on the dissertation of the same name at Stanford University.  Table of contents is available upon request.

Working Papers

“The Inconvenient Truth of the Political Pollution Cycle: Theory and Evidence from Chinese Prefectures.” Job Market Paper.

  • Winner of the 2017 Paul A. Sabatier Award. Award by the American Political Science Association for the best paper on science, technology, and environmental politics presented at APSA 2016.
  • Winner of the 2018 Malcolm Jewell Award. Award by the Southern Political Science Association for the best graduate student paper presented at SPSA 2017.

Abstract: While scholars have theorized and documented extensively about political business cycles in democracies, much less is known about political cycles in autocracies, nor about their environmental consequences. In this paper, I extend the political business cycle approach to delve into how career incentives of local political leaders influence environmental policy implementation, drawing evidence from local air pollution control in China from 2001 to 2010. Using remote sensing, observational data, and qualitative field research, I advance a novel theory of political pollution cycle, where local political leaders strategically time economic activities so that the delivery of economic achievements bodes well for their career advancement, but at the same time contributes unintentionally to air pollution at considerable human costs. The strength of such cycle is determined by the structure of the local economy and the prioritization of political goals. This paper calls into question our prior assumptions about agent compliance under nomenklatura leader management scheme by studying a multi-goal scenario and providing specifications about the pattern and range of compliance at the local level.

“Failing Great Expectations: How Local Incentives Undermine Sustainable Energy Transition in China.” Submitted to Energy Research & Social Science.  The draft is available upon request.

Abstract: China is the largest carbon emitter in the world, and it is undergoing an “energy revolution” that elevates the deployment of renewable energy.  Despite recentralization efforts that tighten the chain of command from the center to the locality and ambitious goals for sustainable energy transition, the country’s great expectations are undermined not just by technological challenges but by perverse institutional incentives, old and new.  I identify two arguably most outstanding impediments to effective policy implementation: massive scam of central subsidies and expansionist local economic policies.  Both are happening at a time when the country experiences an oversupply of energy and when local protection of coal is at least implicitly acceptable.  Until changes in institutional arrangements are made to limit these perverse incentives, China’s grand transition to a renewable energy-powered economy is trapped at the stage of growing pains.

Works in Progress

“Electoral Incentives and Air Pollution Control in the American States.”

“City Mayors and Air Quality in Mexico.”