Lately in corporate and political circles there has been a lot of talk about the Green movement… namely, whether or not it helps or hinders our economy. As the upcoming presidential race ramps up, expect a lot of flashy rhetoric from both sides of the fence: this hot-button issue has become a favorite policy point of both political parties.
Most past candidates— even those who support less government interference across the board— have handled environmental issues with the kind of gloves used for cleaning oil-caked seagulls. But our sagging economy has brought a new argument to the forefront of the debate: can we afford to economically hobble our business sector via unnecessary regulations?
The Pro-Greenies believe that stringent environmental regulation will force businesses to invest additional funds to assure compliance— by buying cleaner, less environmentally-damaging equipment, recycling reusable materials, etc. A whole new industry must then arise to invent and produce new technologies and machinery compliant with the latest regulations. Supporters of this scenario anticipate an economic boom in areas of Green technology as companies (compelled by government regulatory restrictions) re-invest and re-develop whole new infrastructures of supply and demand. That model certainly redistributes a lot of capital by generating economic activity in a whole new sector, but it seems to squeeze most of it involuntarily from existing businesses.
The Anti-Greenies believe it is unfair to force business owners to modify formerly successful behavior by adding new regulations intended to achieve long-term environmental goals in the future, but which will add additional operating costs right now.
In short, they want American businesses left alone to go on doing what they have always done. Sounds reasonable enough.
Except: aren’t environmental regulations intended to curb old measures and practices that caused measurable ecological damage in the past? The catalytic converter certainly helped clean up the air, and no one went out of business over it. I mean, how much slack should our society really offer to corporations who cry “foul” when told they shouldn’t spew fumes and toxic chemicals where and how they please?
But how far should these regulations go? Right now, in some parts of California, horse and livestock owners are groaning under the weight of state environmental regulations that classify animal manure as “toxic waste.” They are being forced to take extreme measures to contain and transport the ecological byproducts of their farm animals— byproducts that, when properly composted and used as organic fertilizer, are about as “natural” a “resource” as can be imagined.
Sure, it sounds ridiculous. But when one catalogues the number of ADDED chemicals consumed by most American farm livestock in the form of processed animal feed and pesticide-sprayed grass, and imagines the HUGE unattended dumping grounds required to compost thousands of tons of chemical-saturated animal excrement were there no regulations in place, one begins to get the picture. There are approximately 700,000 horses in California. Plus 5 million cattle, not to mention other livestock. It’s a 10 billion dollar a year industry in that state. That’s a lot of poo.
Sure—a few tons of decaying animal waste, slowly seeping into the local water table over a period of months, is probably not enough to do any serious ecological harm. The soil itself is an incredibly efficient filtration system where water is concerned— it typically takes a LOT of chemical interference, over a very long period of time, for such a situation to do any lasting damage. But when we multiply that scenario— or ANY environmental scenario— by a factor of millions, inescapable problems arise.
The truth is simply that as an industrial society, we’re too big for our own good. Americans traditionally do things in a big, BIG way… in fact, throughout our culture it has long been an accepted truism that “there is no such thing as TOO big.” But such growth brings its own problems.
The answer is NOT to regulate small businesses out of existence in an attempt to create new Green industries; nor dare we take a laissez-faire approach and conspiratorially look the other way, passing the buck along to a future generation. Any candidate who wholeheartedly endorses either one of those options is either too dumb to understand the complexity of the issue, or thinks that the voters are equally dumb.
Keep your ears open, and see who puts their foot in their mouth on this one.