Steps Towards an Ecosociety:
Dealing with Air Pollution
By: Jonathan Roitman
For: Dr. Rao
Course: Poli 385/2
Due: December 4, 1995
I.D. #: 3071340
This essay identifies and explains the problem of pollution facing humanity today. It will also propose one of the first ideas which could more effectively limit air pollution, Emission Credit Trading. This can be seen as one of the first steps in the development of an ecosociety. The notion of a viable ecosociety has created considerable problems in terms of deciding the most effective and efficient policies to be implemented. Air pollution has become one of the most serious environmental problems here at home, and throughout the rest of the world. Air pollution is also perhaps one of the more politically sensitive problems because of the numerous economic, environmental and health implications involved.
A key step in the policy-making process is to define the problem to be remedied. If we can not understand the problem, how are we to know what needs to be fixed. Unfortunately, implementing policies on air pollution has the politically undesirable effect of having extensive economic consequences on all sectors of the economy. Therefore, those policies which lead to the development of an ecosociety must be aimed at having the greatest environmental impact while creating minimal economic distortions.
For the purpose of this essay, pollution shall be identified as follows "...the deliberate or accidental introduction to the environment of contaminants, in the form of either wastes or products " (Bryner, 10). This essay will deal with the problem of air pollution. Air pollutants come from heavy industry, fumes from automobiles, jet planes and the like. When speaking of the automobile alone "...each gallon of gas burned releases 22 pounds of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere...the car is the single largest contributor to global warming " (Rifkin 179). Although the majority of the problem areas are in the developing world, these areas can affect the entire world. The atmosphere is not confined to borders like the land. Pollution spreads beyond the borders of any country, and as such, no one region can solve the problem alone. In some developing nations, there are areas that people and animals cannot live in for extended periods of time.
One visitor to the Romanian 'black town' of Cops Mica noted that "the trees and grass are so stained by soot that they look as if they had been soaked in ink." A local doctor reported that even horses can stay only for two years in the town; "then they have to be taken away, or else they will die" (Gore 81).
There are many reasons that pollution has come to the foreground of twentieth century politics. The most important is the effect it has on human life. This does not place the effects that it has on our natural environment as secondary, however, it seems that unless we as human beings are directly affected, we tend to look the other way.
The EPA's 1990 report on urban air quality trends estimates that over 100 million Americans live in areas where pollution exceeds federal air quality standards, as well air pollution is responsible for more then 50,000 to 60,000 premature deaths each year (Bryner, 3)
Air pollution is also the main cause of global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer. If the earth's temperature rises by a mere five degrees, the resulting catastrophe would be immeasurable. It is important to realize that global warming is a direct result of the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere.
"A greater variety of greenhouse gases are created by a myriad of essential human activities, including the generation of power, industrial production, transportation, agriculture and forestry. Mitigating climate change will require major changes in life-style, especially those that consume large amounts of fossil fuels" (Vig and Kraft 313).
We can see that no matter where we look, air pollution has come to occupy a major part in our daily lives. The only way to reduce the quantity of poisonous emissions to the air would require a drastic change in the way we live.
Due to inefficient regulatory policies, the different types of air pollution pose severe problems. Air pollution occurs when "gases and particles are combined or altered in such a way that they degrade the air and form substances that are harmful to humans, animals, and other living things (Bryner, 41)." Some air pollution is a result of natural processes such as forest fires, volcanoes or wind blown dust. Conversely, the majority of pollutants are the direct result of human interaction and misuse of our environment. An example of this is the loss of the whales, who for centuries lived in the St. Lawrence region of the Atlantic Ocean, but had to migrate due to the "...polluted water emptying out of the Great Lakes. They are said to be contaminated with toxic chemicals at concentration levels high enough that they are technically classified as hazardous waste" (Keller, 262).
"...the atmosphere will...need to be regulated as a global trust if the human community is to entertain any possibility of addressing the problems of global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, and air pollution. In June 1988, the prime ministers of Norway and Canada proposed a "Law of the Air" treaty to protect the atmosphere from global warming and ozone depletion.[The end result being]...the transition to renewable energy sources, and the research and development of alternatives to CFCs" (Rifkin 318).
Air pollution and pollution in general have reached such alarming levels because of human neglect and ignorance. They have been allowed to perpetuate due to the lack of clearly defined property rights within the ecosphere (natural resources and the environment). We must realize that individual actions as well as those of large and /or small corporations affect not only the lifestyle, but the quality of life of all organisms on the planet; human or not. "The corporation's inherent tendency to maximize profits by mass-production and technological efficiency clashes with the desire to limit material growth and preserve nature" (Arnopoulos 150). We must recognize the consequences our actions have on the environment or we are doomed to keep on repeating our mistakes.
Another example could be what has become known as the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. "Perhaps the largest forced migration in American history was the mass departure from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska and other plains during the period of the early 1930's... (Gore 71). The Dust Bowl resulted in huge sand storms as the farmland of the above mentioned areas became completely devastated as a result of the overuse of its agricultural ability. It was pushed to far, and the exploitation finally ended in rendering the land useless for decades.
The protection of the environment has become a major concern in all levels of political, social and economic arenas. As we enter the next millennium we must ask ourselves what type of environment do we want to live in? How do we want our children to grow up? The practical answers to these questions are difficult, but not the theoretical ones. Theoretically, the perfect world is one in which we do not have to fear pollution, we do not have to be afraid of the water we drink, or the air we breath. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world and we have no choice but to worry.
The idyllic world outlined above is what ecologists and social scientists alike hope for: an ecosociety. This ecosociety is sought after by so-called Green Parties. There are six key strategies which they employ (through different tactical means) in order to achieve their policies. They are: to think globally by acting locally. The reason for this is to attempt to spread some sort of global awareness, but get citizens involved at a local level, hence having them feel that they are playing a key role and are important in the policy making process. Green parties also advocate more ecological education, and a more sustainable economy. This notion of a more sustainable economy can be achieved the following ways: conservation of resources, slow down material production, and lower industrial output. What this all amounts to is moving the tertiary and quaternary sectors of the economy to the fore, and eliminating the primary and secondary (to a literally subsistence level). Furthermore, they want to get human beings to recognize the highly spiritual life that they are capable of living and not the hedonistic material one they are living. By the same token, they want to increase green spaces and partake in long range planning thereby helping to keep the earth alive as long as possible (Arnopoulos, 92). By concentrating on the above six strategies, Green Parties believe that it may be possible for people to change from a consumed to a conserved society. A society in which we live in harmony with nature, not in dominance over it.
As we look back today and see the damage that has been done to the environment, we wonder what went wrong. That question could be answered as such: "The thoughtless and shortsighted transformation of scientific knowledge into technical know-how has given mankind too much power too soon to be able to use it wisely (Arnopoulos 80)". With these technological advances comes the inevitable depletion and deterioration of the earth. Depletion, in the sense that we are undoubtedly going to run out of natural resources at our present rate of consumption. Deterioration, in the sense of all the pollutants which we constantly spew into our environment , where our children and theirs will have to live.
Public opinion polls show wide spread support for stronger and more aggressive measures aimed at solving pollution problems and protecting our natural resources. These sentiments have become so pervasive that well over the majority of people believe that "protecting the environment is so important that requirements and standards cannot be too high, and continuing environmental improvements must be made regardless of cost (Mitchell, 85)." This mass popularization of environmentalism has had the effect of increasing demands for action being made on our political process and leaders.
In many industries, air pollution is a by-product of normal economic production. In some such cases government authorities have restricted firms' production of effluents. This restriction is often imposed as a maximum rate of flow at which a firm may emit pollutants. This system in which emissions are managed on a source to source basis has been labeled one of "Command-and-Control (Vig and Kraft, 52)." However, empirical studies have shown that costs under Command-and-Control mechanisms are as much as twenty times as expensive as the least-cost market oriented mechanism that achieves the same environmental quality. This discrepancy in efficiency is due to the high costs associated with regulating the C&C method since allocations must be made on a firm to firm basis. As well, even when all sources are in compliance with technological based standards, there is no guarantee that the sum of emissions will produce quality air.
Recently, there is growing consensus that the methods of control do not work on a uniform basis in terms of addressing different locations and types of pollutants with the most damaging health impacts. Presently, standards refer to ambient (outdoor) concentrations where measurements can most easily be made, most often from the tops of buildings. However, in North America we spend under 10% of our time outdoors, and even less atop buildings. As negligible as this may appear to be, the exposure to pollutants which one receives varies greatly from being indoors, at street levels or on top of a high-rise. With particular pollutants, as little as 25% of total exposure is due to outdoor exposure. This is due to many of the air pollutants (environmental tobacco smoke, household chemicals...) which in terms of total levels are minimal, but because of the quantities we are exposed to have the greatest impact on human health (Saunders, 277-8).
The implicit assumption underlining ECT is that health damages from pollution depend only on the effects of emissions on widespread ambient concentrations. Local effects are for the most part ignored. Consequently, sources of pollution that may have substantial effects on a local level but a negligible effect on ambient ones are not taken into account. With this in mind Emission Credit Trading could be considerably improved, in terms of the impact it is to have on health and environmental conservation, by shifting from concentration to exposure levels (Saunders, 276).
There is also the question of legitimate enforcement. The arbitrary nature of enforcement in such a system as C&C creates an environment in which polluters have an incentive to be rent seeking competitors. And with the status of our political and administrative offices this can produce the perception of favoritism or in some cases corruption. Since rent seeking is economically inefficient, and it increases the publics (already high) cynicism about government, a decentralized Emission Credit Trading program would minimize these problems. ECT programs have been advanced as a major improvement over command-and-control pollution abatement programs. This is one of the first pieces of proposed legislation toward an environmentally friendly shift in politics. The entire concept of Emission Credit Trading is bringing to the fore the notion that we do live in a sort of 'Global Village' and that the "... importance of a system is proportional to the degree it can affect its environment... the sensitivity of a system depends on how much it is affected by its environment. If the sensitivity is high, the system is dependent on the environment; if low, independent" (Arnopoulos 45). We are now realizing that we cannot act completely independently from nature, because we are all related. We cannot be sustained without nature. The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency went as far as to proclaim transferable discharge permits "the most important innovation in environmental policy for the next decade" (Rifkin, 66).
As previously mentioned, the major contributor to air pollution is the automobile. Therefore, any thought of policy dealing with the elimination or reduction of air pollution should concentrate, but not be limited to the automobile. In dealing with the automobile in terms of reducing it's impact on air pollution incentives must be given for manufacturers to reduce pollutant emissions from their vehicles and the costs associated with the pollution created from driving must be transferred to those people operating the vehicle.
To increase manufacturers compliance with the production of less harmful vehicles, a combination of averaging and trading is the most effective solution. This system is very similar to that of Emission Credit Trading in that manufactures will be given a fleet wide average standard to meet (ie: their sales-weight emissions can't exceed the average). This average can then be met in two manners. By averaging emissions within their fleet, through methods such as installing pollution reduction equipment on their vehicle or by altering their sales mix towards more fuel efficient vehicles. Or the manufacturer can trade emission allocations with other manufactures in the same manner as ECTs (Bryner, 176). It is important to note here that this is a different proposal as to what is already in existence.
The second method by which automobile pollution can be reduced focuses on internalizing the costs of pollution into the driving experience. The most effective and efficient manner is in the development of electronic scanning devices that would locate a vehicle at suitable points along the road and then monthly billings would be sent to the owner based on the vehicle's contribution to congestion. To increase fairness (due to different emission levels of vehicles) this can be combined with periodic inspections so as to determine emission levels of a particular vehicle, so as to adjust billings accordingly (Bryner, 5). A serious increase in fuel taxes would also not do any harm in reducing air pollution problems. It is important to note that by putting the costs of pollution onto drivers this will increase pressures on manufactures to produce more efficient cars, and develop alternative fuel sources.
In a nutshell emission credit trading programs operate as follows. Rather than having each firm reduce it's emissions by a given amount, the program requires that average emissions be reduced by a set amount. A firm that reduces it's emissions below this average level would be given credits which could be sold or saved. Credits which are saved could then be used at a later date if the firm desired to increase production (hence pollution). Credits to be sold would go to firms finding it less costly to purchase credits at market rates than to actually reduce harmful emissions. Therefore, each firms incentive to invest in more effective pollution abatement technology will increase. Through the trading of credits, dollars spent on pollution control are spent where they are most effective at reducing pollution.
Some of the advantages of ECT's are that no other method is as effective at allocating the decision making process to the people who are in the position to devise the best balance between the advantages and disadvantages of various methods of reducing polluting emissions. There are different methods by which a firm can reduce its pollution, most often being directly tied into complicated technological processes unique to its operations or industry. Consequently, unless the cooperation of management and technicians within the industry or activity can be effectively mobilized by self-interest motivation, it is unlikely that the best solution will be attained (Gore, 1).
In addition, as mentioned earlier, nearly all other methods of reducing air pollutants involve a degree of arbitrary decision making on the part of officials charged with administering controls. Such controls may be necessary to even the best ECT system, but if administered in conjunction with such a system then the necessary discriminations will at least be minimized. In such a case when controls need to be imposed, they will be done (if not in practice at least in perception) in a much more unilateral manner. This eliminates the perception of arbitrariness and discrimination, which in turn leads to greater levels of compliance and cooperation amongst corporations (Gore, 2).
Furthermore, a system of Emission Credit Trading is at least in principle, highly flexible, in that the market price will vary in accordance with changing circumstances, even changing weather conditions . Technically, this may be difficult to incorporate immediately, but the potential for development is present.
Perhaps most importantly, the use of ECT forces the air pollution problem to be brought into perspective. Once transnational corporations take a stake in the problem, an ecosociety becomes more plausible. The reason for this is because of the power that they yield, and the influence which they are capable of spreading. Pollution costs shall also be internalized into the cost of production. This has the effect of greater adoptions of emission reduction technology, since there is a monetary incentive to do so. And with the increasing levels of global competitiveness these transnational corporations (as well as local firms) can not afford to ignore any forms of cost reductions. As well, in this day of information highways and increased consumer awareness firms which adopt environmentally sound practices are much likelier to show healthier bottom lines .
Air pollution in recent years has become one of the more serious environmental concerns because of the many implications involved. The problem has reached a degree of considerable concern, however because of the lack of political will to attack the problem in a radical manner (because of the economic distortions it would create) a market oriented alternative must be approached. There are many areas which need to be addressed so as to develop a comprehensive pollution reduction program. All sources of air pollution (industrial, home and vehicle) must be taken into account when dealing with the problem. However, by introducing environmentally friendly concepts such as Emission Credit Trading a serious reduction in air pollution can be achieved, and the initial steps toward the ecosociety taken. Obviously this is not the ideal, having to put a price on the air we breath so as to ensure it's quality, but unfortunately it is the most viable option considering the social system in which we all live.
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