Environmental Ethics US Government Term Paper

Pages: 10 (2987 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: American History


[. . .] The 1930s brought about a strange environmental phenomenon called the Dust Bowl, which spread over several states that had been agriculturally important to the United States, and wreaked havoc on the country at a time when many people were suffering due to the Great Depression. The Department of Agriculture created for the promotion of farming in 1862, had become much more than a simple technology promoting agency. Now, the very survival of tens of thousands of farmers and their families was at stake. The U.S. federal government had to make an ethical choice, whether to assist these farmers in their troubles, or whether to allow them to lose all that they had created overnight. This was the beginning of an ethical age for the United States, as President Roosevelt sought to ease the burden on these farmers by creating subsidies that would stabilize their lives though direct government investment in their salaries if crops were either destroyed in a year, or if there had been too many crops in one year. (American Farmland Subsidy, 2012) If not enough crops were harvested, then farmers would certainly lose their ability to survive due to lack of funds and destitution would follow. Strangely, however, the U.S. government decided to also pay those who had created too much of a certain crop in one year, due to economics. If there were too many crops, then the price of crops would go down, and not every farmer would be able to sell his or her stock, and therefore could still face destitution, despite the fact that they had succeeded in creating plentiful produce.

Not every situation with the environment was so easy to fix as the farm subsidies had proved to be, however, and the environment that is not being actively used for crops, nor protected by national parks was still land that was susceptible to abuse in the form of pollution and industrial expansion. This is why the Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970 in order to better regulate businesses that operated dangerously near residences. The EPA has proved to be the most controversial of all of America's environmental agencies, due to its direct conflict with business interests like oil fields, energy producers, land speculators, and those who would use dangerous chemicals in order to achieve cheap results. The EPA was passed by President Richard Nixon, but was expanded dramatically by President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s, who used the service to great effect during his four years as President. The EPA has been controversial due to its ability to curtail economic expansion by the strong regulatory powers it was granted during this time, and subsequently, it has become less powerful since the 1970s.

The EPA is different than all of the others because on top of its regulatory duties, the EPA also conducts science experiments in order to determine the safety of new products that go on store shelves, and new industries that create dangerous waste. (Environmental Protection Agency, 2012) Pollution by the 1970s had grown to a disgustingly enormous problem, and decades of further industrialization had ruined many areas of the country, with acid rain a constant threat, and with an unlimited amount of dangerous emissions leaving power plants and factories. These emissions, including carbon dioxide but also some even more dangerous gases, were eating into Earth's ozone layer, ripping open a hole in the very atmosphere itself. If left unprotected, the planet would then absorb more and more of the Sun's heat, producing a catalyst for the extinction of many animals and plants, and eventually humanity itself. In the 1980s and 1990s, as science caught up with industrial pollution, and a greater understanding of humanity's role in protecting the planet was understood, several laws were passed to virtually eliminate the worst offending emissions, and by the late 1990s, all instances of acid rain had vanished. It was a proud moment for science, because a problem that was growing quickly had been slowed down. (National Geographic, 2007) There is, however, still a problem of rapid industrialization in many more nations of the world, particularly in East Asia, and therefore the problems that Americans had tried to conquer now became world problems, and other governments did not like the idea of being told what to do and what not to do with their own rapidly growing economies. This is when the problem of climate change became a universal problem for all humans, as our technology grows and we become more accustomed to needing worldwide agreements instead of just worrying about our own land.

Climate change is a buzzword of the modern age, which causes great confusion and concern amongst business communities and environmental communities alike. Certain that it is what will doom the human race, environmental Non-Governmental Organizations will do anything to spread their cause of environmental protectionism, while business interests will spend billions of dollars in Washington DC in order to lobby legislators to vote their way, money that politicians cannot shy from due to their need to constantly refresh their coffers for their two-year or six-year terms that inevitably require constant refurbishment. The matter of climate change is not controversial to those who are in the scientific field, who can see the devastation it has caused to the most sensitive environments, including snow capped mountains, crumbling glaciers that are ancient yet now melting at a fast pace, and record heat waves year after year.

The Kyoto Treaty was an environmental treaty intended to get all of the world's major industrial powers together in order to sign accords to promote clean energy and to reduce levels of Carbon Dioxide output. (BBC, 2011) The Kyoto Treaty began during the Clinton Administration in the 1990s, but the United States pulled out of it as soon as the Bush Administration came to office, citing business interest and inconclusive evidence as to the effects of climate change as a problem. Ultimately, the U.S. is now facing record heat problems and is not bound to any agreement to curtail its emissions, which has given other countries like China and India precedence for doing nothing to correct their troubled industrialization either. There is no telling as to what exactly will happen as a result of climate change, yet scientists predict that air temperatures around the world will rise an average of 2 degrees Celsius, enough to cause many more storms, hurricanes, water issues, and more. The United States lost any claim to leadership in the field of environmental ethics when it refused to sign the Kyoto Treaty in 2001. The Obama administration has raised the requirements on automobiles to improve their fuel efficiency, and has poured tens of millions of dollars into new technologies, yet no sweeping agreement has been made in a similar vein to the Kyoto Treaty.

In conclusion, the United States has had a mixed history with environmental ethics, due to all of the varied business interests, inability to control situations as they are happening, disrespect for human life and preservation, and the ability to gain money off of land once thought of as worthless. Recent treaties intended to address global issues like climate change have reached standstills as political gridlock has added pressure to situations that require teamwork to solve, not bitter division. Some of the most extreme conservatives in the country want to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency altogether and outright deny any possibility of climate change, even in the face of indisputable evidence provided by scientific experts in a non-political basis. Others want complete ownership over private properties to be subject to environmental hazard checks constantly, and oversight that will surely stifle businesses that are seeking profits. It is impossible to tell what will happen in the future for America's environmental issues, but it is certain that political gridlock is not the best way to solve problems in America, and that politics really is a local problem, rather than a regional one.

Work Cited

American Farmland Trust. (2012). "History of the Farm Bill." Retrieved from, http://www.farmland.org/programs/farm-bill/history/usfarmsubsidies.asp.

The Encyclopedia of Earth. (2008). "Roosevelt, Franklin D. And his Environmental Policies." Retrieved from, http://www.eoearth.org/article/Roosevelt,_Franklin_D..

The Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). "About Us." Retrieved from, http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/.

BBC News. (2011). "What is the Kyoto Treaty?." Retrieved from, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2233897.stm.

National Geographic. (2007). "Global Warming Facts." Retrieved from, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/12/1206_041206_global_warming.html.

National Parks Service. (2012). "Discover History." Retrieved from, http://www.nps.gov/history/.

NewScientist. (2008). "Early U.S. Settlers Drained Marshy Land." Retrieved from, http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13199-early-settlers-drained-marshy-us-landscape.html.

Theodore Roosevelt Association. (2010). "Theodore Roosevelt: Conservationist." Retrieved from, http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/life/conservation.htm.

Thinkquest. (2006). "Wildlife and European Expansion into North America." Retrieved from, http://library.thinkquest.org/26026/History/effects_on_wildlife_of_europea.html.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2012). "Conservation History." Retrieved from, http://training.fws.gov/history/index.html. [END OF PREVIEW]

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