Wednesday, April 02, 2008
ECON 260: Comment Thread for 4/4
I think too often we expect the government to produce miracles - when we leave the job entirely to them and detach ourselves from the process, it only further allows for imperfect information and lobbyist influence to skew the desirable outcome.
Citizens need to be at the front of the fight, alongside government, in order to create real, substantial change. This is best accomplished by forming an impartial (meaning their goals are fact-based, not ideology-based) organization that organizes and rallies people into participation.
It's not easy, but organizing people is how change has always come about.
I think it's possible for government to move towards the optimal pollution level, though I imagine that the difficulty is somewhat logarithmic- the closer we get to that ideal level, the larger are the sacrifices required, and the more these sacrifices conflict with the interests of the politicians, bureaucrats, and voters.
Not to be a complete downer but one way in which the government can be portrayed as capable is by changing what is understood as the “optimal” level of pollution. Nevertheless, what I understand as the "optimal" level of pollution can not be reached without some pretty big changes in how our government functions.
Now is our government capable of producing such a change? I am not sure, but I do know that individual changes will be necessary before we can even hope that the government will bring our pollution to an optimal level.
On top of this pollution levels will also only change with individual choices as well as government regulation. Both are necessary for finding whatever the optimal level is.
I think if we frame resolving pollution issues as an opportunity for business and development, the government could play a huge role in helping achieve the optimal amount of pollution-government money and programs can be used to promote investment into less polluting technologies. In this sense, government can be a crucial player in achieving the optimal amount of pollution.
This assumes that we know what the optimal level of pollution is, and that we as a society can agree upon what we want the government to achieve, which is totally bogus.
Another key factor that I think will prohibit gov't from reaching this optimal level of pollution is the fact that society can't reach consensus and that the public generally doesn't stay interested in an environmental issue for very long. The concept that the public will lose interest in an issue is part of the issue-attention cycle theory, which was presented by Anthony Downs in "Up and Down with Ecology: The Issue-Attention Cycle." Environmental organizations may have a role in swaying voters, but according to Downs, environmental issues will go through five stages: the pre-problem state, alarmed discovery and euphoric enthusiasm, realized costs, gradual decline of the issue, and the post-problem state. The public will always become bored of an issue unless it affects all of society, the majority of persons are not benefiting from continuing the issue, and if the issue is intrinsically exciting. Thus, the public will not stay rallied and motivated to push for the optimal level of pollution. (You can find the Downs article at http://www.anthonydowns.com)
Overall, I think our government is pretty incapable of achieving my view of the optimal level of pollution because of imperfect info, political influence, limited monetary power of environmental organizations, and the inevitability that the public will lose interest in certain issues.
Perhaps another issue with reducing the human foot print is the fact that the sentiment surrounding environmental protections is the negative connotation. i.e. Humans are wrong for their lifestyle, too greedy and self serving.
If there were a way to change our way of living, and create a way of life that reduced carbon emissions that did not involve costs, then there would not be such a debacle.
So no, I don't think it matters if our government is capable because there is no agreement about optimal levels of pollution - therefore it cannot be acheived.
if in Britain, where there is a lot of knowledge and concern about global warming and a much bigger government, they are unable to successfully reduce carbon emissions what chances are there for the american government? there needs to be a radical shift in what we as a society value if we are going to reduce carbon levels, radical shifts are what governments are bad at but which people sometimes are good at.
On this note, I think that it is unproductive to ask whether gov't can regulate energy use and consumption habits. At least, it has no effective framework for doing this as it does for regulating traditional pollution. So instead of talking about gov'ts role as a regulator, we should talk about its role in the use of energy and the switch to a clean energy economy that is desperately needed. Gov't can't regulate this transition. Instead, it must invest and encourage other developed countries to come up with a similar scheme. We can talk about developing countries some other time.
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