ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS: Capitalism and Environmentalism - no longer a dichotomy of terms
You can almost the hear the deep sighs of frustration, appalling gasps of air and the occasional arrogant snort of aggression as industry leaders, environmental professionals, environmental activists and regulatory agencies wrestle in what seems to be never-ending negotiations to reach common ground and consensus on what it means to protect and sustain our environment. Those in the mix of defining economic gain know that globalization is nothing more than the incremental and powerful progression of the capitalistic ideology to produce wealth by creating and sustaining a heightened level of consumerism based on individual desires resulting from confounded perceptions between wants and needs. This confusion, created by the desire delusion, defines lifestyle and is vital to the success of capitalism, and, therefore, is the basis of economic stability and growth.
Consumers want someone else to bake the cake so it tastes like homemade, sell it as cheap as possible and clean up the mess when finished. All the while, they are consuming something that really isn't necessary for survival, but certainly seems to be at the time. Major decision makers in both the private and public sector realize this mentality defines who we are, like it or not. So what does any of this have to do with defining environmental protectionism? If we look at environmental policy and discourse over the past six months, it becomes evident.
For example, in the U.S., Vice President Cheney, head of the energy task force, recommended that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conduct a 90-day evaluation of the New Source Review (NSR) program. Since 1977, the program required that sources of air pollution install the best pollution-control equipment when a facility is built and when major modifications are made to a process that increases emissions. The NSR program, although based in what seemed to be a stable ideology, has never been pragmatically applied for a variety reasons including confusion resulting from definitions within the rule and time-consuming review processes.
On June 22, 2001, the EPA, in consultation with the Secretary of Energy and other Federal agencies, issued a Background Paper describing the first step of the 90-day review and requested feedback from public and private entities. The EPA and industry negotiators have thrown their hands into the air and are asking the public for help in figuring this one out.
In other U.S. forums, specifically the coalition of "Citizens Summit on Climate Change," sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Conference, the National Council of Churches of Christ, more than 800 scientists, as well as Enron, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin and Maytag, dialogue usually results in written and public displays of concern regarding U.S. leadership in environmental protection.
The issue expands as we begin to look at the international picture. For example, much discussion ensues regarding the Kyoto Protocol. At the same time, the Air and Waste Management Association completed its international conference in Orlando, Fla., drawing over 4,000 environmental managers, policy makers, educators and professionals from around the globe to tangle with issues of environmental sustainable development policy and technology. Concurrently, hundreds of meetings have taken place to discuss EPA's emission trend report. Environmental leaders from around the world are preparing for the Rio +10 Conference to take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002 (marking ten years since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro), the European Union (EU) passed the proverbial environmental leadership torch from Sweden to Belgium as consensus looms over the EU's sixth environmental action plan, and the Japanese upgraded their environmental unit to the Environmental Ministry. Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and other European, Asian and South American countries and republics have discussed issues ranging from carbon trading and energy efficiency to water, waste, recycling and genetically modified foods.
Additionally, international environmental stewardship standards, such as ISO 14000 and the Global Performance and Reporting Initiatives along with market-based emission trading continue to gain interest and momentum. Also, major manufacturing companies, with the support of stockholders, further their strategic environmental position.
If globalization means capitalism and consumerism abroad, does it also mean environmentalism? The degree to which environmental expectations and performance outcomes affect consumer decisions is difficult to quantify. However, the issues exist and companies active in economic planning are reacting accordingly.
If consumer values continue to shift as consumers become more self implicated, influenced, educated and interested in environmental performance, it is imperative for American companies and policy makers either to lead the charge or be ready to respond rapidly to the ever changing demands of capitalization.