Toward Systemic Change
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
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
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.
Globalize the Arena
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
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
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.
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