Power plants are essential to achieving the standard of living that modern societies demand and the social and economic infrastructure on which they depend. Yet their indispensability has allowed them to evade responsibility for their vast carbon emissions. Fossil-fueled power plants are the single largest sites of anthropogenic greenhouse gases, making them one of the greatest threats to our planet’s climate. Significant as they are, we lack a comprehensive understanding of the social causes that enable power plant emissions and continue to delay their reduction.
Super Polluters offers a groundbreaking global analysis of carbon pollution caused by the generation of electricity, pinpointing who bears the most responsibility for the energy sector’s vast emissions and what can be done about them. The sociologists Don Grant, Andrew Jorgenson, and Wesley Longhofer analyze a novel dataset on the carbon dioxide emissions and structural attributes of thousands of fossil-fueled power plants around the world, identifying which plants discharge the most carbon. They investigate the global, organizational, and political conditions that explain these hyper-emitting facilities’ behaviour and call into question the claim that improvements in technical efficiency will always reduce emissions. Grant, Jorgenson, and Longhofer demonstrate which energy and climate policies are most effective at abating power-plant pollution, emphasizing how mobilized citizen activism shapes those outcomes. A comprehensive account of who bears the blame for our warming planet, Super Polluters points to more feasible and effective emission reduction strategies that target the world’s most profligate polluters.
List of Illustrations and Tables
1. Who Is Responsible for This Mess?: The Climate Crisis and Hyperemitting Power Plants
2. Cleaning Up Their Act: Potential Emission Reductions from Targeting the Worst of the Worst Power Plants
3. Recipes for Disaster: How Social Structures Interact to Make Environmentally Destructive Plants Even More So
4. A Win-Win Solution?: The Paradoxical Effects of Efficiency on Plants’ CO2 Emissions
5. Bottom-Up Strategies: The Effectiveness of Local Policies and Activism (with Ion Bogdan Vasi)
6. Next Steps: Future Research and Action on Society’s Super Polluters
Don Grant is professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he is also a fellow at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute and director of the Social Innovation and Care, Health, and Resilience programs.
Andrew Jorgenson is professor and chair of sociology and professor of environmental studies at Boston College. He is the 2020 recipient of the American Sociological Association Section on Environmental Sociology's Fred Buttel Distinguished Contribution Award.
Wesley Longhofer is an associate professor of organization and management and academic director of social enterprise in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University.
"A fascinating reminder that relatively few plants account for vast percentages of the carbon flowing into the atmosphere. That means that concentrating on them could pay huge dividends, but only if careful thinking like this undergirds the approach."
– Bill McKibben, author of Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
"It is no surprise that fossil-fueled power plants are a major source of carbon emissions. What is surprising is the striking variation in the amount of pollution emitted by these plants. But until recently, our understanding of the causes of this variation was limited. Not anymore. Drawing on a novel dataset on thousands of fossil-fueled power plants around the world, Grant, Jorgenson, and Longhofer shed critical light on the social and political factors that enable super pollution and, more importantly, on which energy and climate policies are most effective at abating power-plant pollution."
– Doug McAdam, Ray Lyman Wilbur Professor of Sociology, Stanford University
"This superb and original book – a study of actual power plants around the globe – is a must read for anyone interested in the climate emergency, and indeed the future of human societies. It neatly cuts through conventional approaches and provides a stunning insight – a small number of power plants are disproportionately responsible for carbon pollution. The authors use sophisticated but highly accessible statistical analyses to explain differences among polluting plants and to investigate the policies that do and don't work to reduce emissions. At the risk of sounding corny, this is a 'super scholar' book."
– Juliet Schor, author of After the Gig: How the Sharing Economy Got Hijacked and How to Win It Back
"Grant, Jorgenson, and Longhofer have made a pioneering effort with Super Polluters. Their detailed investigation of electrical power plants and what drives their emissions will be of substantial interest to environmental sociologists and any social scientists interested in climate mitigation."
– Thomas Dietz, University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University