The American Impasse Between Environmentalists and Industry

Big group of wind turbines on the bay with a small sailboat sailing in the foreground.65

In a recent book by Joel S. Whitworth, “Quantified: Redefining Conservation for the Next Economy” (Whitworth 2015), the author issues a bold challenge claiming that our 45-year old approaches to environmental policy through labyrinthine regulation, litigation, and exhortation are bringing inadequate results in halting global climate change. He argues for new “quantified”, cooperative approaches.

As a long-term student of the impasse between environmentalists and industry (Manheim 2009) I agree with an environmental activist, David Schoenbrod (Schoenbrod, Stewart et al. 2012) that our current policies inhibit innovation, foster antagonism, perpetuate endless conflict and frustrate the goals of both environmentalists and industry.

Why can’t we take off America-centric blinders to see what advanced European nations (not Greece) are achieving? Europe has 3200 offshore wind turbines with 419 added in 2015. We have none. One project with high-level federal and state political support is in construction in federal waters off Block Island. Norway pioneered salmon farming and is the world’s second seafood exporter. American has the world’s longest shoreline but imports 84% of its seafood (NOAA, 2014). Our coastal policies assure that we have no marine aquaculture of commercial scale. Any projects that survive competition with other coastal users face a murderers’ row of regulatory barriers.

Sweden is a world leader in global climate change performance and policy, where environmentalists and industry cooperate toward common goals. For example, instead of tens of thousands of regulations and $50,000 per day fines for noncompliance as in the U.S. Clean Air Act, in 1999 Sweden unified former environmental laws and decentralized environmental policies. It has just reached 50% renewable energy (total energy use) compared with our 10% (as of 2014), Instead of hemorrhaging manufacturing like the U.S. Sweden has a robust industrial and manufacturing sector. It recently bought remaining U.S. appliance production from General Electric! Instead of our $600 billion trade deficit, Sweden has surpluses.

Many Americans’ predictable reaction to the foregoing will be “Sweden can do such things because it is a small, homogeneous nation”. Let me point out that Albania, Macedonia, and Moldova are also small, homogeneous nations – the poorest in Europe. An entity larger in population than the U.S., more diverse culturally, and speaking 20 different languages, has adopted effective, consensual, and more advanced policies than the U.S. That entity is the European Union! Eventually we will have to overhaul our system. I encourage those who really care about global climate change to get interested, involved, and support reform.

About the Author: Frank T. Manheim, is an Affiliate Professor and Distinguished Research Fellow in the School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs at George Mason University, Arlington VA. He can be reached via email at fmanhei1@gmu.edu.

 

REFERENCES

Manheim, F. T. (2009). The Conflict over Environmental Regulation in the United States: Origin, Outcomes, and Comparison with the EU and Foreign Regions. New York, Springer Publishing Co.

Schoenbrod, D., et al. (2012). Breaking the Logjam: Environmental Protection That Will Work, Yale University Press.

Whitworth, J. S. (2015). Quantified: Redefining Conservation for the Next Economy, Island Press.

 

Updated 4/22/16 8:00am EST – Updated date of Sweden’s unification of former environmental laws and decentralization of environmental policies.