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John Odell

Last updated 10/15/2021

Professor John Odell has received grant funding to travel to Europe to present his paper on “Our Alarming Climate Crisis Demands Border Adjustments Now.” Read his statement below:

“I am grateful for the Center’s generous grant, which defrayed part of the expense of a lecture trip I made to Geneva and Paris in June 2018.  I had published a paper in February 2018 arguing that the global climate crisis has become an emergency and that the historic 2015 Paris agreement is now in danger of becoming a dead letter unless it is defended by forceful new action.  I proposed that countries (like western Europe and Japan) that impose moderate to high taxes on fossil energy use should now extend the same treatment to all goods they import.  They should however reduce these new import surcharges to reflect costs already borne by the imported goods due to carbon energy taxes and climate regulations imposed in the countries that produced the imported good.  US fossil energy taxes are one-tenth to one-twentieth the levels in western Europe.   If this proposal were enacted, US export industries would face new barriers which however would be eliminated if Washington raised carbon prices at home.   The goal of the proposal is to stimulate lobbying by this organized special interest on behalf of more ambitious climate action in high-polluting countries like ours, to offset the organized minority that is currently blocking such action in Washington, even though majorities of Americans have been calling for solutions to global warming for some time.   62% of even Trump voters favor taxes or regulations or both.

I was able to speak to surprisingly large and expert audiences in both Geneva and Paris.   In Paris, for instance, one of the fathers of the Paris climate agreement in the French government who is now a leader of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change attended and told me he agrees this debate is needed, even though it is contentious.   Many economists are uncomfortable about anything that would raise trade barriers and risk retaliation.  But the US government’s recent assaults on the exports of the EU, China, Canada, Mexico, and others on dubious legal grounds, seem to be eroding this resistance abroad.

Meanwhile, global carbon pollution and the global frequency of extreme storms, heat waves, and wildfires continue to increase, the ice keeps melting and the seas keep rising.  Climate change continues to make more people sick and even die.   Much evidence indicates that the pace of bad news is coming faster than earlier models had projected, and some evidence indicates global warming is accelerating.  Worse yet, there is a lag of 3 to 5 decades between the carbon pollution and the last of the climate effects that result from it.  So if the world stopped cold tonight, our children and grandchildren would still be feeling harms from past pollution into the 2060s.  And the world is not going to stop tonight.   This is an emergency and our leaders are doing far too little to address it.  On any given day, it seems like a slow-moving crisis, but it is the very concrete lives of people living today whom we know and love.”

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

His advice to anyone who has not retired:  Don’t wait too long.