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Pulling The Plug On Mother Earth Essay

, Research Paper Whether it be through intensified media attention, or due to the efforts of prominent scientists and other members of society, we have become increasingly

, Research Paper

Whether it be through intensified media attention, or due to the efforts of

prominent scientists and other members of society, we have become increasingly

aware of the detrimental effects that technological advances in industry and

agriculture have on the global environment. However, as Carl Sagan points out in

?Pulling the Plug on Mother Earth? awareness is not enough, nor is

society?s response to the catastrophic implications of environmental pollution

rapid enough. Slowness to implement sound strategies are in part due to the fact

that the threats we face are nebulous, since they come in the form of particles

of invisible gases and radioactivity, and in part because response to pollution

appears to be so costly at individual, governmental and corporate levels. It

appears that great material loss, as well as visual manifestation, have been the

only ways to galvanize action towards altering and limiting technologies so that

adverse chemicals and substances are no longer belched into the environment. For

example, Sagan is right on the mark when he indicates that it took the reality

that CFCs were destroying the sensitive but protective ozone layer to encourage

large chemical companies to begin a gradual phase-out of these substances, even

when scientists had already discovered the terrible effects of the chemical

combination. Sagan says that to slowly stop usage of such obviously dangerous

substances is not enough, for even with current conditions, it is estimated that

the damaged ozone layer will require at least 100 years to repair itself. In the

interim, we are risking danger to the food chain, global warming, and increased

cases of skin cancer. Rather than risk these catastrophes, Sagan calls for the

immediate phase-out of CFCs, as well as to improve energy usage, plant trees,

and curb the population explosion as supplemental methods to improve the

environment. While the cause and effect relationship between technological

advances and pollution have certainly influenced public outcry towards change,

and influenced corporations to alter their poisoning mechanisms, the immediate

change that Sagan calls for will necessarily meet with resistance. Sagan?s own

?revelation? about mankind?s reticence to act unless literally ?under

the gun? remains a valid point. Destruction of the ozone layer and incidents

such as the Exxon oil spill in Alaska are indeed enormous calamities, and we

have been cautioned by at least one reputable scientist as to the risks we take

by delaying reform, but these events are still not great enough to spawn greater

action than handling the immediate situation. It is one thing to agree that car

travel pollutes the environment, and to see dense smog in the Los Angeles Basin,

but millions will still get in their vehicles tomorrow to drive their jobs.

Current technologies available have been incorporated into lifestyle at a very

practical level. The large cogs of public and private interests also turn slowly

due to this infrastructure of product usage which has become so firmly

entrenched. Decisions that were made decades ago, such as automobile transit

phasing out train transit, and the manufacture of energy through the building of

nuclear plants, effect and influence us right now at very fundamental levels.

Just as the ozone layer will take decades to repair itself, society and public

acceptance requires time to shift and modify as well, as Sagan does well to

point out. The challenge to orchestrate the changes necessary for environmental

improvement are further complicated in at least two ways. First, there are

conflicting viewpoints as to the role government plays to influence private

industry to replace technologically damaging processes with more ecologically

sound technologies. Second, to phase out current technologies is a burden many

corporations are unwilling to take on; implementation of new technologies

adversely affects profit margins. Third, governmental failures in policy,

according to Morgensen and Eisenstodt in ?Profits are for Rape and Pillage,?

create a situation where corporations have no incentive to move towards

pollution control. Implementation of governmental governmental policies and

programs designed to improve the environment fail because there is no incentive

for legislators to determine the costs and benefits of their legislation, as

there is a lack of appropriate experience in the matter. Legislators focus only

on the appearance of implementing solutions for the popular vote, then allow

their decisions to be clouded by lobbyists and political maneuverings. The

resulting regulatory standards and technological mandates inappropriately

micromanage the private sector, limiting their creativity to allocate resources

to improve and change. Improving the environment is seen as conflicting with

growth in business, and it becomes more of a risk than an opportunity. For

example, new regulatory standards have to be met on national, rather regional

levels, and technologies are mandated without the expertise to determine their

practicality and availability. Morgenson and Eisenstodt indicate that it is

incorrect to believe that increased governmental spending and regulations are

the only solutions to the problems of a polluted planet. They call for the

government to set financial and other incentives, such as taxation and

Emission-Control Incentives (ECIs) so that producers and consumers can factor

these considerations into their decision-making processes; they then call for

the government to step away and allow the entrepreneurs and businesses that have

the proper expertise to apply the incentives. They offer examples of successful

ECI implementation in cities throughout the nation, asking why this type

methodology cannot be implemented on a grander scale. However, the immense

problem regarding the lobbying and bipartisan influences on the government

cannot be ignored. Morgenson and Eisenstodt do not provide a mechanism to

counteract this dilemma, to make way for their solution. Neither do they offer

an explanation as to how powerful governmentally-favored industries, such as the

automobile and nuclear industries, which are responsible for large amounts of

pollution would suddenly be open to scrutiny under Morgensen and Eisenstodt?s

system. Clearly, some sort of interim activity seems necessary to unshield these

intrinsically polluted areas. In addition, monetary incentives under Morgenson

and Eisenstodt?s ?program? take on a punitive aspect which may serve to

create a climate where cleverness is devoted towards masking the dilemma rather

than contributing to repairing the problem. Depending on the craftiness of

parties concerned, the ECI incentive system might enable a merry-go-round of

pollution-shifting within a certain region. And if the government has ?stepped

back? 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 government?s 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. 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 Commoner?s 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

Commoner?s 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.

Sagan?s example of CPC?s 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.

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