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A High School Essay

Friday, October 26, 2007
by

Simple Cell

Posted by: Sarah P

I’ve gone back to high school. That’s right, two university degrees and almost 10 years later, I’ve gone back to pick up a few courses I didn’t have time to take. And I started with Grade 11 biology.

As part of this “learn at home” course, I need to address environmental issues. It’s good to see this kind of thing coming up in our high school courses. One question asked for “strategies . . . to combat [the problem of pollution by large industrial companies].” Here’s what I thought:

“The problem of polluting industry must be tackled from two different angles: the government, and industry itself. The reason for this is that government can put in place general policies that can address problems that span the commercial and industrial sectors, while individual companies and those working for them can address specific problems.

A few things the government can do:

Make polluting expensive. Businesses are there to make money, so if their practices are polluting, and the government puts in place regulations that make that pollution expensive, they will change their ways. The government needs to be sure that policies are reasonable, attainable, and will not actually push up the price of doing business in the long term. Some short term financial loss for long term gain should be acceptable to most reasonable business leaders.

Examples of ways the government could do this are a) carbon credits, where dollar signsthe company must buy credits for any carbon emissions they are responsible for above and beyond a given limit, b) no longer subsidising the cost of energy, and therefore allowing the companies to feel the impact of wasteful energy usage, c) making polluting practices illegal, payable though a fine, and d) institute public watchdog organizations that report to the public how certain companies are doing at reducing, reusing and recycling their raw materials, so the public can chose to reward or punish a company based on their ecological record.

Governments can create laws that preserve the current environment (i.e. to protect areas of sensitive wildlife from development, or harmful practices) that are punishable by law, but they must be done carefully. Laws cannot always make fine distinctions between moral and legal obligations, and government must be careful not to tread too heavily, or it will be seen to be anti-business, and won’t last long. The “carrot rather than the stick” approach would work well not only with the companies themselves, but also with the public.

What the companies can do to prevent pollution:

There is no end to what companies can do to reduce their impact on the environment. They need to address problems in all areas: physical plant, the production process, and what the consumer can do with their product. Of course, all the suggestions here are not applicable to one industry, or one company. Each must look at their own situation and respond in accordance to their needs and abilities.

On the physical plant side, companies can look at reducing their energy usage. This might include turning down heating an air conditioning, using solar, wind, or other renewable resources for energy, using grey/rain water forfoot50l.jpg water-dependent systems, turning off lights when they are not necessary (i.e. at night, in the summer, when they will only tax the air conditioning system with their heat output, boardrooms that are not being used, storage/supply rooms that are not in active use, etc.), using low energy consumption machines (i.e. LED screens, not plasma, low wattage bulbs), instituting paper limits and making policies regarding photocopying, printing, etc.. There really is no end to the ways a company can change the way it does business to lessen its environmental footprint.

This is true as well in the production process. All the above suggestions could be applied here too. In addition, the company can look at using recycled materials in its production, recycling waste materials created in the production process, choosing to do business with supply and distribution companies that have proven environmental records.

And once the product is shipped off and lands in the hands of the consumer, the company’s responsibility has not ended. The creation of a user-end product that is itself ultimately recyclable is important. The product should not require excessive energy to use, or to be disposed. The product should be as long-lasting as possible, and if a one-use product, must be biodegradable. The packaging should be limited, and reflect the ability of the product to be recycled or biodegrade.

Finally, a company can offer incentives to its workers to suggest ways in which they can fulfill their environmental responsibility. As each person in the company best knows their own job, they will best know how to change it to require less energy and put out fewer pollutants. If a company is willing to reward it’s workers with financial incentives, so too the government should be willing to reward companies with tax breaks for green environmental business practices (at least in the short term). But beyond both of those timmysparties, the public must be willing to reward and punish companies based on their practices. If we, the general public, refused to buy coffee in cups that were not 100% biodegradable or reusable, the coffee companies would change their practices. There is an immense amount of power held in the purses and wallets of the public (not to mention the voting ballots), and they need to harness that and exercise it. ”

Your thoughts? llewopharas

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Saturday, October 27, 2007 1:34 pm

    Aside from the punctuation issues I noticed (me=punctuatianal), it seems pretty well-written. Good arguments, good reasoning.

    Though personally, your opening bit about making pollution expensive bothers me — not because it isn’t practical, because it certainly would get the job done (properly implemented). I’m just not a fan of government stepping in and being the bully, even if it is for a good cause.

    The shifting cultural tides have an impact, too, in that large industries use these as signals of what their customers will bitch about if they don’t adhere to them. So we see indicators of how much recycled paper is in the cardboard sleeve around a double grande frappaccino, and that sort of thing (though certainly, some of the impetus for that development was governmental regulation).

    My favorite way, what I think is the best way, for such changes to take place is what you covered at the very end — deliberate action by the customer base towards or away from the companies that follow their personal beliefs as to what’s proper and what’s ain’t. You wanna prosper, you have to do what the people think is right; majorities making the decisions. The problem there is that the information about how a company operates can be deceptive and difficult to confirm, plus a lot of people aren’t really interested in paying attention to that kind of thing when they’re spending a buck-ten on some Twinkies; most folk are glad there are governmental bodies to take care of that kind of work for them. Hmm…I like the idea of the majority making decisions, but in this case, the majority made the decision not to have to make those decisions. Hmm again.

    So it’s a good essay, and though by no means should I be given the authority of a teacher — ignoring the past three years where I worked as a teacher — I give it a solid B or B+ (because I’m punctuatianal).

    Could that be a new Occasional here at the Culturatti? Occasional Grade Sarah’s Homework?

  2. Sarah P permalink
    Saturday, October 27, 2007 6:45 pm

    Well, I suppose I should have said this wasn’t really an essay question, but that I turned it into one. It was one of those one-paragraph jobbies that got longer (Mr. Friede would be proud!). That said, I wouldn’t sneeze at a B I’ll let you know what I actually do get on it to see how closely aligned your grading criteria are to those of continuing education teachers here in Durham.

  3. James17930 permalink
    Monday, October 29, 2007 10:46 am

    Sarah,

    I agree with everything you say — in theory. When written out like this is seems obvious that doing all these things would work and why can’t we just get on it? Kinda like the Conservative mantra of ‘tax cuts tax cuts tax cuts’ — yes, sounds good in theory, but that’s because they never tell you it’s gonna always mean ‘service cuts service cuts service cuts’ too.

    Because Beal, unwittingly as he even admits, has hit upon the crux of the whole thing: people are lazy. Who in their right mind, aside from a dedicated few, are going to take the time and effort to do what you propose?

    Beal’s a bit too paranoid about the government for some reason (been watching too much sci-fi maybe?) because the fact is the government — and by extension the government’s ability to liaise with other governments — is the only body which is suited to really tackle a problem like this, and not through incentives or ‘programs’ or anything half-assed like that, but through regulation.

    So instead of ‘oh, we’ll offer $100 tax credits to people who buy hybrid cars to encourage them to do so’ or something of that sort, you simply say — by 2012 all cars produced and imported into the province must be hybrids. Or something like that. Because that’s the only thing that would actually provoke the companies into action; the things you suggest, while they would help, are really not going to put that big a dent into the problem (you know how corporations are — when do they ever do anything voluntarily that might even remotely cut into their profit margins?)

    And as Beal also says, if it’s left up to a consumer choice thing, what that really means is ‘who can propagandize the best?’ And do you really want to leave it up to that? How are we gonna know the information is accurate? There have been many documented cases about how self-policing never works — you always need some sort of independent oversight.

    It’s kind of pointless for companies to make things recyclable if the government hasn’t instituted recycling programs (and I can speak to that first hand from being in Taipei — the recycling is so lackadaisical that people just throw everything in the garbage anyway); my point is it’s always government which must force the issue and put into law what needs to be done. Because otherwise there’s really no way to know if anything of substance is getting done.

  4. Monday, October 29, 2007 6:53 pm

    Unwitting, or just modest?

    And I’ve been watching too much scifi for years, so that’s not the issue. I’m not really paranoid about the government — it’s not even a stab about them being incompetent or corrupt — it’s more that I just think they don’t (or shouldn’t, at least) have the right to tell people what to do to such a degree. Even if it’s way more effective if they do kick our asses, it still don’t seem right. Granted, letting us learn this lesson the hard way could result in me having to swim to the Varsity Cinema to see Spider-Man 8. So there doesn’t seem to be a perfectly right answer.

    As for the problem of consumer choice being decided more by propaganda/advertising than by reason, how is government different? I didn’t see too many of the TV ads from this recent election, but from those that I did, all I really found out was which candidates want my wife to die and which want my kids to die. The tides of society have shifted towards conservation and environmental concern thanks to the steady propaganda of scientists and those who speak for scientists, some of it honest, some of it confusing, some of it alarmist. The select chunk of people who can legally force the behaviour of the rest of us are just as susceptible to jive as the rest of us.

    As for forcing the auto industry to overhaul itself over the next 5 years — and this is pure, don’t have a clue what I’m talking about speculation here — isn’t that risky? Couldn’t the costs of such a thing cause automotive companies to lose out to their out-of-Ontario competition (who would have to choose between not selling to Ontario or stepping up their hybrid production, while the in-Ontario operations would either have to shut down or convert entirely to hybrid — or just move out of province)? The environmental impact would be gone, but the economic impact might not be so. But what do I know about the auto industry? I don’t even have a license.

  5. James17930 permalink
    Monday, October 29, 2007 10:17 pm

    “We prepare for war like precocious giants, but for peace like retarded pygmies.” — Lester Pearson

    Never has that quote been more true.

    If GM and Ford and Chrysler and whomever else can completely overhaul their operations in roughly a year’s time to start producing trucks and jeeps and tanks and other things for WWII (which they did gleefully), then I really can’t see how telling them to simply put something they’ve already developed (remember, they’ve already spent years and millions of dollars on R&D for hybrids anyway) into mass production is going to be prohibitively expensive.

  6. Monday, October 29, 2007 10:48 pm

    It’s not to say they couldn’t do it, but would they do it without abandoning at least the Ontario work force (not that they’ve ever needed a reason to do so)?

  7. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, October 30, 2007 1:21 am

    They’re more likely to abandon the Ontario workforce if they’re not forced to do this because they’ll stubbornly stick to gas-powered cars, their sales will continue to plummet and they’ll close the factories instead of converting them.

    You gotta remember these companies are run by 50 – 60 year old millionaires; not exactly the most far-seeing people.

  8. Sarah P permalink
    Tuesday, October 30, 2007 8:55 am

    I didn’t realize homework could be so controversial…

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