Beth DeSombre

Camilla Chandler Frost Professor of Environmental Studies

Focuses on environmental politics, international environmental law, ocean and atmospheric issues, and protection of the global commons.

I work on international environmental politics and law, with a focus on issues of the global commons. Recent projects have involved the impact of flag-of-convenience shipping, the regulation of international fisheries, protection of the ozone layer, and global environmental institutions generally. My first book, Domestic Sources of International Environmental Policy: Industry, Environmentalists, and U.S. Power (MIT Press, 2000) won the 2001 Chadwick F. Alger Prize for the best book published in the area of international organization, and the 2001 Lynton Caldwell Award for the best book published on environmental policy. Other recent books include Flagging Standards: Globalization and Environmental, Safety, and Labor Regulations at Sea (MIT Press, 2006), and Global Environmental Institutions (Routledge, 2006), and two upcoming books on the global politics of fishery conservation, Saving Global Fisheries and Fish co-authored with J. Samuel Barkin.

At Wellesley I direct the Environmental Studies Program and teach many of its core courses, including ES 214, Social Causes and Consequences of Environmental Problems (known informally as “why good people do bad environmental things") and ES 300, the project-based capstone course for the ES major. I also teach a seminar in environmental policy and a course on international environmental law, among others. I’m also involved with developing and teaching in the tri-campus Sustainability Certificate program (with Olin and Babson Colleges). I was honored in 2005 with the Pinanski Prize for Teaching Excellence at Wellesley.

I am centrally involved in efforts to improve the Wellesley College’s environmental impact. I also serve as the book review editor of the journal Global Environmental Politics, and have been elected to many positions in the International Studies Association, including serving as the Program Chair for the organization’s annual conference in 2010. I have served on national and international task forces addressing international environmental issues, and as an external reviewer for departments and programs in environmental studies, international relations, and political science.

My primary non-academic activity is music. I am a folk singer-songwriter who performs in New England and elsewhere. I’ve released two CDs, Crooked Highways (in 2007) and At Home in This Town (2011), with fabulous guest musicians. Sing Out! magazine called my songwriting “smart and uplifting . . . focusing on the quiet meaning to be found in ordinary life." My music been played on radio stations across the country.

Link to Personal Page


  • B.A., Oberlin College
  • Ph.D., Harvard University

Current and upcoming courses

  • This course focuses on the social science explanations for why environmental problems are created, the impacts they have, the difficulties of addressing them, and the regulatory and other actions that succeed in mitigating them. Topics include: externalities and the politics of unpriced costs and benefits; collective action problems and interest-group theory; time horizons in decision-making; the politics of science, risk, and uncertainty; comparative political structures; and cooperation theory. Also addressed are different strategies for changing environmental behavior, including command and control measures, taxes, fees, and other market instruments, and voluntary approaches. These will all be examined across multiple countries and levels of governance. (ES 214 and POL2 214 are cross-listed courses.)