Fred Wooden on Climate Change and More
It’s real and we did it. All the environmental issues we face are the product of our industrial society. According to the EPA, over 65% of all greenhouse gases come from transportation, energy production, industry itself, and modern agriculture. Oil spills, poisoned water, air pollution – all of it – are due to modern industrial life. The simplest answer would be to dismantle industrial society, but we need industrial society, as it gives us modern medicine, safe foods, sanitation, electricity, the internet and more. Hence the challenge.
How do we address the cost of industrial society without losing the manifest benefits of it?
- Make the environmental costs of industry part of the profit/loss equation. The Triple Bottom line concept is key – financial, social and ecological. For generations, the ecological costs were ignored as ‘externalities,’ the side effects of industry such as mine tailings and smoke/water pollution. The Triple Bottom Line concept seeks to quantify the environmental costs of industry. How can we do that?
- Restore corporate taxes at least to the level before the new Tax Law, because those taxes are what we used to remediate the social and environmental costs of business.
- Create positive incentives to reduce those taxes when corporations take responsibility for the externalities. That means: quantifying greenhouse gases and pollutants where each has a cost/price that is the cost of removing them. A company could reduce its taxes to the extent it reduced its environmental externalities.
- The federal government would establish the costs, akin to establishing universal weights and measures as provided in The Constitution, which companies would then measure over time. The greater the reduction in greenhouses gases, or pollutants, the more tax credit would be available. An optimal Triple Bottom Line would be a profit to the company, a living wage and benefits to workers, and a clean community around it. This system would be universal for all businesses so that all would play by the same rules. In this way, none would have financial advantage and thus all would be able to compete equally.
- What about imports? Through trade agreements and, if necessary, environmental tariffs, we would make importing goods that did not address environmental costs more competitive with those that do, minimizing the temptation to outsource. (This is the situation that affects the second ‘bottom line’ that affects workers especially.)
- Reparative actions – reforestation and watershed repair for example – would also be credited, but somewhat less so, as to encourage business to avoid polluting in the first place. And government at all levels should have punitive powers when businesses cause measurable harm to people such as chemical dumping and oil spills, which should include the true cost of repair.
- Federal law should support local and state policies that encourage stewardship of natural resources, such as public transportation reducing emissions, ordinances and laws limiting waste products and rewarding recycling, and land use policies that make it economical to preserve wetlands and other habitats.
There is much more in the vast area of environmental issues, but these ideas would touch upon all aspects, I believe. But let me add that addressing these issues, of all the challenges facing America, could spark the next phase in industrial society, one that creates new ways of creating, using, and preserving natural resources. If we make it a challenge to be met more than a law to be obeyed, far from being an impossible burden, it could be the gateway to our next chapter as a nation. — Fred Wooden