Vivian E. Thomson

Vivian ThompsonProfessor Vivian Thomson was on the faculty in the Department of Environmental Sciences and the Department of Politics from 1997 to 2017. Her professional specialty is environmental policy and politics. Her most recent book is Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press, April 2017), which has been praised as a “no-holds-barred exposé,” a “must-read,” a “page-turner,” and as “insightful, provocative, vivid, and persuasive.”

Her research, lecturing and grants have taken her to Denmark, where she was a Fulbright Professor, to Panama, as Director of UVA’s Panama Initiative, to Germany, as a DAAD scholar, to Brazil, where she has ongoing collaborations with colleagues at the University of São Paulo, and to Italy. Her language skills include Spanish, German, and Brazilian Portuguese. From 2002 to 2017 Professor Thomson directed the selective BA program in Environmental Thought and Practice.

She is interviewed regularly on radio and for the print media for her policy expertise on trash, air pollution, energy and climate change. (August 6, 2015 interview regarding new climate regulations)

Books Professor Thomson’s first book, Garbage In, Garbage Out: Solving the Problems with Long-Distance Trash Transport, (University of Virginia Press, 2009), examines interstate trash transport in the United States within a broad social, economic, and cultural context that includes comparisons with practices in the EU and Japan. Garbage In, Garbage Out was a Finalist in the 2010 Reed writing competition.  Garbage In, Garbage Out has been hailed inside and outside academia as a “breath of fresh air,” “original, a substantial contribution to the field of environmental policy,” an “outstanding work,” and a “rich source of information.”

Professor Thomson’s book Sophisticated Interdependence in Climate Policy: Federalism in the United States, Brazil, and Germany (Anthem Press) was published in February 2014.  In this book Prof. Thomson offers domestic and cross-country analysis of state-national relations in climate policy in three powerful federal nations.  The resulting policy framework is called “sophisticated interdependence.” Reviews say the book is “packed with insights,” “provides rich material for scholars and policymakers,” “offers a politically astute roadmap,” and “skillfully identifies common ground to break today’s stalemates.” Click here for testimonials.

Professor Thomson’s newest book, Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press, April 2017), is a rare inside story based in part on her years as member and vice chair of the Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board. Her candid insights show how Clean Air Act policy processes work on the front lines, when state policymakers translate legal mandates into source-specific emission limits. Climate of Capitulation’s analysis includes 16 of the most important coal states. The book provides a useful corrective to observers who reduce environmental policy processes to unhelpful slogans (“Policymakers need to understand science better”) or to faulty abstractions (“Citizens don’t matter”).

National and State-level Policymaker Professor Thomson’s first career was as senior analyst and manager at the US Environmental Protection Agency, first in San Francisco and then in Washington, DC. She was appointed by Virginia Governors Warner and Kaine in 2002 and in 2006, respectively, to the State Air Pollution Control Board, the seven-member body that makes air pollution policy for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  She is past vice chair of the Board.

Click here for Professor Thomson’s detailed C.V.


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