America-First Development and Energy Independence Policies: Implications and Mechanisms Explained by the Treadmill of Production and the Treadmill of Law

Authors: Deseret Weeks*, University of California - Merced
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Cultural and Political Ecology, Global Change
Keywords: climate change, capitalism, deregulation, political economy
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent US regulatory rollbacks that benefit short-term fossil fuel corporate interests seriously undermine climate change management initiatives and environmental laws meant to safeguard humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. Kern County, California is an important case representing the localized impacts of the fossil fuel industry and a location where recent fossil fuel development regulatory rollbacks have been implemented under Donald Trump’s America-first energy independence policies. Using Kern County and specific revisions to fossil fuel development regulatory safeguards in a case study, this research applies the Treadmill of Production (ToP) and Treadmill of Law (ToL) to analyze mechanisms for US inaction on climate change as well as the multi-scalar impacts of the fossil fuel industry. While the ToP explains the environmentally destructive nature of capitalism and why economic objectives are given precedence over socio-environmental needs, the ToL provides explanations for the proclivity of agents of the ToP to undermine environmental regulations to allow capitalist expansion where it is most advantageous. This case study and analysis provides important evidence that environmental deregulation and degradation will continue and expand in intensity in the absence of strong regulatory protections due to the key role fossil fuels play in capitalism and US imperial power. This research expands upon the application of the ToP and ToL by using them jointly to explain these regulatory rollbacks and the expansion of fossil fuel development even in the face of global moves to decarbonize economies.

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