Essay, Research Paper: Economy And Environment


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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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