Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Paul K. Gellert

Committee Members

Alex A. Moulton, Lois Presser, Douglas H. Constance


Large dairy farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), have turned to anaerobic digesters as the industry is increasingly pressured to find ways to lower their greenhouse gas emissions. Digesters are machines that turn animal waste from CAFOs into electricity and fuel which are then sold as “credits” in California’s market based climate change mitigation programs such as cap and trade and the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) program. However, this dissertation not only challenges the assertion that digesters are “green,” but also that these programs are doing what they claim to do in a deregulated and re-regulated neoliberal state. CAFOs produce billions of pounds of animal waste annually that pollutes the environment and sources of drinking water for rural communities. Using interviews and comparative historical analysis, I show how despite the many problems surrounding digesters, they became the go-to climate solution for CAFOs. My goal is not just to show how capitalists use technology historically, but how they need the state to fund, build, and “lock-in” contested technology. Neoliberalism strengthened a state/science/industry nexus by encouraging public-private partnerships to develop digester technologies for use in the private sector. My findings indicate that the state was not only instrumental in the research and development of every type of digester technology used by the private sector today, but they were also central in creating the markets for them to profit from that technology. In the state of Wisconsin, which is the second largest dairy producing state in the US behind California, digesters that were used in state sponsored market based programs decades before are now being repurposed to spur on what the dairy industry is calling “a manure gold rush” for programs in California. But if states have been encouraged since the 1980s to “think like a market,” who is thinking like a state? In California’s marketized environmental program, markets themselves have stepped in as regulator. The outcome of this arrangement is a system that marches forward in the name of climate progress, yet no one can be held accountable for its failures, particularly related to environmental injustice.

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