Alex Gazmararian and book cover

“Uncertain Futures” Authors Win Two Book Awards

Jan 19 2024
By David Pavlak
Source Princeton School of Public and International Affairs

Alex Gazmararian Ph.D. ’25 views climate change as the defining challenge of the 21st century and beyond. And while governments, businesses, and citizens work to quell global emissions, Gazmararian did his part via the written word — co-authoring “Uncertain Futures: How to Unlock the Climate Impasse” (Cambridge University Press).

The book has earned both scholarly and literary praise. It was named “Best Book, The Energy Market Economy” by the American Energy Society and received the 2023 Southern Political Science Association’s Arnold Vedlitz Award, given biannually for a seminal book on environmental issues.

“I’m deeply appreciative of the honors,” said Gazmararian, a graduate student affiliate of the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance. “The American Energy Society award was a complete surprise. We were planning to submit our book for consideration next year. But whoever nominated ‘Uncertain Futures’ beat us to it!”

“Uncertain Futures” provides credible solutions to build support for energy transition, the process of moving away from fossil fuels to cleaner alternatives like wind and solar energy. In speaking with workers, communities, and companies, the authors argue that the climate impasse is best understood by viewing the problem from the ground up.

“We have the technology to begin the clean energy transition, but politics stand in the way,” Gazmararian said. “‘Uncertain Futures’ explains why political opposition emerges and identifies solutions. We marshaled evidence from surveys of citizens nationwide, local elected officials, and county fairgoers in coal country, and conducted interviews with stakeholders ranging from coal miners to power company executives.”

The book’s origins trace back to 2021, when Gazmararian was conducting surveys and interviews in Southwest Pennsylvania for his dissertation, trying to understand public perceptions around the energy transition in this politically vital region. Helen Milner, the B.C. Forbes Professor of Politics and International Affairs and the director of the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance, suggested Gazmararian connect with a former student of hers, Dustin Tingley ’10, who is now a professor of government at Harvard University.

“We found that people on the frontlines of the energy transition had concerns that are not fully appreciated by policymakers who take a top-down view,” Gazmararian said. “Their concerns embodied what social scientists would call credibility challenges. A credible commitment problem refers to the idea that what today’s government promises, such as compensation for displaced coal miners or investments in green energy, could unravel in the future as political and economic conditions change. There is also a related structural challenge, where people have doubts about whether new green industries will provide well-paid and long-lasting jobs. The resulting uncertainty gives rise to opposition from communities that fear they will be harmed by the energy transition.”

The authors are now examining how to scale up the domestic lessons learned in the book for a global audience.

“Developing countries hold little responsibility for past emissions, yet they will be most impacted by climate change,” Gazmararian said. “They also represent major sources of future greenhouse gases, so it will be crucial to understand the political conditions that could help decarbonize the developing world.”