World Environmental Policy


Edward Goldstein

It's difficult to get a child to do something they don't like at the time, even if it is in their best interest for the future. Getting a government to act in the interest of the environment can be even more difficult. Even when action is taken it is often far less than is required. The reasons for this include an shortsighted economic view, and a requirement to leaders pander to the whims of those who vote. In the US these factors have contributed to a lack of regulation of a number of large polluters. In the rest of the world, the symptoms of shortsightedness are even more blatant, and have just as much potential for disaster.

In the US, there is a system for environmental protection, and several important environmental regulations on industry exist ranging from the amount of organic material that can evaporate from drying paint to the amount of CO­ 2 that a truck can emit. Often, though, there is an unwillingness to legislate change that will put any pressure on industry, especially during the Bush Administration's time in office. For example, the Bush administration has favored an approach that encourages industry to reduce emission voluntarily. By allowing industry to regulate itself, the Bush Administration is almost assuring that there will be no regulation at all. Recently 10 states, including New York and California sued the national government for the EPA's apparent decision not to regulate the CO 2 ­ output of power plants. While this is a move in the right direction, it is also indicative of how difficult it is to place the environment over business.

There are also a number of loopholes in the US's environmental policy and sources of pollution that simply don't get addressed. SUV's for instance, don't have to meet certain gas mileage requirements because they can be classified as light trucks, and lawnmowers produce much more pollution per gallon of gas than a car because they don't have catalytic converters.

If it's difficult to get one sector of business to agree to limiting emissions, then getting the whole world to do so must be impossible, right? In fact, with the Kyoto Protocol, the only major greenhouse gas producer that would not agree to reducing emissions in the future was the US. The reasons given by senators for opposing ratification of the treaty was largely centered on the fact that the restrictions on developing countries were to be fewer than those on industrialized nations.

The reason the Kyoto Protocol had weaker restrictions for developing nations is that without freely using fossil fuel it is difficult for them to industrialize. It is also a difficult to tell a developing nation that because those of us in the industrialized world have put too much CO 2 in the atmosphere, they cannot use it as freely as we did.

As bad as the US is about emissions, it has environmental regulations on other activities. Forests are relatively well protected here, and the regulations that go along with hazardous materials are sufficient. In many developing countries the situation is just the opposite: greenhouse emissions are very low, but regulation is too. Because of this, developing countries can ravage the local environment through deforestation and the use of chemicals such as cyanide for gold mining.

So, is there any hope for the future? Nothing is for certain but there are going to be changes for sure. Even if the Kyoto protocol was adopted by all nations and adhered to strictly, it would probably have a small affect on the likely global warming to compared to what we already have in store for us. But this is no reason to abandon our efforts to reduce greenhouse gasses. Rather this information should be a clue to how critical the situation is, and hopefully be a reason to do something about the it.

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last updated 3/22/06