John Odell began his career as a member of the faculty of Harvard University’s Department of Government. He moved to USC Dornsife’s School of International Relations in 1982 and retired in 2013. At USC he served as Director of its Center for International Studies (1989-1992) and Director of the School of International Relations (2009-2012).
His research and teaching have concentrated on the governance of the world economy–why governments and international organizations do what they do on issues such as trade, exchange rates, and climate. He specializes in analyzing the process of international negotiation on economic issues, such as in the World Trade Organization, and he taught popular practical courses on how to negotiate more effectively.
As a teacher he enjoyed helping many B.A., masters, and doctoral students. From 2000 through 2011 he directed the International Relations undergraduate honors program, where he taught outstanding juniors and seniors advanced research and analysis skills and supervised their projects. For this work USC recognized him with the 2009 Mellon Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduates.
As a scholar Odell served between 1992 and 1996 as Editor of International Organization, considered by most as the leading English-language academic journal of international relations, one whose subjects are not limited to international institutions.
At retirement time, he was deeply concerned about the threat of global climate change and the inadequacy of policy responses. To work on this problem in a more practical way, he accepted appointment as a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ontario (2013-2018). There he edited a series of short papers publishing original ideas for improved climate governance to the world expert community. This work took him to UN negotiations in Lima in 2014 and Paris in 2015, where talks finally yielded a historic, better UN climate agreement.
The most powerful global obstacle to more effective climate governance was and still is the refusal of the US government to take decisive measures to sharply reduce American carbon emissions. Odell discovered a remarkably effective and equitable proposal for US policy, designed so the transition will be fair and not harm the US economy as a whole, and so it can even be supported by progressives and conservatives at the same time. Simultaneously he joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-partisan volunteer organization that uses polite old-fashioned democracy to build bipartisan support for this proposal. He gives 8 to 10 public lectures a year, does some writing, and has met with editorial boards and members of Congress repeatedly. Members of the US House and Senate from both parties introduced this proposal as a bill in 2018.
In 2018 he published Our Alarming Climate Crisis Demands Border Adjustments Now. The primary audience was European experts, and a grant from the Emeriti Center helped him give a series of talks in Geneva and Paris to introduce these ideas into debates there.
In 2018 the Pasadena City Manager appointed him a member of a technical advisory committee to the water and power utility while it revised its twenty-year plan for procuring energy resources. He and others argued the city should opt-out of a regional plan to build a new fossil electricity plant, and should start counting the social costs of carbon whenever it computed the costs of alternative energy portfolios. The city decided to adopt both these recommendations and reported that Pasadena was the first city utility in California to incorporate the social costs of carbon in its planning.
Odell leveraged his knowledge of international negotiations to make small practical contributions there as well. Twice he helped run private workshops in Geneva for national governments named to host and lead the World Trade Organization’s periodic conferences of trade ministers. Most governments have not done this before, and research documents many ways things can go wrong. A grant from the Emeriti Center enabled him to participate in the 2019 workshop.
Not all has been work. One major thing he had been missing was music. As a fresh retiree he recklessly joined not 1 but 3 community choruses at nearly the same time. Less recklessly he began taking voice lessons, which soon expanded into operatic repertoire. All three choruses have featured him in solos, and no one has thrown anything so far.
He had also been missing photography. Though he could use some professional instruction there too, he has exposed some of his efforts in mostly nature photography at www.flickr.com/photos/422pete/albums.
His advice to anyone who has not retired: Don’t wait too long.