Air pollution kills more people than AIDS and malaria combined, and climate change is one of the biggest threats to human survival and well-being in the twenty-first century.  Motivated by these problems, my research explores how incentives shape environmental politics.

I believe interdisciplinary techniques can generate new data, reveal new patterns, and offer new insights into critical questions.  Hence, my research integrates relevant techniques from political science, engineering, earth systems, computer science, and other disciplines to understand the problems of energy and the environment better.

*Please email me for working paper drafts.

Working Papers

Shen, Shiran Victoria. “The Political Pollution Cycle.” (First draft: November 2014. Current draft: September 2018).

  • 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: Building on the principal-agent (P-A) tradition with more recent insights, this paper challenges the implicit assumption in existing P-A models that the level of local compliance in autocracies like China is constant over time.  Studying the critical case of air pollution control policies to fathom the effect of political incentives on policy implementation over time, I advance a theory of what I call the “political pollution cycle.”  I theorize that local agents cater to the policy prioritization of the principal and in the process foster systematic regional patterns of air quality over time.  Using remote sensing, box modeling, observational data, and qualitative field research, I find that top prefectural leaders in China ordered laxer regulation of pollution towards the end of their tenure so that the delivery of economic achievements and social stability boded well for their career advancement.  Such strategic implementation came unintentionally with tremendous human costs.

Shen, Shiran Victoria, Bruce E. Cain, and Iris S. Hui. “Public Receptivity in China towards Wind Energy Generators: A Survey Experimental Approach.Revise & Resubmit.

Abstract: While extant works have documented public receptivity towards wind turbines extensively in developed democracies, less is known about the transferability of these findings outside the OECD. We examine these claims in China, who leads the world’s wind energy market and faces rising environmental NIMBYism. There are both points of similarity and difference between the attitudes of Chinese citizens and their counterparts in advanced democracies. On the one hand, Chinese citizens are sensitive to siting near their residences, to cost considerations when imposed on them directly, and to wildlife externalities. On the other hand, due to cultural and political differences, Chinese citizens seem to be more concerned about radiation, a finding unprecedented in the literature on public acceptance towards wind energy generators and are less assured by scientific assurances that radiation is not a problem. Instead, the Chinese government is best suited to address concerns about this topic. Within China, we find that the residents of the six geographic regions do not differ regarding their order of preference for different energy sources. This may mean that China will be able to transition more quickly than their democratic counterparts, where parochial economic interests drive preferences much more, into alternative energy strategy.

Shen, Shiran Victoria. “Pricing Carbon to Contain Violence.”

Abstract: Violence is destructive to social order, economic growth, and the human condition.  The annual total cost of violence is estimated to be 11 percent of the world’s GDP.  However, security has rarely made its way into economic models.  In the meantime, increasing scientific evidence points to an active link between climate change and the incidence of interpersonal and inter-group violence.  This study connects the climate-economy and the climate-violence systems by putting forth a new method to internalize the costs of climate-induced violence in the established MERGE integrated assessment model.  It finds that such internalization can double the carbon price, a relationship that holds across different specifications regarding climate sensitivity, GDP growth rate, and the willingness to pay (WTP) to avoid nonmarket climate damages.  Normatively, under the realistic assumption that the WTP is at 1 percent of regional income, the avoided costs from climate-induced violence in sub-Saharan Africa is modeled to reach 3.69 percent of the region’s GDP in 2200, a figure very significant for an area that is already riddled with underdevelopment and violence.

Shen, Shiran Victoria. “Machine Learning and Environmental Justice.”

Shen, Shiran Victoria. “Failing Great Expectations: How Local Incentives Undermine Sustainable Energy Transition in China.”

Refereed Journal Articles

Shao, Qinglong, and Shiran Shen. “When Reduced Working Time Harms the Environment: A Panel Threshold Analysis for EU-15, 1970-2010.” Journal of Cleaner Production 147 (2017): 319 – 329. [Link]