spea magazine

Speaking Out

Kenneth Richards

Toward Systemic Change

The greatest challenge for environmental policy will be to move from a systematic approach to a systemic approach. We have become adept at separating environmental issues one from the other and systematically analyzing them with sophisticated policy and economics tools. What we have done with less skill is consider the broader implications of individual policies for a larger environment. We atomize rather than integrate.

When we talk about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), for example, we tend to focus on the habitat loss because that is the immediate impact. However, developing more fossil fuel could lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, as well as local and regional air pollutants, which in turn have a host of other environmental implications. We think of excessive packaging as contributing to our solid waste problems but tend to forget that it is related to energy demand and air pollution. In this sense, packaging and ANWR are connected. Similarly, a decision regarding domestic environmental policy often has profound implications for the world as a whole.

We cannot separate either ourselves or the issues from the larger context. In making policy decisions we need to appreciate the complexity and interactions in both the physical and the political world.

The challenge, then, is two-fold. First, we must start developing methods and approaches for environmental policy that encourage us to consider the broader implications of our options. We currently use methods that analyze and compare alternative incremental changes. In some cases we need to consider substantial systemic shifts. Second, we have to find ways of communicating among ourselves about the systemwide ideas that we are developing. Of the two, I think the latter is going to be more difficult. Both political and academic forums emphasize small changes and simple messages. We deal in sound bites and “least publishable units”. What we really need is a way to consider and debate visionary systemic change.

Kenneth Richards, professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the Wharton School and a J.D. from the Law School, University of Pennsylvania. Richards has served as an economist at the Council of Economic Advisers, the USDA Economic Research Service, and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Matt Auer

Globalize the Arena

The single biggest environmental policy challenge for the next president is shifting Congress’ and the environmental regulatory bureaucracy’s attention from the local and domestic spheres to the transnational and global arenas.

In the years to come, the U.S. will bear greater environmental risks generated by overseas sources. Long-range transport of air pollution already brings Asia’s smokestack emissions to America’s east coast. Climate change is warming up seawater more quickly than the atmosphere; one consequence is the dying-out of two-thirds of the world’s coral reefs with untold effects on marine food webs and commercial fisheries. Warmer temperatures may also allow tropical insect-borne diseases to gain a foothold in North America.

There are even regional and national security risks to consider: In many hot spots of the world, including the Horn of Africa, the Jordan River valley, and in Iraq, clean water, fertile agricultural soils, and electricity can make the difference between healthy, economically vibrant communities and communities that are ailing and angry. People deprived of natural resources may be forced to migrate elsewhere, adding pressure on neighboring communities and countries.

It makes sense for the U.S. to increase its environmental investments overseas. Over time, we will be better off underwriting pollution control in places like Beijing, Delhi, and São Paulo than making the same investments for much smaller incremental benefits in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.

But the U.S. should not go it alone in fostering environmental protection abroad. The president can and should partner with European and wealthy Asian allies. Rich donor countries worldwide confront many of the same externally borne environmental risks as does the U.S.

Matt Auer is a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. His research focuses on comparative industrial environmental politics, international forest policy, and the politics of foreign aid. He received his Ph.D. from Yale University.

Evan Ringquist

Break the Stalemates

Rather than discuss particular environmental problems, I’d like to emphasize a political problem that needs to be tackled by the incoming administration: conflict management in the design and implementation of environmental policies.

Environmental problems are most often addressed through political means; effective environmental policy requires something approaching stakeholder consensus on policy goals and the widespread acceptance or legitimacy of the means for attaining these goals. Neither condition currently holds in the United States. Despite this reality, the political dimensions of environmental protection are often overlooked. Mitigating environmental problems rarely pits “good guys” (environmentalists) against “bad guys” (polluters). Rather, these problems are most often characterized by competing groups pressing valid claims on all sides of environmental issues, and increasingly these groups are near parity in terms of political power and/or resourcefulness. Such a situation is ripe for stalemate; progress in addressing environmental problems grinds to a halt.

These stalemates are manifest at the local level; for example, communities and responsible parties are increasingly unable to reach agreements regarding the cleanup of Superfund sites, and management plans for National Forest Units take years to develop.

Stalemate is also common at the national level; for example, legislators are unable to agree on reauthorization of Superfund legislation, and EPA officials and associated stakeholders are unable to agree upon final rules for implementing existing pollution control statutes. Previous administrations attempted to break these stalemates using innovative administrative tools such as regulatory negotiation and public-private partnerships in environmental protection.

The current administration is attempting to break these stalemates by limiting public participation in environmental decision-making, and by emphasizing voluntary environmental programs that nearly eliminate government (and citizen) input altogether. Objective assessments of these efforts suggest that they’ve had minimal effects on either resolving political stalemates or improving environmental quality, indicating that the next administration will need to redouble efforts in this area.

Evan Ringquist, professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, began his academic training at Moorhead State University (receiving degrees in political science, economics, and biology) and continued this training at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he received the M.A. and Ph.D. in political science and M.S. in environmental studies.