Uncertain Futures

How to Unlock the Climate Impasse

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Political scientists Alexander F. Gazmararian at Princeton and Dustin Tingley at Harvard have a pathbreaking new book on climate politics.

Why is the world not moving fast enough to solve the climate crisis? Politics stand in the way, but experts hope that green investments, compensation, and retraining could unlock the impasse. However, these measures often lack credibility. Not only do communities fear these policies could be reversed, but they have seen promises broken before.

Uncertain Futures proposes solutions to make more credible promises that build support for the energy transition. It examines the perspectives of workers, communities, and companies, arguing that the climate impasse is best understood by viewing the problem from the ground up.

Featuring voices on the front lines such as a commissioner in Carbon County deciding whether to welcome wind, executives at energy companies searching for solutions, mayors and unions in Minnesota battling for local jobs, and fairgoers in coal country navigating their uncertain future, this book contends that making economic transitions work means making promises credible.

See what people are saying:

Uncertain Futures builds around the seldom acknowledged reality that the clean energy transition involves place-based economic disruption of breathtaking scale and pace, generating legitimate worker and community concerns. The political headwinds generated by inattention to these concerns are stiff, especially given the low credibility of governments to manage major transitions for the benefit of all. Uncertain Futures, laying out the issues clearly and providing direction for breaking the climate action logjam, is a must-read for all those at the forefront of advancing social equity while addressing the climate challenge.

-- Ernest Moniz

Former United States Secretary of Energy and Founding director of the MIT Energy Initiative

This compelling, well-documented, and stunningly insightful account of community-based opposition to green policies in the U.S. begins and ends with respect for and consultation with the affected communities. Gazmararian and Tingley document wide-spread perceptions of governments’ inability to make credible commitments, aggravating citizen uncertainties about the future.  The authors go beyond diagnosis with detailed prescriptions designed to increase government transparency and trustworthiness—and make a green future possible.

-- Margaret Levi

Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

Overcoming the political impasse on climate requires rethinking the way we do politics. Alexander Gazmararian and Dustin Tingley show us how: We need a climate politics from the ground up, one that listens to those whose lives will be upended by the transition to a green economy, and offers a credible path to new jobs and strong communities. This pathbreaking book offers our best hope for overcoming the climate impasse.

-- Michael J. Sandel

Author of Democracy’s Discontent: A New Edition for Our Perilous Times

In a way too often missing from work on the energy transition, this exceptional book values the stories of individuals and groups of people on the ground. With any great movement not purely driven by market forces (and this one surely is not), paying attention to such stories is absolutely necessary.  It humanizes the issue.  Here we have policy analysis and concrete proposals for solutions—with a beating heart.

-- James Engell

Gurney Professor of English and Professor of Comparative Literature, Harvard University

Uncertain Futures is an excellent book. It provides one of the most thoughtful discussions I've ever read of the credibility problem in governance. The book combines theoretical analysis with surveys, messaging experiments, and interviews with people on the front lines in compelling ways. The ideas on how to strengthen the credibility of workforce programs and increase the willingness to train for green jobs is particularly fresh and creative. The book's discussion of the durability and implementation challenges facing the Inflation Reduction Act is very timely and insightful. Highly recommended reading.

-- Eric Patashnik

Julis-Rabinowitz Professor of Public Policy, Brown University; author of Countermobilization: Policy Feedback and Backlash in a Polarized Age

Alex administering surveys at county fairs in Southwest Pennsylvania. Source: Colleen R. Nelson

Mural inside Bit Source, a company in Pikeville, Kentucky, that taught coal miners how to code. Source: Payton May/Bit Source