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Pathways to Carbon Pollution: The Interactive Effects of Global, Political, and Organizational Factors on Power Plants’ CO2 Emissions

Don Grant, Andrew K. Jorgenson, Wesley Longhofer

Sociological Science, January 25, 2018
DOI 10.15195/v5.a4

Climate change is arguably the greatest threat to society as power plants, the single largest human source of heat-trapping pollution, continue to emit massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Sociologists have identified several possible structural determinants of electricity-based CO2 emissions, including international trade and global normative regimes, national political–legal systems, and organizational size and age. But because they treat these factors as competing predictors, scholars have yet to examine how they might work together to explain why some power plants emit vastly more pollutants than others. Using a worldwide data set of utility facilities and fuzzy-set methods, we analyze the conjoint effects of global, political, and organizational conditions on fossil-fueled plants’ CO2 emissions. Findings reveal that hyperpolluters’ emission rates are a function of four distinct causal recipes, which we label coercive, quiescent, expropriative, and inertial configurations, and these same sets of conditions also increase plants’ emission levels.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Don Grant: Department of Sociology, University of Colorado Boulder
Email: Don.GrantII@colorado.edu

Andrew K. Jorgenson: Department of Sociology and Environmental Studies, Boston College
Email: jorgenan@bc.edu

Wesley Longhofer: Department of Organization and Management, Emory University
Email: wesley.longhofer@emory.edu

Acknowledgements: Direct all correspondence to Don Grant, Department of Sociology, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder CO 80309. This research was supported with a collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation (#1357483, 1357495, 1357497). We thank Jamie Vickery and Urooj Raja for their excellent research assistance. We also thank Jason Boardman and Ryan Masters for their technical comments and assistance. Liam Downey, Giacomo Negro, David Frank, Elizabeth Boyle, Sarah Babb, Juliet Schor, and audiences at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, 2016 Future of World Society Theory Conference, Boston College’s Environmental Sociology Workshop, and Emory Law School provided helpful comments on earlier drafts.

  • Citation: Grant, Don, Andrew K. Jorgenson, and Wesley Longhofer. 2018. “Pathways to Carbon Pollution: The Interactive Effects of Global, Political, and Organizational Factors on Power Plants’ CO2 Emissions.” Sociological Science 5: 58-92.
  • Received: November 15, 2017
  • Accepted: December 8, 2017
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Sarah Soule
  • DOI: 10.15195/v5.a4
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