Interview with the new journal editor, Prof. John Meyer

Email interview conducted with the new Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Politics, John Meyer, in June 2020.

a. Who are you?

Before landing in academia, I worked as a political organizer. It was rewarding work, but I struggled with the reactive nature of it. We were so busy fighting bad policies, and campaigning for good ones, that I found it difficult to step back and reflect on broader questions of political values, action, and change. 

That was — and is — my goal as both a teacher and a scholar. I found that the best way for me to do that was by grounding myself in political theory. Actually, from the beginning, I pursued the field of environmental political theory — though that term was almost unheard of when I was a grad student and there were only a handful of prominent scholars (including Robyn Eckersley, John Dryzek, and Tim Luke) writing in this vein. Like so much work in environmental politics, mine is inherently interdisciplinary. 

I’ve spent most of my academic career at Humboldt State University, which is located in a very remote community in far-Northern California. It’s a beautiful place amidst wild ocean beaches and redwood forests and it takes at least five hours of driving to get anywhere most outsiders have ever heard of (like San Francisco). But it’s a place that has long attracted students and others passionate about social change. I mostly teach undergraduates, which I love in part because it challenges me to think about how and why our work matters to those who are rarely interested in academic careers. But at the same time, an attraction of editing this journal is the opportunity to support and occasionally mentor younger scholars publishing important new work.

b. What are the good things about Env Pol that won’t change?

There are many! We’ve got a fabulously talented, committed, and experienced editorial team. Each of the editors — Graeme Hayes, Sikina Jinnah, Tony Zito — handles submissions in their areas of expertise, but we also work closely on all key decisions for the journal. Marit Hammond and Phil Catney have been strengthening the reviews section and Neil Carter has long been editing shorter “profiles.”  And while many academics tell horror stories about reviews they’ve received on a submission to a journal, I’ve been consistently impressed with the thoughtful and thorough engagement that the vast majority of our reviewers provide. The journal simply couldn’t go on without their unheralded and uncompensated service.

Chris Rootes has served as editor-in-chief for the past decade, and has been an editor for twice that length of time — we wouldn’t be in the very strong position we are now without his dedication and hard work on behalf of the journal and the field. I’m on a steep learning curve, but I’m doing it at a point where our readership has been growing rapidly and we’re established as a top-ranked journal. We are also known as an ecumenical journal — there’s no ‘party line’ — and that’s vital to ensuring that we can foster a diverse and vibrant intellectual space. 

c. In addition to maintaining those, what is the long-term vision for Env Pol – what will it be doing that it hasn’t yet

Last summer, the journal hosted a workshop for our upcoming thirtieth anniversary — reflecting both backward and forward on the field and the journal itself. What I took away from our discussions included enthusiasm for at least two vital areas of change. 

The first was a deep commitment to recognizing and amplifying voices that have often not been heard — or heard enough — in the journal. A key element of this has been a revision to our ‘aims and scope’ to explicitly welcome articles from and about the Global South. While we’ve published some excellent papers that do so, the journal’s orientation had long been focused on the industrialized and postindustrial countries of the North. That is changing. The workshop also highlighted other critical perspectives and voices that are vital to environmental politics but haven’t had a strong enough presence in the journal. We will do better. 

The second was an eagerness to experiment with new formats; not every good idea needs to be published as an 8000 word article. So we’re considering some debates or discussion and perhaps encouraging other approaches that go beyond the typical research article. We want to be creative about new ways to reach new audiences. That is not only reflected in what we publish in the journal, but the work you do to help build on and amplify that through social media.    

d. What changes can people expect to see in the next year?

We’ll be recruiting new members to our editorial team. A serious commitment to diversifying the voices and perspectives in the journal requires much more than just a change to the ‘aims and scope’ and we need talented new editors to help make that happen. We’ll be putting out a call soon and I encourage people to contact me if they’re interested. Relatedly, we’ll be expanding the range of expertise on our editorial advisory board and tapping in to them more regularly as a source of inspiration and guidance. 

You’ll also see our thirtieth anniversary special issue, which emerged from the workshop I mentioned. It will include some self-critical assessments of not only the journal but the field of environmental politics at this key historical juncture. While a year is a surprisingly short time frame for journal publishing (articles that are already available online will not only fill up the remaining journal issues of 2020, but spill out well into 2021!), I’m hopeful that you’ll also begin to see evidence of some of the new formats I mentioned. 

e. What advice would you offer to academics – at any stage of their careers – who were thinking of submitting an article to Env Pol?

Send us your best work! If you’ve got questions about whether something you’re working on might fit the journal, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or other members of our team. Really.

In many ways the worst part about editing this journal is having to say ‘no’ to so many pieces, into which authors have poured their labor and creativity. A key way to help us get to ‘yes’ is not simply to do excellent scholarship, but to make the significance of your findings for our broader understanding of environmental politics absolutely clear and integral. 

f. Any closing comments?

Most of what I said in response to your earlier questions could have been written back in early March, when I first considered applying for this position. Yet in so many ways, that world has been permanently altered. From a journal perspective, CoVID-19 has had dramatically unequal impacts on who has the time and resources to complete and submit academic work and who is available to review it. We’re working to adapt and ensure that we’re not reinforcing these inequities. #BlackLivesMatter has sparked a global reckoning with racial justice that must be more deeply imbued in our understanding of environmental politics. And the current economic depression has both huge environmental ramifications and — more narrowly — potentially substantial implications for the economic viability of journal publishing models. 

With so much disruption and uncertainty, I have to admit having had second thoughts about taking on any big new commitment now — including editing this journal. But those of us immersed in environmental politics have long recognized that the status quo was permeated with what Rob Nixon has described as ‘slow violence.’ And I’m confident that the directions for the journal that I’ve sketched here will — along with the good will of our editorial team and so many others — help us to rise to the challenges of the moment we’re living in. 

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