Dangerous Holes in Global Environmental Governance: The Roles of Neoliberal Discourse, Science, and California Agriculture in the Montreal Protocol



Abstract:  This paper explores how a relatively successful global environmental treaty, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, is currently undermined by US protectionism. At the “global scale” of environmental governance, powerful nation-states like the US prolong their domination of certain economic sectors with the assistance of neoliberal discourse. Using empirical data gathered while attending Montreal Protocol meetings from 2003 to 2006, I show how US policy undermines the Montreal Protocol's mandate to phase out methyl bromide (MeBr). At the global scale of environmental governance the US uses a discourse of technical and economic infeasibility because, in the current neoliberal milieu, it cannot make a simply protectionist argument. The discourse, in other words, is protectionism by another name. While much of the literature in critical geography on neoliberalism has focused on de-regulation versus re-regulation, this paper illustrates how science, protectionism, and neoliberalism can become articulated uneasily and in sometimes unexpected ways.