AP Environmental Science Politics and Environment
Outline • 1. Politics and Environmental Policy • social change, democracy, individuals, groups • 2. Improving the U.S. Political System • responsibility, bureaucracies, power • 3. Global Policy • progress, diplomacy, world politics
Politics and Environmental Policy • Environmental change within democracies involves voicing opinions through elected officials, legislation, budgeting, and lobbying by special interesting groups. • special interests include a diversity of viewpoints: profit–making organizations and non–profit non–governmental organizations (NGOs); • most decisions result from bargaining and compromise; • built–in bias against policies for protecting environment, since most politics is reactive to crises rather than proactively preventing them.
27-1 Politics and Environmental Policy • The United States is a constitutional democracy. Its constitution distributes power among three branches of government--legislative, executive, and judicial--and among federal, state, and local governments.
Special-interest groups attempt to influence government decision-making in their favor. Some special-interest groups, such as companies, are profit-making organizations. Others are nonprofit nongovernmental organizations (NGOS), such as labor unions and environmental organizations.
Most political decisions result from bargaining among power brokers who have an interest in maintaining the status quo by making only incremental changes. The ability of democracies to deal with environmental problems is hindered by an emphasis on short-term solutions to isolated problems, the need for constant fundraising, and the lack of a politically powerful constituency for long-term sustainability.
27-2 Developing and Influencing Environmental Policy In making environmental policy decisions, we should be guided by the following principles: • The humility principle: Recognize and accept that we have a limited capacity to understand and manage nature.
2. The reversibility principle: Try not to do something that cannot be reversed later. 3. The precautionary principle: When an activity raises threats of harm, take precautionary measures even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.
4. The prevention principle: Make decisions that help prevent a problem from occurring or becoming worse. 5. The integrative principle: Make decisions that involve integrated solutions to problems. 6. The environmental justice principle: Establish policy so no group of people bears an unfair share of risks.
Individuals can influence and change government policies in constitutional democracies by voting, contributing time and money to campaigns, running for office, appearing before or serving on local boards and commissions, forming or joining NGOs, and working for campaign finance reform.
Individuals can lead by serving as examples, working for change within the existing systems, proposing and working for better solutions to environmental problems, and pursuing an environmental career.
27-3 Case Study: Environmental Policy in the United States • The federal government of the United States consists of three branches. • The legislative branch: Congress is composed of the House of Representatives and the Senate. It approves and oversees governmental policy by passing laws and overseeing the function and funding of various executive branch agencies.
2. The executive branch: The president and his or her staff propose an annual budget, legislation, and appointees for executive positions. 3. The judicial branch: A series of courts enforce and interpret laws.
How are federal environmental policies established? • Federal environmental policy is established by persuading lawmakers that a problem exists and the government should address it, trying to influence how laws are written and whether they are passed by the legislative branch, and appropriating enough funding to implement and enforce environmental laws and regulations.
27-4 Environmental Law • In any court case, the plaintiff brings a charge against the defendant. Environmental lawsuits involve statutory laws and common law. An individual or group may bring a civil suit. A class action suit is filed on behalf of a group. Most common-law cases are settled using the legal principles of nuisance and negligence. Negligence occurs if a person causes damage by knowingly acting in an unlawful or unreasonable manner.
Several factors hinder the effectiveness of environmental lawsuits. Bringing a lawsuit is expensive, and, in a financial sense, the legal playing field is stacked against individuals and groups of private citizens. Proving that a plaintiff was harmed and that the harm was caused by the defendant can be difficult and costly.
The statute of limitations limits the length of time within which a plaintiff can sue. Courts can take years to reach decisions. Because of these difficulties, many lawsuits are settled out of court, either privately or by mediation. However, settlements drawn up by mediation are not legally binding.
27-5 Environmental and Anti-Environmental Groups and Claims • Mainstream environmental groups are NGOs that monitor the environmental activities of governments, corporations, and international agencies and push them to improve environmental performance. These groups must guard against being subverted by the political system they work to improve and losing touch with ordinary people.
Three-fourths of the U.S. public supports environmental laws and does not want them weakened. But less than 10% views the environment as one of the most pressing problems. Environmental proposals are opposed by those who see them as threats to their wealth and power, as threats to private property rights, or as an unfair burden placed by the federal government on state and local governments.
The anti-environmental movement campaigns to weaken environmental laws, to change the way public lands are used, and to destroy the reputation and effectiveness of the environmental movement.
27-6 Global Environmental Policy • Military and economic security depends on national and global environmental security. Some progress has been made in developing international environmental cooperation through treaties and agreements. However, many treaties and agreements are nonbinding, lack clear criteria for monitoring and effectiveness, and lack funding for implementation.
The World Trade Organization (WTO) was established by the 1994 revision of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The WTO has power to govern world trade and to make binding decisions about whether environmental, health, and worker safety laws of its member countries are illegal.
Environmentalists fear that the WTO will increase the power of transnational corporations and eliminate jobs, lower wages, and weaken health, worker safety, and environmental standards in developed countries.
They call for the latest version of GATT to be improved. Environmentalists call for people to work together to make a transition to environmentally sustainable societies throughout the world.
Types of Environmental Laws • Some of the key types of environmental protection laws in the United States (see Appendix 3): • setting pollution standards (e.g, Clean Air Act); • cleanup and restoration ("Superfund Act" = Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act); • screening substances for safety (e.g., Toxic Substances Control Act); • requiring environmental impact assessment (e.g., National Environmental Policy Act); • protecting ecosystems, resources, and species (e.g., Endangered Species Act); • encouraging resource conservation (e.g., National Energy Act).
Policy in the United States Primary forces involved in making environmental policy at the federal level in the United States. Fig. 28–2
Influencing Environmental Policy • Individuals can influence and change governmental policies in constitutional democracies by several means: • supporting candidates positions and voting; • voicing opinions to elected officials (lobbying, writing…); • education and persuasion; • exposing fraud, waste, and illegal activities; • filing lawsuits; • participating in grassroots activities to bring about change.
Environmental Groups • Various mainstream environmental groups actively influence environmental policy in the United States: • Nature Conservancy works to evaluate, purchase, and protect critical habitat; • Sierra Club works to focus public attention on key environmental issues, especially with respect to land management and protection; • National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, and World Wildlife Fund focus attention on wildlife conservation; • Worldwatch Institute serves as a think tank and research center to compile and communicate environmental information; • Greenpeace focuses public attention by activism.
Environmental Groups • The environmental movement has depended upon the efforts of mainstream and grassroots environmental organizations. • In recent years environmental groups have experienced declining membership and reduced budgets; budgets generally depend upon membership fees and donations; • "group of 10" largest U.S. mainstream environmental organizations depend heavily on corporate donations; • at least 6,000 grassroots organizations have been organized to address issues of concern to citizens, often focused locally, regionally, or on a specific issue; • Anti-environmental groups (e.g., Wise Use Movement) have focused on weakening or repealing existing environmental laws.
Environmental Groups Types of groups involved in strengthening (shown in green) and weakening (shown in brown) environmental protection in the United States. Fig. 28–5
2. Improving the U.S. Political System • The United States political system can be improved by various means: • make government more responsive to individual citizens by campaign financing reform; • improve bureaucracies: • by avoiding "foxes guarding the henhouse"; • eliminating contradictory policies among agencies; • improving the responsiveness of elected officials; • rewarding "whistle blowers"; • slowing down the "revolving door" between government and business.
3. Global Policy • International politics play an increasing role because environmental problems have a global scale. • various international conferences have focused on global environmental problems: • 1972 United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, Sweden, created the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) to negotiate and implement environmental treaties; • 1992 Earth Summit (2nd UN Conference), Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, created Earth Charter for guiding environmental policy, Agenda 21 action plan and UN commission for sustainable development, forestry agreement, climate change convention, biodiversity protection convention; • 1997 leaders met to review progress; found little improvement.