Book Review: Climate of Capitulation (to Fossil Fuels)

by Duane Nichols on June 25, 2017

OMG: Maybe the Bible is a Chinese hoax?

Climate of Capitulation — An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation

Book By Vivian E. Thomson, University of Virginia (MIT Press), April 2017


The United States has pledged to the world community a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 26–28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025. Because much of this reduction must come from electric utilities, especially coal-fired power plants, coal states will make or break the U.S. commitment to emissions reduction. In Climate of Capitulation, Vivian Thomson offers an insider’s account of how power is wielded in environmental policy making at the state level. Thomson, a former member of Virginia’s State Air Pollution Control Board, identifies a “climate of capitulation” in state government—a deeply rooted favoritism toward coal and electric utilities in states’ air pollution policies.

Thomson narrates three cases involving coal and air pollution from her time on the Air Board. She illuminates the overt and covert power struggles surrounding air pollution limits for a coal-fired power plant just across the Potomac from Washington, for a controversial new coal-fired electrical generation plant in coal country, and for coal dust pollution from truck traffic in a country hollow.

Thomson links Virginia’s climate of capitulation with campaign donations that make legislators politically indebted to coal and electric utility interests, a traditionalistic political culture tending to inertia, and a part-time legislature that depended on outside groups for information and bill drafting. Extending her analysis to fifteen other coal-dependent states, Thomson offers policy reforms aimed at mitigating the ingrained biases toward coal and electric utilities in states’ air pollution policy making.

About the Author

Vivian E. Thomson is Professor in the Departments of Environmental Sciences and Politics and Director of the Environmental Thought and Practice BA Program at the University of Virginia.

Review Commentary

“Vivian Thomson kicks ash and names names in this no-holds-barred exposé on the coal industry and its efforts to seize control of the environmental policy apparatus. Climate of Capitulation is a must-read at a time when entrenched fossil fuel interests have strengthened their hand and pose a heightened threat to efforts to avert dangerous climate change.”

—Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science, Penn State University; coauthor, with Washington Post cartoonist Tom Toles, of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy


“Voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Climate Convention will only be implemented if they are in the self-interest of the parties involved. It would seem, for now, that national authorities in the United States fail to perceive their strong self-interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, emission reductions in the United States may depend mostly on action at the state and local levels. Vivian Thomson shows, in this book, how these problems are considered at the state level and what can be done to facilitate state-level action.”

—José Goldemberg, former President, University of São Paulo; former Secretary of State for Science and Technology, Brazil; Time magazine “Hero of the Environment”

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: