Research essay - Effluent charges the best way for the American government

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uppladdat: 2002-08-01
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Do you want your city to be constantly embedded in a cloud of gray exhaust fumes and industrial pollution, like Los Angeles? Sadly, our environment is getting worse, and even though the pessimistic scenario may not be experienced during our lifetime, it can become a dark reality for future generations. The problems started unfolding, one by one, in the industrial revolution of 18th century England, where smokestacks were added to the urban skylines. Today, there are many million polluting exhaust pipes on cars, discharging unhealthy fumes into the air, not to mention the toxic substances factories dump in the water. Although new cars are forced to exhaust 90% less pollution . Besides the cars, big industries holds great responsibility for the air pollution. No one alone can claim the right of neither the air nor the water, but practically everyone can pollute them.

Among the world’s countries, USA is by far the biggest perpetrator of environmental misdeeds, polluting much more than any other country. The consequences of this are global, but the measures must nontheless be taken on a national level. This essay will primarily focus on how to go about taking measures to decrease the pollution in the USA that will improve the global environment.

This essay will also give a brief background to the comprehensive problems of the environment, and suggest ways to approach them efficiently. While extreme conservationalists want us to take three steps back for the sake of nature itself, others realize that the upcoming situation will be harmful for man himself, which gives another anthropocentric reason to heal the world. Independent of which reason seems most appealing, the environment needs a push in the right direction. Before looking at the carte blanche of the history book of the future, a short retrospect would be in place.

A brief history behind the destruction of the environment
The industrial revolution constitute the definite token of environmental ignorance, however other cut-off points can be outlined. In the 17th century, French philosopher René Descartes stated our dominance over the mechanical nature, Isaac Newton’s natural laws were applied on the received wisdom of the world, and in the 19th century influential German politician Karl Marx among other things alienated man from nature. These are only three examples of a change when the perception regarding our planet started. In the backwash of the liberal left movements in the late 1960s, the American government finally started paying attention to the severe environmental infringements that were taking place. President Nixon enacted the Clean Air Amendments in 1970, and two years later supplemented them with the Water Pollution Control Act. This became a long-awaited counterbalance to the too dominating industries of the world’s biggest polluter.

There are at least two reasons why America holds this embarrassing title. First, because the country is relatively young and does not have a long history to lean against, there has never been much of a mutual respect between man and his surroundings. This made the technological leap into industrialism, and indirectly capitalism, even more frictionless than for countries with older traditions. This points to the next reason, namely, the great capitalism and the invisible hand of the market. A strong market leads to a less influential government, which makes environmental improvements difficult.

The people, the companies or the environment - who shall start?
Now the core issues of the problem are identified and given a causal explanation on how they started. Now let us focus on the present and put Descartes, Newton and Marx aside. It is not fair to continue to blame big thinkers for ideas that later came to result in unwanted side-effects. Should we instead blame the Big Businesses? Representatives for them would argue that they only operate on the basis of what the people demand. Does this mean that the people are to be held responsible for all the dirty factories, the extensive oil spills in the big oceans, and again, the rusty polluting exhaust pipes on cars? Most certainly, no. Individuals are bound to follow the mainstream of choices available on the free market. In this context, it looks like the market and the people together share the same problem, in an intricate and intertwined system of what appears to be a case of catch 22.

Luckily, there is a third actor in the issue of American environment. While companies must act to make profit (otherwise, they will be crudely knocked out of business), and people have to have a positive cash flow, the government has the benefit of allotting great funds and regulating society where it needs regulation. Although the government (in democratic countries) is democratically appointed by the people through an electorial process, it is the only actor that can afford to think ecologically instead of purely economically.

Government is thus the channel for improvement, but in the case of the United States government, many obstacles remain. The division of powers and the complex pluralism of government, intentionally created by the framing fathers of the Constitution, make the political system a rigid bureaucracy in which it is tough to put the environment on top of the agenda. (Edwards & Wayne, 1992, p. 192) Another problem is that the American Congress lacks the elementary knowledge needed to make adequate and well-balanced decisions. Experts in the environmental field must contribute to educating politicians (Barbour, 1980, p. 111). Moreover, according to the Constitution, an American president is elected for a fixed term of four years. Since he needs to produce concrete results, he is forced to prioritize smaller, more visible programs instead of huge projects like the environment. The last big problem is lobbying and donation performed by private interests, with the purpose to influence legistators and appointees in the political sphere. This simply gives the politicians good reasons not to deal with the environment.

Despite the obstacles, the government bares the responsibility to bring up the issue of environment to discussion and from there execute a good program for the realization of the goals set up. For the government, there are a couple of different ways to reach the desired goal, whether it is less pollution, higher public awareness, or a change in consumer behaviour in favor of the environment. All of these have one thing in common: that environmental benefits must be translated into dollars.

Can the environment be measured in dollars?
Environmentalists might claim that an economic view combined with technological measures has a “dehumanizing impact” (Barbour, 1980, p. 41) Instead it is necessary to speak the same language in order to get everyone on the same page. Money is pure substance in the discussion - a transcendental environmental faith does not hold up to political or economic scrutiny. Again, the environmental reforms should mainly have the purpose to gain man, and not the intrinsic nature independent of man.

Economic incentives appear to be the most pertinent way for a government to force companies to act more environmentally, because in reality, the companies simply adapt to the changed set of rules, only caring about profit. This view is cynical, but not very controversial. For example, the government can easily adjust prices on raw materials so that recycling and reusage saves more money than it does today.

Another measure that seems to be apt, in the time of “pay per play,” and “pay per view,” is “pay per pollution.” In other, more scientific terms, a system with effluent charges and correlating proportional costs will accommodate to the interests of everyone involved. Some of the benefits with effluent charges are:

• The system gives the companies a clear set of rules, a good economic incentive and freedom in deciding how much to pollute, how to decrease the amount of pollution, and how much importance to give the issue. It is easy for the government to adapt the charge amout to meet the desired target pollution level, and easy for the companies to calculate the pollution in the budget(Barbour, 1980, p. 143).
• The effluent charges enable regional strategies, i.e. higher charge in big cities than in rural areas is a considerable scenario (Barbour, 1980, p. 143).
• It imposes an incentive for economical research for companies that want a long-term ecological strategy. Technology can easily make investments more effective.
• When the government has enacted the system of effluent charges, it is up to the companies to find the best possible solution according to their interests and preferences. Today, the best possible way for companies to keep down pollution (and hence costs) is to invest in new, environmelta technology. It is the final measurable result that matters, not how the company reaches it.
The system needs to be lean and thought out before it is put into effect. Enormous amounts of money can be saved if it is properly designed from the beginning.

Technology as beneficial force
To mention pertinent technology as an important part of the improvement system this essay suggests, is most certainly to invite aversion from those who think technology is single-handedly responsible for the damaged environment. “You can’t fight fire with fire,” they say. Their view is further that technology will just drag us down a dark, inevitable pitfall, instead of pulling us up from the poor environmental situation we have today. On the other side of the spectra, there are optimistic advocates for technology that depict a future utopia based on the machines and space cars (Barbour, 1980, p. 39). That implies no more menial work or slavery for man. Then we have the third category that neither consider technology as an evil threat nor a righteous saviour. Instead, technology is to them just a means used to fullfill other goals, and must be put into a real context to make sense. Technology is simply what you make of it; it does not have a will of its own.
With the right incentives, fire could very well fight fire, since it includes the most efficient solutions. An example of technology used as benefactor for the environment is pollution filters implemented to decrease the output from engines and machines. The throughput of pollutants can also be decreased, possibly by a decrease in the total production.

Governments need additional motivation to help the environment
Economy, government and technology are thus the three main pillars that needs to work together to support environmental improvement. All of them have tight connections with each other, but government is the only one that has power enough to initiate a change. One company alone cannot start to make expensive environmental changes, but if the same improved framework also applies to the competitors in the industry, the market situation is equally good or bad as before.

As mentioned before, lobbying is an important instrument used by the strong industrial forces. To level the score, the environmental zealots can exert heavy propaganda on influential legislators, or just take the shortcut to the Oval Office through media. This is how the people can take concrete measures to affect their environment, and the best way to get the viscious governmeltal mechanism moving. Unfortunately, there may need to be some serious environmental disaster before the chain of events can start, even though it would be better to be undermine it with adequate groundwork before it can happen.
Because of the freedom it gives the companies and the simplicity in regulation, effluent pollution among with matching charges is the best incentive that the American governments can impose. This is the conclusion in this argument. People who think economy an...

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