6.7.5 Political Responses to Environmental Challenges
Political responses to environmental challenges of different kinds: including resource shortages, pollution, disease and climate change
These challenges need political action to be taken, to safeguard people’s quality of life and ensure responsible stewardship of the planet. Actions can be in the form of government investments in infrastructure and research (126.96.36.199), or regulations (188.8.131.52). They range in subsidiarity from local issues, where a company might contaminate the neighbourhood water supply for example, through to national, continental and global issues.
The economic aspects of these challenges have already been mentioned (3.5.7). The responses to climate change and other environmental issues will incur costs but will also provide a range of opportunities for business growth. Political agreement is needed to put the necessary arrangements in place – and that can be difficult:
● Many implementations need to be global, but there can be a conflict with national political interests (184.108.40.206). And progress is often slowed down by the short-termism so often visible in democracies: keeping an eye on the next election. Politicians are tempted to offer irresponsible policies (220.127.116.11), and focus on reducing public spending and taxes (6.7.1), rather than provide prudent leadership to protect the long term interests of the population.
● The public is often aware of the need to clean up the local environment and to protect the planet, seeing these as moral issues (18.104.22.168), so they support governments which want to introduce new regulations and invest some taxpayer money – in research, for example. Despite the popularity of green issues, though, some politicians respond to pressure from polluting industries to slow down the rate of change.
● As described later, politicians need to ensure that care is taken of people whose employment is affected by these changes (6.7.8). Given that investments to protect the environment provide such a growth opportunity, it is a case of providing training and investment so that people can move into new jobs to replace the old ones that have been lost.
The following sub-sections examine political responses to environmental challenges of different kinds:
● Resource shortages are becoming more common, partly because of climate change and the responses to it (22.214.171.124). Water shortages, leading to food shortages, have been creating political conflicts and flows of refugees. New technologies have increased the demand for some rare elements, accelerated by the transition to electric cars. And the transition from the use of fossil fuels has been accelerated by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
● Politicians must urgently introduce new regulations to control pollution and degradation of the environment (126.96.36.199). Short-term economic pressures conflict with people’s health and the need for long-term sustainability. Contamination of water supplies and topsoil erosion are issues which are inadequately regulated, for example.
● There are those who deny that man-made carbon emissions are responsible for climate change (188.8.131.52), despite the overwhelming evidence of the connection between industrialisation and global warming. Politicians and fossil fuel companies use misinformation campaigns to delay action in curbing emissions, but the damage caused is cumulative. Temperatures will continue to rise until the world reaches ‘net zero’ emissions: “no longer adding to the total amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere”.
● Countries are working together on setting targets and monitoring progress to limit the human impact on climate change and damage to the environment (184.108.40.206). The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is steering this process and reporting on it. There is some evidence that politicians are making empty promises.
● Controlling the spread of disease can become a political issue (220.127.116.11). Restrictions on people’s liberty and the huge costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic in 2020-22 vividly illustrated how diseases can become politically challenging, and there is disagreement on how best to limit the damage.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/675a.htm.