Rothman 8
Earth Day is April 22--where are we compared to 1970?  What did the environmental movement of 1970-2005 accomplish?
hole in the ozone layer
Click for Animation
The hole in the ozone layer
  • larger pattern: how a problem is identified, political action is taken (deciding on regulation), solution put into place
  • ground level ozone is a dangerous pollutant
  • stratospheric ozone protects us from UV radiation
  • in the upper atmosphere ozone is constantly being created and decaying
  • certain chemicals, particularly CFCs used in air conditioning and aerosol cans, cause reactions that cause stratospheric ozone to decay faster
  • hole in the ozone layer discovered by scientific experiments at the south pole and from satellites
  • we got very quickly to clear scientific data about the problem
  • if this had continued the ozone layer would have gotten thinner and thinner all over the earth
  • if the ozone layer gets thinner there will be more skin cancer
  • international agreements to stop producing those chemicals--1987 Montreal Protocol
  • countries agreed to stop using CFCs
  • this was easier to address because:
    • the science was clear
    • alternatives were possible
  • chemical engineers went out and found alternative chemicals (green chemistry)
  • people did change their behavior, stopped using aerosol cans for many things
  • this is working
  • a much easier issue than global warming because there are easy substitutes
Technological Fix
  • we can invent a solution to the problem instead of having to change our behavior
  • when this works it is great
  • sometimes we hope for a technological fix because it is too hard to change people's behavior
  • but often behavior has to be addressed as well
Environmental movement became weaker because the easy problems got fixed leaving harder problems and because some people came to feel environmental regulation had gone too far.
Backlash against the environmental movement on the grounds of personal property rights and local control
  • if you own swampy land near the coast, you aren't allowed to drain and fill it to build houses because wetlands are protected
  • the mainstream big-government approach was a paternalistic state--the government should protect us
  • trend 1990-2006--more suspicion of government, more individualism, maybe people have to protect ourselves, questioning when the government tries to make things better does it really work?
  • but there was significant reaction against the federal government telling people what to do
  • as in the Sagebrush Rebellion people tried to claim local control over federal land
  • fight in Cantron county, New Mexico, about the owners of a small ranch who had permits to graze cattle on 145,000 acres of federal wilderness land
  • more recently the issue has been property rights: should the government compensate you every time regulation limits what you can do with your property?
    • if it did, regulation would be too expensive
    • compromise--you can fill wetlands in one place if you restore an equal amount someplace else
    • how much are we willing to accept limits on individualism and property rights for the collective good?
  • the success of the environmental movement meant problems were less obvious and less pressing
  • how bad do we see the problem to be, how much will it cost us to fix it, how much will we have to give up to fix it
  • opinions became more polarized--people on both sides were less willing to compromise
diagram of the
                      greenhouse effect
Global warming is a new kind of issue forcing us to confront the changes in behavior and need to work globally that Rothman says the environment movement failed to achieve in the mid 1990s
  • hard case--the problem did not become clear quickly and the solution requires changes in behavior, there isn't an easy technological fix, the problem is in the future rather than immediate
  • the industrial revolution led to burning of fossil fuels and increasing carbon levels in the atmosphere--increase in carbon dioxide from 280 to 375 ppm
  • it is hard for us to believe we are affecting the whole world, not just our local area
  • how to balance action globally?
                  of co2 production by country
  • the third world will be hurt most
  • is there a technological fix?
    • nuclear power (expensive, some people are afraid of it)
    • make cars and houses more efficient (maybe 10 or 20%)
    • plant more trees (maybe 10%)
    • what about a more radical approach
    • pump carbon back into the ground--can this be done at a reasonable cost?  Carbon sequestration requires the least change in what we do, but would be very expensive
    • put sulfur dioxide in the upper atmosphere (artificial volcano)
    • put mirrors in space to reflect sunlight away
    • should we consider such geoengineering?
  • there aren't easy substitutes; we may actually have to change our way of life
  • people in the developed world use far more than our share of resources
  • we can reduce energy use (this is actually the cheapest alternative), find sources of energy that don't produce carbon (hydro, wind, solar, nuclear) or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
  • pursue several different solutions at once--find 5 solutions each of which reduce global warming by 20%
  • are we willing to change the way we do things to prevent these problems?  the next few years will tell
  • science cannot give us sure predictions

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
Hist 124
last updated 4/16/10