Vivian Thomson

Professor · Ph.D., University of Virginia, 1997

Contact Information

Vivian Thomson

Climate of Capitulation cover

Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation

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University of São Paulo colleagues, São Paulo, Brazil


University of São Paulo East Campus


Sophisticated Interdependence in Climate Policy book cover

Recent work by Professor Thomson:
Vivian Thomson and Sérgio Pacca. Brazil and the United States: Kindred Spirits in the Energy and Climate Arenas

Vivian Thomson. What the US Can Learn from Germany and Brazil in the Climate and Renewable Energy Arenas

MPR Interview – August 6, 2015

Professor Vivian E. Thomson teaches in the Department of Environmental Sciences and the Department of Politics. She directs the popular, selective BA program in Environmental Thought and Practice.

Her professional specialty is environmental policy and politics. 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.

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 latest 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.

Her current book project is Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press, forthcoming in March 2017). Climate of Capitulation is a rare policymaker’s inside story and is based on Professor Thomson’s many 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.  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”). Climate of Capitulation will resonate wherever environmental policymakers must regulate the activities of coal and electric utility interests and will provide useful guidance for a successful Clean Air Act greenhouse gas reduction strategy.

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.

Recent Interviews:

Inside Scoop – Emerald Planet TV – June 22, 2014
1070 WINA – May 29, 2014
Energy Wire

Recent Publications:

Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press, Forthcoming in March 2017)

2014. Sophisticated Interdependence in Climate Policy: Federalism in the United States, Brazil, and Germany. Anthem Press. 220 pp.

2011. Vivian E. Thomson and Vicki Arroyo.  Upside-Down Cooperative Federalism: Climate Change Policymaking and the States.  Virginia Environmental Law Journal, 29(1): 1-61.

2009. Garbage In, Garbage Out: Solving the Problems with Long-Distance Trash Transport. University of Virginia Press.


Politics, Science, and Values: An Introduction to Environmental Policy (EVSC 2030)
Introduces a wide variety of domestic and international environmental policy issues. Explores how political processes, scientific evidence, ideas, and values affect environmental policymaking.

Environmental Policymaking in the United States (EVSC 4030)
Exploration of the possibilities for, and constraints on, domestic environmental policymaking. Examination of the roles of Congress, the executive branch, and the courts in environmental policymaking. Critical analysis of the analytical principles and values commonly employed in environmental policymaking.

The Politics of the Environment (PLAP/ETP 4800)
Examines environmental issues that originate in, and that affect, the United States, including most forms of pollution and natural resource depletion. Focuses on how political processes, economic factors, and social/cultural constructs affect environmental policymaking. (Cross listed with PLAP 4800) Prerequisite: Course in ETP, Environmental Sciences or Politics.

Environmental Decisions (ETP 4010)
This team-taught, capstone seminar for the Environmental Thought and Practice major helps students integrate the broad range of ideas and information employed in environmental decision-making. A case study approach is used to examine the scientific, historical, cultural, ethical and legal dimensions of selected environmental issues.

Class, Race, and the Environment (PLAP/ETP 4810)
Focuses on the intersections among class, race and the environment. The course goals are to achieve an understanding of central environmental policy issues, to consider what ‘class’ and ‘race’ mean, and to examine the distribution of environmental hazards across people of different classes and races.

Power, a Pavilion Seminar
In this class we investigate the relationships between national power and energy profile. In so doing, we examine considerations like justice, gender, and rights. We explore the very definition of national power. For example, is power about domination, cultural appeal, equity, wealth, economic growth, or persuasion? How might patterns of energy consumption, energy policies, and distribution of energy-related benefits (e.g., low market prices) and costs (e.g., greenhouse gases) affect, or be affected by, national power? What might the future bring for national and energy profile in selected nations of the world?


ETP ’11 students in Research Triangle Park, NC


With a guide near Lago Alajuela, Panama


Members of ETP class of 2008 at Embera Drua village, Panama


ETP graduates Claudia Antonacci ’12, Kendall Singleton ’07, Colin Peppard ’03, and Peter Hogge ’07