Vivian Thomson

Retired Professor (Joint Faculty with the Dept. of Politics)

Recent work by Dr. Thomson:


-  In 2023 Dr. Thomson published op-eds in Maryland Matters and in the Virginia Mercury:

- Dr. Thomson was interviewed on BBC News about the US climate and energy bill (9 August 2022).

- Dr. Thomson’s specialty is environmental politics and policy. Her third book, Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press, 2017), won a 2018 PROSE award in Government and Politics.

- Dr. Thomson’s podcast, The Meaning of Green, has attracted listeners from 47 US states and 66 countries on six continents. Podcast guests include prominent experts from the US and other countries on topics like public health, ecology, economics, political science, acid rain, climate change, cost-benefit analysis, trash, and tropical forests.

Season 5 (2024) is about elections and the environment.

S5: Preview, Chain of Fools

Season 4 (2022-23) is about environmental and public health protection in challenging times.

S4: E5, The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg, with a special accompanying video

Season 3, launched in July 2021, examines the relationship between place and the environment.

S3:Preview, Flying Rivers

Season 2 started in June 2020 and examines the connections between power, freedom, and the environment, with a special focus on the virus crisis:

S2:Bonus Earth Day 2021 Episode, Silver Bullet
S2:E10.1, Resistance

Season 1 started in November 2019 and looks at how we’ve managed to solve—or not to solve—major environmental problems:
S1:Sneak Peek, The Meaning of Green


-Dr. Thomson publishes Washington Post op-ed entitled “Breathing While Black.” (Jan 2019)

-Dr. Thomson comments on Gov. Northam’s Air Board decision. (Nov 2018)

-Recent paper by Thomson, Huelsman, and Ong in Energy Policy has been covered by ClimateWireMidwest Energy News, and the national Sierra Club. See the accompanying Story Map here. (Oct 2018)

Professor Thomson’s most recent book is Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press, April 2017), which has been praised as a “must-read,” a “page-turner,” and as “insightful, provocative, vivid, and persuasive.” Professor Michael Mann, winner of the 2019 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, says, “Vivian Thomson kicks ash and names names in this no-holds-barred exposé on the coal industry.”

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. From 2002 to 2017 Professor Thomson directed the selective BA program in Environmental Thought and Practice.

She is interviewed regularly on radio and for the print media for her policy expertise on trash, air pollution, energy and climate change.

Books Professor Thomson’s newest book, Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press, April 2017), is a rare inside story based in part on her 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. Climate of Capitulation’s analysis includes 16 of the most important coal states. 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”). In 2018 Climate of Capitulation won a prestigious PROSE award.

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 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.

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.

Professor Thomson is also the Founding Director of the Environmental Thought and Practice program.

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


Recent work by Professor Thomson:

Thomson and Climate of Capitulation quoted in Richmond Times-Dispatch. (May 2018)

Professor Vivian Thomson’s 2017 book, Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (MIT Press), won the honorable mention award in the 2018 PROSE competition, for the Government and Politics category. The PROSE awards, awarded yearly, recognize the very best in professional and scholarly publishing.

Sierra Club coverage on Climate of Capitulation: An Insider’s Account of State Power in a Coal Nation (November 2017)

Professor Thomson’s op-ed on energy interests and their influence with state politicians. (November 2017)

Professor Vivian Thomson comments on a possible pumped storage hydroelectric facility in southwest Virginia. (October 2017)

New book featured by Southeast Energy News (September 2017)

Commentary in Scientific American (September 2017)

NPR interview May 2017

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


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

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?