Essay: Environmental Policies

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Environmental Policies

Give an example of an ecosystem and use this example to describe the concepts of "input-output," "source-sink relationship," and feedback.

An ecosystem refers to separate units consisting of groups of nonliving things, plants and animals interacting with each other and the external environment. A desert can be regarded as an ecosystem and so can the rainforests. In fact, the whole earth can also be regarded as an ecosystem. For the purpose of this discussion, we will take the freshwater ecosystem as an example. Here, water enters into the system via rains, groundwater flow or surface water flow (input) and evaporation results in a loss of water from the system (output). Nutrients like carbon, nitrogen and oxygen may enter the system via many sources (including pollution). A source is an ecosystem subsystem which has more nutrients output than input whereas a sink is an ecosystem subsystem which has more nutrients input than output. Feedback refers to the pool quantity of a subsystem which influences the subsystem behavior. For instance, thermal pollution of freshwater sources by hot industrial water leads to a decrease in oxygen content which leads to destruction of aquatic fauna whose putrefaction in turn further decreases oxygen content leading to further loss of aquatic life.

2) Explain why common pool property problems are a part of environmental policy. Discuss when groundwater, air, and the oceans are common pool resources and when they are not Common pool resources are those resources which do not belong to any particular person or government. Air, ocean and groundwater are common pool resources which must be protected as part of a government's environmental policy so that these do not result in an ecosystem degradation or destruction due to negligent and irrational human behavior which may cause pollution of these resources. Individuals who are not rational/responsible and do not possess any incentives to protect the common pool resources for community use as well as use for the future generations possess the right to continue with the pollution. However, the brunt of this irresponsible behavior has to be borne not only by the entire community but the future generations as well. A part of an ocean may come within the territorial waters of a particular nation and become the property of that nation but that does not mean that it has the right to deplete or pollute these natural resources or the life contained in it. Similarly, the groundwater tapped from within the private premises of a factory may be legally exploited by the owners but from the ethical and ecological point-of-view, the owners do no have the right to deplete this natural resource.

Chapter 2

1) Describe ways in which a person having a "life-centered" environmental ethic might behave differently from someone with a "human-centered" ethic.

A person with a "human-centered" environmental ethic has an opposite stand as compared to a person with a "life-centered" environmental ethic. The behavior of a person with "human-centered" environmental ethics is mainly governed by the view that all his responsibilities and duties lie primarily towards the betterment of the human race. That does not mean that such a person does not owe any responsibility towards the environment and works for the improvement of the ecosystem and the nonhuman life contained therein only after the human benefits are realized. Therefore, such a person does not owe any moral obligation towards protecting nonhuman life and the ecosystem. However, a person with a "life-centered" environmental ethic considers himself as a part of the biotic community of the Earth and therefore has a moral obligation towards human as well as nonhuman life. Such a person protects the ecosystem and the wild animals and plants "for their sake" and not "for our sake."

"life-centered" ethical person would actively strive to prevent environmental pollution, protect endangered species from extinction, guard natural resources from degradation or depletion and maintain the integrity of the ecosystem. Such a person would try and maintain a healthy balance between all the life forms on earth and try hard for a peaceful coexistence of human beings with all forms of life. The common perception is that the "human-centered" ethics and a quest for materialistic pleasure are predominant in the western society which has led to ecological degradation. However, even the Eastern society with its inherent spirituality and respect for all forms of life has also had its own share of ecological problems.

2) How has history shaped environmental awareness and influenced environmental policy? Discuss the seven stages of the history of the environmental movement and the factors of each stage that influenced environmental policy.

The history of our nation has had a profound influence on environmental regulations and policy as well as on the environmental awareness amongst the general public. The individualism and human development in the early phases of the nation's history did not clash with the natural resource management and therefore did not figure as an important issue in those times. The vision and views of philosophers like Rousseau, Locke and Vattel had a deep impact on those who framed the constitution of the United States. These philosophers laid emphasis on the natural rights (including the right to private property, liberty, pursuit of happiness and life) and individual freedom of human beings. However, this freedom has also resulted in the freedom to use the natural resources existing on one's property in an indiscriminate way leading to environmental degradation.

The history of the environmental movement in the United States can be divided into seven, somewhat overlapping, stages. These stages are: (i) the period of dominance (17th, 18th and a significant portion of the 19th centuries) - the early part of American history was dominated by the perception that the wilderness that existed in the country constituted a hostile environment and obstructed the growth of human civilization and therefore, it had to be fought back, conquered or utilized for human consumption. Any natural resource that did not contribute directly to human welfare had no value. (ii) the early awakening (19th century) - the later part of the nineteenth century saw the beginnings of a shift in the previous attitude of the general public accompanied by a rise in the views propounded by nature writers, poets and artists like David Thoreau, R.W. Emerson and George Catlin. A turning point in the history of the environmental movement was defined in 1864 by the publishing of "Man and Nature" by George Perkins Marsh, a prominent writer of the 19th century. (iii) the early conservationist (late 19th and early 20th century) - the early conservationists/environmentalists like John Muir found prominence in this period. These conservationists not only highlighted the plight of the environment before the public and government but also took active political action for the welfare and preservation of the country's natural resources and ecosystems. Their efforts helped to establish natural parks like Yosemite, Yellowstone and several such parks. It also resulted in the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916. However, the governments of that period still retained the viewpoint of exploiting natural resources for exclusively for human benefit. Conservationists were basically of two types - those who were in favor of using natural resources in a planned way (the early conservationists) and those who supported the preservation of these natural resources in their natural state. (iv) the later conservationist (early 20th century) - a shift in the government's stand came about with President Theodore Roosevelt who was a serious supporter of natural resource conservation. The movement got a boost with the active efforts of Gifford Pinchot, the first head of the U.S. Forest Division. It was due to the efforts of Pinchot that all the forest reserves were placed under the Department of Agriculture, one of the first steps towards the protection of forests for the community and future generations. Even though Pinchot stressed on the utilitarian efforts of nature preservation which was in sharp contrast to the views of the preservationists, at least governmental involvement in the Environment Movement had started. Nature clubs like Audubon Society and Sierra Club also had significant influence on changing the attitude of the American society. (v) the reawakening (mid 20th century) - a string of events like the publishing of "Silent Spring" (Rachel Carson, 1962), the Santa Barbara oil spill (1969) and the bursting of the Cuyahoga River in Flames due to a cigarette butt (1969) focused public attention to environmental issues. These factors led to the signing of the National Environmental Policy Act (1970) as well as the observance of the first Earth Day on 22nd April, 1970, both of which were major milestones in this movement. Membership in many environmental organizations increased dramatically. (vi) the complacency phase also termed as the Little Reagan Revolution (1970s and 1980s) - this phase witnessed the environmental movement reach a plateau and slowly leading towards a drop in public concern. However, organizations like Natural Resources Defense Council were also established during this period. Many experts predicted the death of the environment movement in the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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