Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Susan Roberts


Since 2006 California has been pursuing the most ambitious climate change policy in the United States, implementing a suite of greenhouse gas reduction measures ranging from automobile refrigerant disposal rules to clean energy standards for electric power utilities. The most significant of these measures is the creation of a cap‐and‐trade program. Through this program, regulators seek to create a knowable price‐signal to incentivize emissions reductions among polluters. Using a suite of ethnographic methods, this dissertation looks at the people, ideas, and institutions that have been mobilized in the creation of California’s cap‐and‐ trade program.

Substantively, the dissertation engages with three key aspects of the program. First, the way that economic theory is deployed in the creation of the rules of exchange, and how that theory is made to take a compromised but still structuring role in light of the political pressures on regulators in writing the rules of exchange in financial representations of greenhouse gases. Second, the dissertation examines the diverse values, economic and non‐economic, in play during the creation of financial representations of greenhouse gases; and third, the environmental and social justice ramifications of structuring an emissions reduction program around the motivation of doing so at the lowest possible cost to polluters.

Theoretically, this dissertation is informed by political ecology on the commodification of nature, commodity theory drawn from economic geography and political economy, and sociological theories of economic practice primarily originating from the social studies of finance. The conclusion of the dissertation is that the result of countless hours of work by regulators and their interlocutors is a suite of market‐like mechanisms that ultimately function more like the administrative tool that environmental markets’ early advocates envisioned rather than the full‐blown financialization of the atmosphere, though with potentially detrimental environmental impacts for vulnerable communities.