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Sustainable Failures

Sustainable Failures: Environmental Policy and Democracy in a Petro-dependent World

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 204
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  • Book Info
    Sustainable Failures
    Book Description:

    Environmental policies fail in conspicuous and egregious ways to sustain the natural resource base and protect citizens from production-generated risky exposures. In her engaging study,Sustainable Failures,Sherry Cable asks, why does environmental policy seem to be a contributing cause rather than a partial solution to environmental problems?

    Melding a biophysical science perspective of environmental processes with sociological insights into human behavior, Cable examines the people, policies, and issues of petrochemical dependence and broader environment questions. She insists that our present policies around the manufacture and use of petroleum products violate rudimentary ecological principles-and do so in complicated ways.

    Sustainable Failuresis a blistering wake-up call to what is at stake not only regarding the failure of policy outcomes and grievous natural resource depletion and pollution, but also concerning democracy and ecological survival, and eventually, potentially, the existence of our species.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0901-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Environmental Science, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PART I Rationale for Sustainable Environmental Policy

    • 1 The Shape of Sustainable Environmental Policy
      (pp. 3-9)

      Public policy regulates a variety of activities affecting our everyday lives, but we oft en take it for granted. Only when some event draws our attention to policy are we aware of its importance. Th e necessity of some types of policies is immediately apparent—for example, policies regulating traffic flow, product safety, and the substances permitted in foods. Th e need for other types—such as environmental policies—is far less obvious. Many people refer to environmental policy advocates as “tree huggers,” “bunny lovers,” and “radicals.” Many believe that environmental policies negatively affect business.

      So what is the necessity...

    • 2 Modes of Human Subsistence, Environmental Impacts, and Environmental Policies
      (pp. 10-24)

      Humans’ economic activities have not always violated basic ecological principles. For most of human history, we lived as harmoniously in the biosphere as do the birds, seemingly without constructing a false duality between the biosphere and society. Nor have human societies always been marked by economic inequalities. What happened?

      Human efforts to obtain food, clothing, and shelter from the biosphere for survival are intrinsically linked to ecological stability because we strategically intervene in ecosystem processes to increase the resources available to us. We use energy to withdraw desired resources, and we unavoidably make additions to ecosystems with wastes from our...

    • 3 The Poisoning of the Biosphere: The Petro-dependent Mode of Subsistence
      (pp. 25-46)

      In 1945, the world stood poised on the threshold of a truly new age. At our backs was 10,000 years’ use of a mode of subsistence that produced unprecedented wealth, continually enlarged the surplus, and supported an ever growing population. Before us on that threshold was the promise of even greater wealth and even higher standards of living for even larger numbers of people. The promise was offered by a new mode of subsistence: the petro-dependent mode.

      The agricultural mode of subsistence fundamentally altered the biosphere by replacing natural selection processes with human selection processes. The petro-dependent mode of subsistence...

  5. PART II The United States:: Prototype Petro-dependent Society

    • 4 Petro-dependent Environmental Policies
      (pp. 49-64)

      As the first petro-dependent society, the United States exhibits all of the resource depletion and pollution problems described in the previous chapter. Environmental policies are the legislature’s response to those problems within the context of constitutional authority. The constitutional bases for environmental legislation are the commerce, property, and federal supremacy clauses. The commerce clause (art. 1, sec. 8) grants Congress the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. The clause was originally intended to promote interstate commerce through federally funded projects, such as improving the navigable waterways and constructing buoys and lighthouses. It was subsequently expanded to justify federal regulation...

    • 5 Violations of Ecological Principles: Resource Depletion and Pollution
      (pp. 65-74)

      In the petro-dependent United States, the development of environmental policies lagged increasingly further behind petro-production’s impacts. I demonstrate in this chapter that U.S. environmental policies only superficially acknowledge ecological principles. I first draw on a variety of sources to inventory resource depletion and pollution in the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. For a second and specific assessment, I analyze Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data for pollution from hazardous substances.

      A natural process, soil erosion becomes a problem when it outpaces soil replenishment. Petro-agriculture uses soil faster than microorganisms, which are killed by petrochemical pesticides, can convert minerals into usable forms for...

    • 6 Living in the State of Denial: Conflict and the Contamination of Workplaces, Communities, and Citizens
      (pp. 75-91)

      Following implementation, the policy process usually includes an evaluation stage, a measurement enabling comparison of policy intent with policy outcome. Evaluation allows adjustments for errors. If the measured outcome indicates persistence of the initial problem, policymakers amend and improve policies.

      When ecological principles are not recognized in environmental policies, the outcomes are resource depletion and pollution. If the state denies the link between economic activities and the environment, policies are not amended and the problems continue and worsen. And we all live in a state of denial.

      As I demonstrated in the previous chapter, resource management policies violate ecological principles,...

    • 7 Broken Promises: Environmental Injustices
      (pp. 92-105)

      Popular sovereignty, political inclusion, and equal opportunity are overlapping, characteristically democratic values (Olson 2006). Applied to environmental policy, popular sovereignty ensures that citizens have equal access to necessary resources, grants full information about potentially hazardous exposures, and maintains citizen participation in forming regulations. Political inclusion provides for extra measures, if needed, to ensure access forallsocial groups to adequate information about resource use and potentially hazardous exposures. Equal opportunity tasks the state with not only providing favorable conditions for participatory equality but also counteractingunfavorable conditions. Environmental injustices result when the state breaks democracy’s promise of fairness and justice...

    • 8 Petro-dependent Obstacles to Sustainable Policies: The Corporate State and Its Institutional and Cultural Reflections
      (pp. 106-124)

      Environmental policy should maintain human life at the most fundamental level—the material fabric of life. But even ramped-up conservation and pollution abatement policies formulated by environmentally concerned legislators and implemented on scientific grounds by concerned individual employees of coordinated bureaucracies fall short. Th e gap between petro-dependency’s environmental impacts and environmental policies is a yawning chasm, enlarging as we continue to poison the material fabric of life. Th rough what mechanisms is power exercised in ways that keep us on the path of least resistance? Why is petrodependency the path of least resistance?

      The economic institution is society’s dominant...

  6. PART III Environmental Policy in the Petro-dependent Empire

    • 9 International Environmental Policymaking
      (pp. 127-149)

      The petro-dependent mode of subsistence spread through the world with the global integration of economic markets. Petro-dependency’s environmental impact has likewise spread: the exacerbation of agriculturalism’s impact and the novel impact of synthetic materials. Global petro-dependency has added unprecedented global impact: depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer and, more ominously, global climate changes. Under the petro-dependent flag, international environmental policymaking has fared no better than U.S. policies in approaching sustainability.

      After an introduction to the chief players in the international environmental policymaking process, I offer summaries of thirty major international environmental treaties that feature several in-depth case studies for a...

    • 10 Global Environmental Problems: Overpopulation, Peak Oil, and Climate Change
      (pp. 150-161)

      Humans developed modes of subsistence to increase the availability of resources for the provision of food, clothing, and shelter. Global population growth is the inevitable consequence of increased resources. Equally inevitably, larger populations exploit more resources and produce more pollution.

      The petro-dependent mode of subsistence, the mother of all modes, monumentally increases resources preferred by humans and produces a population explosion. Without adequate international environmental policies, larger populations deplete more resources and pollute more densely and at unprecedented global levels. The world’s most pressing resource depletion problem is the approaching peak in oil production, and our most threatening pollution problem...

    • 11 Sustaining Unsustainability: The Transnational Corporate State
      (pp. 162-188)

      Major obstacles to sustainable international environmental policies are transnational corporate power and deficiencies in the organizational infrastructure for international policymaking. In this chapter, I discuss each and then illustrate them with the example of policy efforts to address climate change.

      The United States is the world’s premier petro-dependent society, and its most significant export is the petro-dependent mode of subsistence, transmitted through corporations. With petro-dependency’s globalization, corporate operations increasingly cross political boundaries to become transnational corporations (TNCs).

      Transnational corporations are chartered in one nation with branch offices, operating divisions, and subsidiary companies conducting business throughout the globe. Global mobility allows...

  7. PART IV And So . . .

    • 12 Once There Was a Planet in the Milky Way Galaxy . . .
      (pp. 191-202)

      National and international environmental policies fail because our mode of subsistence does not work. Land and food are not commodities; they are basic necessities of life that should be accessible to all. Cost-benefit analyses that hang price tags on human life and the biospheric life support system are ludicrous and insulting. “Sustainable growth” is nonsensical: growth is not sustainable because resources are not infinite. Petro-dependency is intrinsically unsustainable—no changes in policymaking can rectify it. We must change our mode of subsistence, if we are to survive.

      We have no silver bullet, no magic spell. We have only our individual...

  8. APPENDIX Websites and Mission Statements: NGO Partners for the Global Plan of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities
    (pp. 203-208)
  9. References
    (pp. 209-222)
  10. Index
    (pp. 223-232)