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In new book, Prof. Vogel explores why California has a green streak

California was founded on the most environmentally destructive industry of the era: hydraulic gold mining. Meanwhile, loggers sought their own gold by harvesting the state’s ancient redwoods and sequoias. And oil companies struck black gold in rich on- and off-shore drilling sites.

Yet despite these powerful economic incentives to plunder the Golden State’s resources, California became the nation’s environmental leader—going out ahead to protect vast swaths of wilderness and coastline, adopt stringent emissions and energy efficiency standards, and enact the country’s most ambitious climate change regulation. It also became the richest state in the union.

“Things could just as easily have not turned out so well: the state could have been a paradise lost,” says Berkeley Haas Prof. Emeritus David Vogel.

In his new book, California Greenin’: How the Golden State Became an Environmental Leader, released this month by Princeton University Press, Vogel set out to answer a key question: “Why California? What is it about this state in particular that made it such an important regulatory innovator over so many years, in so many areas?”

A remarkable success story

His detailed account of the forces and feuds that shaped California’s environmental history is the first comprehensive look at California’s environmental leadership. It is, on balance, a remarkable success story. “California has often been on the verge of ecological, as well as economic, catastrophe, but it’s been resilient,” says Vogel. “Its environmental performance has been uneven and there are gaps, but California proves that you can combine environmental protection and economic growth.”

Prof. Emeritus David Vogel
Prof. Emeritus David Vogel

Vogel, an expert in international environmental regulation who has held a joint appointment at the Political Science Department and Haas, coined the term “the California effect” more than two decades ago to contrast with the regulatory race-to-the-bottom known as “the Delaware effect.” Vogel had noticed that other states and even countries had upped their environmental standards to meet trading partners’ requirements. For example, Germany had strengthened its auto emissions rules so that it could continue to export cars to California—its most important U.S. market.

Surprising business support

Though he had written extensively about the state’s regulatory history, Vogel said he was in for some surprises when he began delving more deeply into the reasons behind California’s green streak. Environmental wins are often cast as a triumph of citizens and regulators over business interests. But while grassroots and government forces have played a huge part in pushing for regulatory breakthroughs in the state, business support has been critical, he found.

“One of the things that was most striking to me was the importance of a politically divided business community, and how often some influential businesses found that they could benefit by protecting the state’s environmental quality,” says Vogel, the Soloman P. Lee Professor Emeritus of Business Ethics. “Without business backing, California regulatory laws would, without a doubt, be much weaker.”

In fact, one of the first victories for the state’s environment was the result of the rising power of the agricultural industry, rather than environmental activism. Hydraulic gold miners had choked the major waterways flowing from the Sierra with billions of cubic yards of debris. (At one point the Yuba River flowed 60 feet higher than in its pre-Gold Rush days, Vogel notes.) Sacramento Valley farmers, plagued by recurring flooding, sued the mining companies and ultimately won an 1884 ban on hydraulic mining—the first important environmental ruling issued by a federal court.

Wilderness allies

Half Dome_California Greenin' by David Vogel

Yosemite and the Sierra’s sequoias also had powerful business allies, Vogel points out. The Southern Pacific Railway and the Central American Steamship Transit Company recognized their value as tourist attractions. Thanks to the support of the steamship firms, Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove became the country’s first federally protected wilderness in 1864, while lobbyists for the Southern Pacific played a critical role in persuading the federal government to expand the size of national parks in the Sierras.

Another example: As its infamous smog threatened to obscure Los Angeles’ glamour, the real estate community helped lead the fight for pollution controls. From the 1940s to the 1960s, L.A. led the nation in its research and enforcement against air pollution; in 1964, California passed the world’s first emissions standards for motor vehicle pollutants.

That led to the most influential example of the “California effect”. In a 1967 victory supported by an array of business interests, California won out over the Detroit auto industry and gained the right to enact its own automotive emission regulations, stricter than the federal government’s.  After other states were given the option of adopting either EPA standards or California standards, thirteen states, plus the District of Columbia, followed California’s lead, representing one-third of the U.S. car market. Nine other states later followed California’s zero emissions rules. In 2012, California’s tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions rules became the basis for the Obama Administration’s new national rules—rules that are now under attack by the Trump administration.

Creating new markets

Vogel devotes chapters to efforts to protect the land, the coast, water resources, and air quality, as well as improve energy efficiency and fight climate change. He also details the extent to which regulation has benefited business, even opening up entirely new industries. As he noted in a recent op-ed, “How California turned green into gold,” more than 200 individual firms and business associations backed the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, including Silicon Valley venture capitalists who had invested $2 billion in clean technology.

California is now the nation’s leader in solar energy, with half the country’s rooftop installations and a quarter of its jobs, and in electric vehicle adoption, with 200,000 EVs on the road‚ not to mention Tesla headquarters and other manufacturing facilities. Energy efficiency standards for homes and appliances have kept per-person energy use nearly flat in the state over the past 30 years, while it’s risen nearly 75 percent nationwide.

Vogel, who has lived in California since 1973 and dedicates the book to his twin native Californian grandsons, says the research was a personal eye-opener. “I wasn’t aware of the extent to which so much of what we now take for granted as California’s natural beauty is only here for us to enjoy because of those who backed stronger environmental regulations. We owe those firms and activists an enormous debt.”

Continued threats

He ultimately concludes that in addition to its geography, it was these repeated and high-profile threats to its beauty that set California on its path of environmental leadership. “A lot of other places in the world have beautiful and fragile environments, but few places were threatened so continuously by resource extraction and rapid economic and population growth—which would have destroyed all the things people loved about it,” he says.

Big challenges remain, he acknowledges, especially in transportation and water efficiency. Yet as the Trump administration roles back federal environmental regulations, California is more important than ever as a model for how states can lead the way on protecting their natural resources, he says.

David Vogel will discuss “California Greenin’” at 7pm, May 10, at Books Inc., 1491 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley. 


How success breeds success in the sciences

Matthew effect_Mattijs De Vaan


A small number of scientists stand at the top of their fields, commanding the lion’s share of research funding, awards, citations, and prestigious academic appointments. But are they better and smarter than their peers? Or is this a classic example of success breeding success—a phenomenon known as the “Matthew effect”?

Berkeley Haas Asst. Prof. Mathijs De Vaan studied the "Matthew effect"
Asst. Prof. Mathijs De Vaan

Mathijs De Vaan, an assistant professor in the Haas Management of Organizations Group, believes it’s clearly the latter. In a paper published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “The Matthew Effect in Science Funding,” De Vaan presents the results of a study of Dutch research grants that shows precisely how much of an advantage early achievement confers, and identifies the reasons behind the boost. De Vaan, who came to Haas in 2015 after earning a PhD in sociology from Columbia University, co-authored the paper with Thijs Bol of the University of Amsterdam and Arnout van de Rijt of Utrecht University.

“To those who have, more will be given”

The term “Matthew effect” was coined by sociologist Robert Merton in the 1960s to describe how eminent scientists get more recognition for their work than less-well-known researchers—the reference is to the New Testament parable that, to those who have, more will be given. Previous attempts to study this phenomenon have yielded inconclusive results, in part because it is hard to prove that differences in achievement don’t reflect differences in work quality.

To get around the quality question, De Vaan and his co-authors took advantage of special features of the main science funding organization in the Netherlands, IRIS, which awards grants based on a point system. Everyone whose application scores above the point threshold gets money, while everyone below is left out. The authors zeroed in on researchers who came in just above and just below the funding threshold, assuming that, for practical purposes, their applications were equal in quality.

First off, they found the benefits of winning an early-career grant were enormous. Recent PhDs who scored just above the funding threshold later received more than twice as much research money as their counterparts who scored immediately below the threshold. The winners also had a 47 percent greater chance of eventually landing a full professorship. “Even though the differences between individuals were virtually zero, over time a giant gap in success became evident,” De Vaan notes.

Status and participation

De Vaan says that two main mechanisms may explain the Matthew effect in science funding. First, winners achieve status that can tilt the playing field in their direction when it comes to funding, awards, and job opportunities. The second is participation, meaning that successful applicants continue seeking grant money, while unsuccessful applicants often give up, withdrawing from future competition.

De Vaan and his coauthors argue that the Matthew effect erodes the quality of scientific research because projects tend to get funded based on an applicant’s status, not merit. Groundbreaking work may not get done because the researchers are unknown or too discouraged to compete for funds. They recommend several reforms to the funding process, including limiting information grant application reviewers have about previous awards. They also suggest that rejected applicants learn their scores, which might encourage those just below the threshold to try again.

These findings may apply in many areas beyond science. For example, the Matthew effect may also widen a gulf between winning and losing entrepreneurs in the race for venture capital. Even the Academy Awards may favor big movie industry names over lesser-known talent. “There are a lot of social settings with large amounts of inequality, which could be ripe for the study of the Matthew effect,” De Vaan stresses.