Vivian Thomson

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

Contact Information


Associate Professor Vivian E. Thomson teaches in the Department of Environmental Sciences and the Department of Politics.  Her professional specialty is environmental policy and politics.

In 2001 she helped to create–and she now directs–the Environmental Thought and Practice B. A. program, one of the University’s most popular interdisciplinary undergraduate degree programs (  She also directs the University’s Panama Initiative, which was launched in 2007 by President Casteen, Provost Garson, and Vice Provost Grossman (

Professor Thomson’s work extends outside of the University into the realm of environmental policy in practice.  She was appointed by 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.

Her environmental policy writings include greenhouse gas emissions, energy, air pollution, and waste management.  She is recognized for her international work on trash management and greenhouse gas emissions trading.

During academic year 2001-2002 Professor Thomson was Fulbright Professor of American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, Odense, where she taught American politics and environmental policy. In 2005-2006 Professor Thomson was Guest Scholar at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Professor Thomson’s book, Garbage In, Garbage Out: Solving the Problems with Long-Distance Trash Transport, is now in print (University of Virginia Press, 2009).  This work 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 Southern Environmental Law Center’s 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.  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.” Preliminary 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.

Professor Thomson has started book projects about air pollution control in Virginia (“The Ties That Bind: Air Pollution, Power, and Politics”) and authentic progress in Panama.

Professor Thomson’s language skills include German, Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese.

Click here for Professor Thomson’s detailed C.V.

Interviews with Prof. Thomson regarding her research:  Emerald Planet TV  WINA  WNRN

Recent Publications

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.

2007. TXU's expansion proposal: A Risk for Investors. Available at

2006. Early observations on the European Union's greenhouse gas emission trading scheme: Insights for United States Policymakers. Available at

2006. Review of The Discovery of Global Warming (Spencer Weart). Journal of Politics 68(1).

2003. Grab bag ethics in environmental policymaking: a pragmatist's view. Moral and Political Reasoning in Environmental Practice, eds. Andrew Light and Avner de-Shalit (MIT Press: 2003)


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.