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Essay/Term paper: Steps towards an ecosociety: dealing with air pollution

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Steps Towards an Ecosociety: Dealing with Air Pollution


By: Jonathan Roitman
For: Dr. Rao
Course: Poli 385/2

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 h uman 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
sensitiv ity 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.

Works Cited

1. Arnopoulos, P. Political Dimensions of an Information Society: A General



Overview. Montreal: Gamma,
1982.

2. Bryner, G. ed. Global Warming and the Challenge of International
Cooperation: An Interdisciplinary Assessment. Provo UT: Bringham Young
University Press, 1992.

3. Gore, A. Biotechnology: Implications for Public Policy. Washington DC. :
Brookings Institution, 1985.

4. Keller, E. Environmental Geology. Columbus: CE Merrill Publishing Co., 1985.

5. Mitchell, B. Canadian Resource Policies: Problems and Prospects. Toronto:
Methuen, 1981.

6. Rifkin, E. Proteases and Biological Control. New York: Cold Spring Harbour
Laboratory, 1975.

7. Saunders, DA Reintegrating Fragmented Landscapes: Towards Sustainable
Production and Nature Conservation. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1993.

8. Vig, N and Kraft, M. Environmental Policy in the 1990's. Washington DC: C.Q.
Press, 1990.



 

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