The Context of Environmental Politics

The Context of Environmental Politics: Unfinished Business for America's Third Century

Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Context of Environmental Politics
    Book Description:

    Now familiar to all is the cry that present rates of pollution, ecological disruption, and depletion of resources are leading inevitably to worldwide disaster. A multitude of immediate needs, however, compete for the staggering sums required to save the environment, and the reduction of consumption which must accompany such expenditures holds little popular appeal. The decisions, therefore, must ultimately be political ones -- but what choices are governments to make?

    Here is the essence of what Professors Harold and Margaret Sprout term "the statesmen's dilemma." These noted scholars examine the dilemma in detail, exploring a wide range of points of view and developing a reasoned philosophical stance of their own. While their account of what is happening to the world and what we are doing about it is a gloomy one, it is notable that the authors do not entirely despair of man's future. In an epilogue they propose a number of measures which, with luck, might enable coming generations to inherit a share of the earth's bounty.

    The Context of Environmental Politicsis the first volume of "The Third Century Series," a group of books exploring the major issues and challenges confronting the United States as it enters its third century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6451-9
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prologue: What This Book Is About
    (pp. 1-10)

    “Though it is easier, and perhaps far better not to begin at all, yet if a beginning is made it is here that most care is needed. Everything is inherent in the genesis.”¹

    These words were written early in this century in a totally different context. However, they offer sensible advice to all authors. They admonish us to tell the readers we hope to reach what the book is about, and to disclose explicitly our perspective toward the issues with which it deals.

    The book is focused on one of the numerous subcultures, or variants, of the mixture of beliefs,...

  4. 1 “Our Plundered Planet”
    (pp. 11-26)

    THE EARTH is the human habitat. It provides, or transmits from the sun, the wherewithal that has enabled homo sapiens to rise from a precarious marginal subsistence to ever higher levels of knowledge, productivity, and other achievements. The sustaining conditions have included: an atmosphere containing enough but not too much free oxygen; thermal variations within the narrow limits of human physiological tolerance; adequate sunshine and rainfall; concentrated deposits of fossil fuels, earthderived metals, and other materials of many kinds; and innumerable nonhuman species that contribute to human well-being and survival. If many of these beneficial elements were not being depleted,...

  5. 2 Questions for Policymakers
    (pp. 27-46)

    THE PROLOGUE and chapter 1 have offered a quick tour of our deteriorating physical habitat. We have identified some of the conditions that do, or should, inspire programs of repair and protection. Suppose, now, that you are a member of Congress, a state legislature, or a local council, or that you are some other official charged with responsibility for maintaining a decently livable environment. What questions would you need to consider in order to act wisely in the public interest? Assuming you are a methodical person, how would you envision the sequential stages in rational policymaking? How would you decide...

  6. 3 Conflicting Philosophical Postures
    (pp. 47-70)

    PHILOSOPHICAL postures deserve more attention than they generally receive in discussions of environmental policymaking. They penetrate to the core of environmental politics, affecting decisions regarding whatshouldbe undertaken toward decelerating the destructive exploitation of nature and arresting disruptive impacts on systems that sustain life upon the earth.

    By philosophical posture, we mean a person’s image of the world, and of his relation to it. Philosophical posture is revealed in attitudes, perspectives, and ethical codes. By attitude we mean simply a person’s mental state or inclination toward an object or state of affairs. Perspective: in the metaphor of photography, the...

  7. 4 Short-Term Benefits vs. Long-Term Hazards
    (pp. 71-91)

    FORMULATING environmental standards and enacting legislation normally involves a choice between short-term benefits and longer-term hazards. This unwelcome choice might be called the time-lag dilemma. It is introduced at this point because it is closely linked to the conflicting philosophical postures compared in the preceding chapter.

    One long-recognized manifestation of this dilemma is the notorious risk that any short-term benefits achievable by competitive militarism in the nuclear era may be wiped out if preparation of superweapons fails to prevent a thermonuclear holocaust. A more insidious family of risks derives from various combinations of environmental depletions and pollutions incidental to the...

  8. 5 Domestic Social Context
    (pp. 92-106)

    MOST AMERICANS possess or have access to amenities as well as elemental necessities beyond anything attainable anywhere in the not-so-distant past. All but the very poor and destitute enjoy a material standard of living beyond the reach of any but a tiny elite in scores of countries in earlier stages of economic modernization today.

    However, all material things carry a price tag; or as ecologists and economists remind us, there is “no free lunch.” Part of the price of progression to higher levels of material affluence has been progressive deterioration of the physical fundament upon which the national community is...

  9. 6 Transnational Context
    (pp. 107-124)

    THIS CHAPTER enlarges the focus to include some additional conditions and forces, chiefly of foreign origin, that affect the American habitat and American responses to vulnerabilities resulting therefrom. The factors considered derive from the physical and human geography of the earth, as well as from specific policies and other activities of foreign regimes and their constituencies.

    Prominent among physical features is the global unity of the natural carriers: atmosphere and seawater. These are continuously in motion. What is discharged into the atmosphere over Sinkiang, Siberia, Nevada, the South Pacific, or anywhere else, spreads over a larger area, sometimes over the...

  10. 7 “No Free Lunch”: The Costs of Environmental Protection
    (pp. 125-134)

    ONE OF THE few issues on which ecology and conventional economic theory seem to be generally in accord is that there is “no free lunch”: environmental protection always carries a price tag.

    It seems fairly obvious that protection against harmful conditions or changes in the physical habitat entails costs that someone has to pay, whether in money or in some other currency. Hence, environmental costs are important ingredients of the context of environmental politics: that is, these costs affect what and how much is undertaken toward redressing damage incurred and reducing risks of future damage.

    An essential preliminary is to...

  11. 8 Costs, Resources, & Priorities: The Statesmen’s Dilemma
    (pp. 135-155)

    PROLIFERATING demands from many diverse sources’ enlarge the share of the national income, and hence of corporate and personal incomes, which is taken by government through taxation and other means, and then allocated by public authorities according to some schedule of priorities. This process makes governmental budgets increasingly revealing indicators of changes in priorities between environmental objectives and. a multiplicity of other claims that derive from chronic poverty and discrimination amidst affluence, from the costs of competitive militarism, and from various other sources.

    Several years ago we suggested calling this complex phenomenon “the dilemma of rising demands and insufficient resources.”¹...

  12. 9 Unfinished Business: The Setting
    (pp. 156-172)

    THE WORLD OF 2000, less than 25 years hence, may differ from today’s as much as the present differs from 1900. One might also speculate that the world of 2076, if our republic survives to the end of its third century, would seem as strange to the celebrants of 1976 as the present would have seemed to the thousands who journeyed to the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. Americans (along with the rest of humankind) are living in an era of radical transition. Physical and cultural landscapes are changing at rates previously unknown; and some of these changes are proliferating...

  13. Epilogue: Mainly in the Realm of Conjecture
    (pp. 173-190)

    Dictionaries define an epilogue as a “concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work.” What we have to say in these few remaining pages does round out the design previewed in the Prologue. However, we also venture into deeper waters, since we shall offer some personal conjectures about the unfinished environmental business of America’s third century.

    We begin by restating some of the premises from which we approach this task. First, we assume that the fate of Americans, as of humankind in general, will continue to depend upon conditions prevailing in the biosphere of the planet earth....

  14. Notes
    (pp. 191-204)
  15. Index
    (pp. 205-212)
    (pp. 213-216)