Thursday, December 01, 2011

Why Aren't We Getting It?

World leaders are meeting once again to haggle over standards to control pollutants that make major contributions to climate change.  The subject can be complex, and there are disagreements among scientists on certain points and between environmental and business advocates on major issues. Political considerations cloud the issues.

That said, it is possible to distill the information, add a measure of common sense, and describe the big picture in an understandable way. The following article, published by Richard Brewer on his web page, is the best concise explanation of the situation I have seen.  Brewer is Professor Emeritus, Department of Biological Sciences, Western Michigan University.

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Ozone, Obama, and the Deregulation Doo Dah Parade


By Richard Brewer

President Obama made two serious mistakes early this fall. First, he told the Environmental Protection Agency to withdraw new, stronger, standards for ozone levels in the lower atmosphere that were intended to replace the standards held over from the Bush administration. Ozone (O3) is an atmospheric pollutant dangerous to human health because it’s highly reactive in lung tissues. It’s involved in various respiratory diseases but evidently also in other sorts of human pathology; for example, it’s believed to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. But ozone in the lower atmosphere also has many bad effects besides just our own health and life span.  It damages plants, lowering photosynthesis and growth and is implicated in die-offs of forest trees.

Ozone is produced in the lower atmosphere by reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight. The nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds come mostly from power plants, various sorts of factories, automobiles, gasoline vapor, and chemical solvents.

There are interactions between ozone production and temperature and ozone effects and temperature, such that we get more ozone produced and stronger effects when temperatures are high. These are one of many kinds of interactions that may make global warming an even greater calamity than most of the early predictions claimed.

President Obama’s second mistake was his reason for turning down the new, science-based ozone recommendations. He said he wanted to reduce regulatory burdens and regulatory uncertainty. But tough regulations strictly enforced are what can make capitalism work. The last few years have shown us repeatedly how things go astray when politicians manage to weaken and thwart regulations.  Weakened regulations together with the unwillingness of federal agencies to enforce existing regulations were the main causes of the financial fiasco of 2007-2009 and the recession that came with it.

Michigan has been on the deregulation bandwagon right along. In the DooDah parade of deregulation, it may even have been ahead of the bandwagon.  We had a governor a few years ago whose slogan was “Less enforcement, more compliance.”  Such a proposition if it were sincere would be fatuous, but considering everything, just calling it preposterous or ludicrous will probably have to serve.

President Obama seems to have accepted the argument of the extreme political right that there is a conflict between “the environment” and “the economy.”  For most Americans, the right wing lost on that issue 30 or 40 years ago. Some corporations tell us if the nation doesn’t give them lax environmental rules they’ll take their jobs overseas.  Since such corporations show little national loyalty, some have.

But the balance sheet we need to look at is the overall gain to our nation in terms of clean air and water, healthy citizens, healthy communities, and healthy ecosystems compared with the cost of meeting any given environmental standard. Time after time we’ve seen that the cost of meeting new standards turns out lower than the company’s forecast, that new jobs are created connected with the improved technology needed, and that the overall national cost/benefit ratio is heavily in favor of the tougher standards.

Anyone who’s been paying attention anytime these past 40 years knows that.  Why doesn’t the President?


Kay Dennison said...

Follow the money.

JHawk23 said...

No quarrel with Brewer's facts on ozone, and I agree he presents them cogently. But his piece has a bit of a dreamy quality regarding the political side, where I think the looming probability of the anti-science pro-business crowd's turning this into another political issue ("it's a job-killer," they'll say) is the real deal-breaker at the moment.

Is ozone remediation urgent? Yes, some might argue it's already too late. Can it be successfully implemented without a bipartisan consensus, and in a country where people are actually so scientifically ignorant as to believe evolution is "just a theory" and climate change isn't happening? I doubt it. The time isn't right. It might be timely a year from now, in which case not too much time has been lost, and hoorah; or it might not be, in which case the new standards would be immediately dismantled anyway.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

According to the Washington Post, the US has reduced some of its emissions although it did not join the Kyoto accord formally. Certainly we need to do more, but China and India are the big culprits these days. Perhaps the thing to do is cut back on buying Chinese imports?

Dick Klade said...

Interesting thought, Diane. When we factor in all the diesel oil used to propel those ships bringing goods from China, we have a good argument for buying at home when possible.

joared said...

Those ships are filling our L.A. area ports. Our small city is having a movement to buy locally and U.S. made products. I've been favoring that approach as much as possible for quite a few years, am doing so for these holidays and will continue to do so. Encouraging that goal might be healthy for business and jobs in the U.S.

Kay said...

You've got a very informative blog, Mr. Gabbygeezer. This is a topic near and dear to my husband's heart since we worked for the U.S. E.P.A. for over 20 years. Republicans have been a major frustration for him for a long time. And now President Obama's caving has been very upsetting.