Published: Feb. 17, 2021


Power plants have paved the road 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. In a new book, Super Polluters, Don Grant, Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, and two co-authors offer a groundbreaking global analysis of carbon pollution caused by the generation of electricity.  They examine which plants discharge the lion’s share of carbon pollution, the paradoxical effects of efficiency, the social conditions that shape plants’ emissions and the effectiveness of local policies and citizen activism.  Especially important, they show that targeting a small subset of hyper-polluting power plants could go a long way toward reducing the COemissions of countries’ electricity sectors as shown in the table below. 


Grant and his colleagues note that one reason climate change activists have struggled to mobilize action is the difficulty of identifying specific villains to blame for the escalating threat.  While admitting targeting hyper-emitting power plants is not a panacea, they argue “the fact that we now have just over a decade to bring climate change under control means that society must zero in on the worst of its 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. Wesley Longhofer is associate professor of organization and management and academic director of social enterprise in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. 

Grant, Jorgenson, and Longhofer have been working on this project, funded by the National Science Foundation, since 2013. Formally trained as sociologists, each researcher brought a distinctive specialty with Grant’s primary area of expertise being the sociology of organizations. The research team has received additional NSF funding to continue their collaborative project. Next, they will be examining  “green stars” in the electricity-generating sector and how energy and climate policies affect power plants’ environmental performance in an age of experimentalist governance.

New Book from Columbia University Press - Super Polluters: Tackling the World’s Largest Sites of Climate-Disrupting Emissions

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