Friday, October 8, 2010
How can we fuel sustainability forward?
The governments’ roles as defined by Bell (2002) are to be a vision/goal setter, lead by example, act as a facilitator, be a green fiscal authority, as well as to be an innovator/catalyst. The government took on the responsibility of protecting and restoring the environment when they established the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969 and when they assembled the Environmental Protection Agency in December, 1970. It is clear that the government has had a responsibility to advance sustainability, but whether or not the US government has met that responsibility is the real issue.
The main achievements of the EPA since its inception, according to a letter from President Clinton, have been: regulating auto emissions, banning the use of DDT, cleaning up toxic waste, protecting the ozone layer, increasing recycling, and revitalizing inner-city brownfields (2000). These are significant accomplishments, but I feel that the government could have done much more. I, personally, would have liked to see the list look more like this: reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced usage of landfills by implementing recycling in to all public spaces, and improved sustainable agriculture development policies.
There is so much more that we should be doing and that we can be doing, and the government is the key to making all of this happen at the rate in which we need it to. Businesses can do their part, but just as Ray Anderson explained in his speech, businesses typically do only enough to “comply” with government regulations (2009). Mr. Anderson helps to make it clear that government needs to make regulations more stringent if we are to make a significant change for our planet, for some businesses will choose only do what is necessary to comply.
Former US Energy Department Official, Joseph Romm, explains in his book Hell and High Water that “if we hold off on modest government action today, we will almost guarantee the need for much more extreme action in the post-2025 era” (2006). In reading his book and understanding what the world could look like in 2025 with global warning’s affects (increased natural disasters, rise in sea-level from melting icecaps, etc), it is clear to me that we must do whatever is in our control to prevent the worst.
As most people do not take much initiative themselves to make significant life changes, it is up to the government to “act as a facilitator” and “lead by example”, as their role has been defined (Bell, 2002). If you take the law of littering or speeding, for example, do you think that many people would continue to choose not to litter or not to speed if it was not enforced? Although some may continue not to litter or speed, I feel that many people would start driving 80 on the highway and throwing trash in the park, simply because they would feel it makes their life easier.
I feel that the government needs to take an immediate, active part in sustainability and curbing climate change. Stricter regulations need to be put into place for auto emissions (including fuel-efficiency), energy usage (with implementing more renewable energy sources and making our current energy sources more efficient and clean), recycling, sustainable agriculture policies, food production, chemical usage, and deforestation, just to name a few. It may seem as though by implementing so many more regulations on the way we live will seem too controlling and many are worried that with this much government control that we would become a Police State. I feel that as long as we implement regulations that assist in sustainability and that do not control actions, the feeling of over-control from the government will not be an issue. For example, when implementing regulations with recycling, rather than going to the extreme of fining citizens for not recycling, instead regulations should be put in place that make it mandatory that every business and household has recycling services. Furthermore, I feel that regulations for businesses are much more important than regulations for individuals or households, as the impact would be greater.
In addition to moderate government regulations, I feel that the key to promoting sustainability is with education. I feel that if we reach children while they are still building their views of the world that sustainability practices and reasoning would make a huge impact on them. Children, especially under the age of 10 or so, are very in-tune with their initial feelings on subjects and have an affinity towards the environment, animals, and their surroundings, If we can influence children at this stage in their life, they will be more inclined to try sustainable methods and they will enjoy showing others what they are learning. Children already bring home what they learn and try to influence their parents, so why not send them home with information that can help save our planet? By putting sustainability on the curriculum for children in grade school, at minimum, we can reach a vast amount of the population and this will make a solid building block to facilitate change over the next generation and beyond. As the Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health in 1981 stated, “Children are one third of our population and all of our future.
The question now is: how do we go about educating the educators?
Anderson, R. (2009, April 20). Focus Green Series. Retrieved from
Bell, D. V. J. (2002, March 27). The Role of Government in Advancing Corporate Sustainability. Sustainable Enterprise Academy, York University. Retrieved from http://www.g8.utoronto.ca/scholar/2002/bell11062002.pdf
Romm, J. (2007). Hell and High Water: Global Warming – the Solutions and the Politics – and What We Should Do. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
United States Department of Health & Human Services.: Public Health Service. (1981). Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health (DHHS-PHS-79-55071). Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED198956.pdfUnited Stated Environmental Protection Agency. (2000). EPA’s 30th Anniversary Celebrated. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/epa/30b.htm