Pulling The Plug On Mother Earth

.. ” as Morgensen and Eisenstodt recommend, who is to ensure that these policies and procedures are adhered to ? Morgensen and Eisenstodt must also overcome an additional hurdle – convincing the government that its programs are as ineffective as they say. The governments environmental programs are working well, according to EPA administrator William K. Reilly in “The Green Thumb of Capitalism: The Environmental Benefits of Sustainable Growth.” Solid governmental programs have been developed for the improvement of the environment, indicates Reilly; several situations quantify its success. According to Reilly, the government is creating adequate market incentives to curb pollution, encourage energy efficiency and waste reduction through low-cost programs, in conjunction with the private sector.

To his credit, Reilly cites some powerful programs which may make at least short-term environmental and economic success: bioremediation, telecommuting, curtailing emissions and reusing resources. However, as Morgensen and Eisenstodt indicate, Reilly seems to follow a predictable governmental pattern to avoid discussion of the”favored” trucking and nuclear industries (industries with notoriously powerful lobbying abilities, according to Morgensen and Eisenstodt), among others. Rather, he focuses on the aftermath of the Exxon-Valdez cleanup catastrophe. It is not only curious that a catastrophe could be listed as a success in the larger scheme of environmental issues, it also does not address the aspect of making a corporation more accountable for its failures, or even discuss what changes have been made in the oil industry to prevent such catastrophes from occurring again. Additionally, the idea that accounting for the “national well-being” be measured by some other bean-counting system besides the GNP and NNP really avoids considerations of common sense.

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For example, if discontinuing usage of CFCs will enable the restoration of the ozone layer, it follows that proper policy-making would include the discontinuance of CFCs. Bean-counting does not provide for this logical relationship. Reilly espouses the thought that capitalism is not a threat to the environment; he indicates that its mechanisms actually encourage decisions that respect environmental values. He evidences that the situation in the United States is exemplary in comparison to third-world counties in South America and in the former USSR. These are interesting observations, but they do not counter the observation made by Barry Commoner in “Economic Growth and Environmental Quality: How to Have Both.” Commoner points out that nearly all of the postwar technologies which have caused large-scale pollution were developed and put into use in the capitalist countries first; then, driven by profit maximization and market domination, these same technologies were sold to socialist countries.

Intrinsic greed of the capitalism system is really then more of a threat to the environment than other political systems. Commoner would agree with Morgensen/Eisenstodt and Reilly that economic growth and a cleaner environment are not mutually exclusive. The question of how to improve the environment while still enabling balanced or sustained economic growth, remains. Commoner indicates that this balance is possible, if we carefully plan ways to use available technology to spur economic growth and solve ecological problems at the same time. He indicates that the current method of controlling emissions of toxic substances antagonizes incorrect beliefs that ecology and economy and mutually exclusive elements. He shows that the main reason for an increase in pollution is due to postwar changes in the technology of production. For example, our refuse piles have dramatically increased due to an increase in disposable goods, synthetic products are used in place of natural, decomposable ones, and the amount of energy and fuel has increased dramatically to produce goods. A shift towards decomposable goods would continue economic growth, be decrease garbage growth. Commoner indicates that as time passes, an increasing amount of capital will be spent on fuel and energy to produce goods.

Commoner explains that it is a long-term incentive to find alternative sources of fuel, such as sunlight, that will not deplete at the rate fossil fuels do, and after an initial investment, take very little monetary capital to maintain. Commoner suggests that this move must go hand-in-hand with current technology, in part because technology depends on its successful integration into the existing system. It also is important to achieve integration among major economic sectors, such as agriculture, auto manufacturing, and the oil industry. If changing technology is incorporated into current production methodologies, large capital expenditures can be minimized or folded into the overall business plan in a sensible way. How to properly change the way that industrial decisions are made, especially by the “sacred cow” of auto manufacturing, is not clear. Commoner recommends that an investment policy which is social rather than under private control should be implemented.

The policy-makers would choose the technology to be used to produce goods. This suggests that many more individuals could assess whether a technology was actually useful or moral to society. However, this would be improbable in terms of actual implementation in at least four ways. First, although the U.S. can be said to be a distinct form of socialized capitalism, the Commoners procedure would most likely illicit outrage in terms of its invasiveness of the corporation.

Additionally, the recommendation could be ignored by other countries because there is no enforcement mechanism. Second, even if Commoners recommendations were well-received, there is a problem with technology selection in that there will be cases where an apparently benign technology will be embraced, only to find out that it is harmful in some way. Sagans example of CPCs is a case in point. Third, if the plan was implemented, the question remains as to who would decide on the technologies, and what mechanism would ensure that these persons would not be influenced by some lobbying power. Fourth, the reality exists that some companies would be unable to afford the costs of transforming to the designated technology.

Commoner offers the suggestion that the money that is used to fund war and preparation for war should be funneled towards the transformation. How this would be practically implemented is not apparent. It is apparent, however, that some policy consistent with the goals of decreasing pollutants and economic growth must be forthcoming. If we do not implement sound strategies incorporating these two facets together, perhaps economic concerns will become secondary, as Carl Sagan believes they now are.