Marley Thompson — Taft School
The environment and the economy are often viewed as opposite entities; one must be sacrificed for the salvation of the other. Conservatives argue that environmental regulations ruin competition, the free market, and therefore society itself, while liberals respond that the environment is more important in any case: what free market can be sustained on a dead planet with no natural resources?
However, the real problem lies in placing economy and environment in separate compartments while, in reality, they are mutually dependent. Obviously the economy cannot survive without the environment: nowhere to live, no resources to use and sell. We would almost all be dead. Even in the less extreme case, natural disasters destroy gross domestic product, property, demand curves, and supply curves. Natural disasters drastically inflate or deflate prices, causing economic crises. Our overuse of resources leads to shortages of what were once staples and to massive price inflation due to this shortage (WWF, 2017) and, at rate the ocean levels are rising, major port cities, such as New Orleans and New York, because they will be underwater. The environment has been so abused that without the input of a lot of effort and money, or the complete disappearance of human disturbance, the Earth may not be able to heal itself.
This risk alone should incentivize the government to maintain and increase environmental regulations. However, somehow the case is still being made that if the government tries to protect the environment, they will effectively destroy the economy. The first argument for this position states that regulating the economy will result in the death of all competition and therefore the free market itself. Innovation and the development of the country as a whole stunts, eventually leading the country to third world country conditions. Yet, environmental regulations don’t kill competition. They are not harbingers of communism and the death of capitalism. Regulations capping carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and prohibiting water pollution both help people and save the money the government can funnel to correct other environmental problems caused by emissions and pollution. Currently, the government spends more than $4 billion on air pollution alone due to the 16,000 premature births caused by air pollution simply due to a lack of preventative regulations in the first place (Lupkin, 2016). Pollinators, which support our agriculture, are dying off, and fish, which used to be a commodity, are scarce due to overfishing and ocean pollution (WWF, 2017). Not only does the pollution cost the government money and human costs, but also continues to destroy our economy as more resources disappear. Restricting companies from polluting rivers and releasing a certain amount of carbon dioxide into the air does not change the competition between their products, but may force them to start running their companies more efficiently and mindfully. This is where innovation breeds: a new thing, or the same thing but improved to be more sustainable and inexpensive. Just as battery powered cars have slowly invaded the car market, other more environmentally friendly machines must move into the workplace. This type of development is exactly what makes countries see others as leaders in the world.
Another argument against the protection of the environment for economic purposes is that many consumers cannot afford solar energy, causing the price of electricity to go up as electricity companies are required to use more solar energy. Especially in the case of small businesses, requiring an increase in solar energy use can theoretically cause a ripple effect in the economy. Because the input prices of electricity would be rising, businesses would have to reallocate funds to pay for electricity and have to most likely lay off workers, raising unemployment rates. In response to that argument, it is important to note that conservation does not rely on lower electricity usage. Focusing too closely on the short term effects of one part of environmental protection plays closely on heartstrings, but cuts out important facts and statistics about how these regulations actually affect the economy and day to day costs of living. Unemployment in the US is currently under what is considered to be ideal unemployment: it rests approximately at 4.3% as of September 2017 (Bureau of Labour Statistics, 2017). This statistic is after years of the Obama administration adding regulations and the growth of the popularity of solar power (Office of Press Secretary, 2016). Therefore, the rise in use of solar power has, at least, not hindered the number of jobs on the market and the costs of living for the everyday American. Even though in the short term electricity prices will rise, in the long term, solar prices will go down as production becomes more efficient.
At the same time, the cost of oil production is rising and will continue to rise. Even though oil prices have recovered from the energy crises in the 1970s, the US still is nowhere near the most efficient oil producer, with OPEC producing oil at a cost of about ten dollars a barrel and US shale production costs at over twenty dollars (DiLallo, 2017). Even if shale producers can currently make profit from oil, production prices are increasing in the US and will keep on rising (US Energy Information Administration, 2017). The USA cannot keep up with the more lucrative countries, and it makes no sense to try when we have the land, space, and various climates to produce sustainable amounts of renewable energy.
The third argument is that governments do not have the resources to effect sustainable change within the world of industries. However, this argument in particular pertains to the choices of the government and how they will follow regulations. As the superpower country, the USA must set an example, no matter what other countries may or may not do. At the same time, the USA also has the third largest population in the world (US Census Bureau, 2017), and so has a responsibility to change, seeing that it produces more greenhouse gasses and general human contamination than smaller countries. However, even if the US were a smaller, less populated country with no responsibility as a leader, the possibility of other countries not participating or keeping their word is no excuse. If everyone behaved that way, nothing would ever be accomplished. We would have been unable to agree to not invade other countries anymore, to not use chemical warfare anymore, and to generally try to avoid another world war had every country not put aside their distrust and agreed to be responsible for themselves in following the rules. No one is asking the USA to be responsible for the emissions levels in Hong Kong but simply for the USA to be responsible for itself. If one or two countries decide they no longer want to follow the rules, they find themselves at odds with the rest of the world, as the USA currently is, and in a very poor political position. In the end, we need governments all over the world to take action and expend the energy necessary for serious change.
We cannot all agree on how to handle climate change because of valid arguments supporting both sides. However, as a basic responsibility, the government must make choices for the people through representation and therefore take charge in the fight against climate change too. Even though the administration currently emphasizes the short term improvement of the economy, they must start thinking about the long run of not only the economy, but also our world.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “The Employment Situation — September 2017 .” 6 Oct. 2017, www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf.
DiLallo, Matthew. “Here's How Much It Costs Both Saudi Arabia and the US to Produce Oil.”Business Insider, Business Insider, 26 Mar. 2017, www.businessinsider.com/how-much-it-costs-both-saudi-arabia-and-the-us-to-produce-oil-2017-3.
Lupkin, Sydney. “Air Pollution Is Costing the US More than $4 Billion a Year.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 31 Mar. 2016, www.businessinsider.com/air-pollution-costs-us-4-billion-a-year-2016-3.
Office of Press Secretary. “FACT SHEET: Obama Administration Announces Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative.” National Archives and Records Administration, National Archives and Records Administration, 19 July 2016, obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/07/19/fact-sheet-obama-administration-announces-clean-energy-savings-all.
WWF. “Overfishing.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund, 2017, www.worldwildlife.org/threats/overfishing.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Paris Agreement - Status of Ratification.” United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations, 9 Oct. 2017, unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9444.php.
US Census Bureau. “U.S. and World Population Clock Tell Us What You Think.” Population Clock, 29 Oct. 2017, www.census.gov/popclock/.