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Political Policy in the Reform of Sustainable Technologies

By Corey Dubin | Considering Another Side Essays

When it comes to the topic of sustainable energy, experts will readily agree that it is a pertinent discussion in today’s climate crisis. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is in the question of how it should be funded and paid for. While some are convinced that private industry should lead the way, others maintain that the government should have a part in developing new cleaner forms of energy.  The ongoing debate over funding for sustainable engineering practices and emission reductions is in constant turmoil. On one side, private industry has the power to create a lasting impact on the reduction of carbon emissions because it has the ability to reach the consumer directly. In debate, however, are the components of government regulation to control the energy problem. The main concern with emission reduction stated by our government is the constant debate in terms of how much general power the government should have. Political voices in this country are constantly divided into political parties and pleasing all sides to get a bill passed through congress is never an easy task. The policy makers in Washington, DC must constantly struggle to please the masses in all that they do, as the common people themselves elect them. Although political debates in Washington might seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in terms of today’s concern over emission reductions and climate policy. In the end, the most beneficial process to control emissions and institute cleaner energy is through the use of government regulation over private industry.

A professor of emerging technologies at Arizona State University, Gary E. Merchant, states that government should set standards for sustainability needs and requirements but should not choose how private industry attains them. He cites one example in California’s 1990 emission control standards. California’s limited emission vehicle program mandated that a manufacturer must maintain an average fleet emission rating but did not specify how. This led to great creative space for the manufacturers and worked in the end without upsetting consumers with an overhaul of unfamiliar fuels and technologies (Merchant 837). The essence of Merchant’s argument is that allowing a government flexibility to regulate the private sector, but not allowing it to specify how companies should attain set benchmarks, is the most creative solution. This argument is essential to proving that government policies can be beneficial as long as they are implemented correctly.

The evolution of technological advancement must come at a steady and reliable pace.  The Council of Economic Advisors, a group of presidential advisors, state that implementing emission policy change at a slow pace allows people to adapt to changes and deal with predictable problems because radical technology advances can come with large and unpredictable problems (Council of Econ. Advisors 117).  The Council of Economic Advisor’s argument, however, does not apply to the advancements necessary in today’s world. Eric W. Orts, director of global environmental leadership at the University of Pennsylvania, in Reflexive Environmental Law, talks about a strategy to promote change:

 [T]he successes that are available if we continue the traditional regulatory path are incremental at best. The current regulatory system is about going from A to B to C. The changes we undertake today are about going from A to Z. I don't believe anyone in this country whether an environmentalist or a CEO—believes that incremental steps will achieve the kind of future we all [want]. (Orts 89) 

Orts’s theory of large advancements is extremely useful because it sheds insight on the difficult problem of meeting emission standards in different manufacturing areas set forth by the government. Merchant’s claim is that government is most effective when it sets pure regulations and allows private industry to be creative in how to reach those goals, and his claim is supported by past examples in many different situations including sustainable technologies and clean energy.

Paul J. Saunders, an executive director of The Nixon Center, and Baughan Turekian, a fellow in foreign policy at Brookings Institution with a Ph. D. in atmospheric geochemistry, work together on climate issues as advisors to the undersecretary of state for global affairs to former president George W. Bush. In a publication entitled A Climate Policy for the Real World, the authors discuss policy hearings during a conference between countries at the United Nations in 2010. The authors state an ongoing problem in meetings on the topic of global emission reforms. Saunders and Turekian discuss that in the model of the UN the general body fails to produce a binding agreement between all nations to produce deep and lasting results (Saunders and Turekian 16). The authors point is that the model that the UN uses to provide mediation between countries cannot produce and enforce meaningful legislation due to the lack of political cooperation.

One prime example brought about by Saunders and Turekian is the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is an agreement between participating nations in the UN to reduce their own emissions by a certain date and by a certain percentage (Saunders and Turekian 16). The use of the Kyoto Protocol, according to the authors, is not sufficient to produce meaningful results in reducing emissions in nations across the world. Saunders and Turekian explain that the Kyoto Protocol could not function as planned because, “…[The] modest emissions targets were secondary to its goal of establishing a global system for deeper future reductions…” (Saunders and Turekian 16).  In other words, Saunders and Turekian believe that participating nations did not take the emission targets seriously because they were all looking forward to the future and not planning for emission reductions in their current state. The main use of the Kyoto Protocol by the authors is to show how the implementation of key legislation involving participating nations does not always produce expected results.

In an example of how policy change by a government can have a strong impact on emission control in a nation, Sang-Chul Park, professor at University of Gothenburg in Sweden, and Dieter Eissel, professor at Justus Liebig University in Gissen Germany, discuss how Germany is acknowledged as a key leader in the European Union (EU) for development of sustainable energy technologies (Park and Eissel 323).  According to the authors, “The German government has boosted renewable energy as a share of total energy consumption by remarkable measures…” (Park and Essiel 323).  Germany uses a combination of government regulations and private industry incentives to produce a large rise in alternative fuel use in transportation and green technology in homes (Park and Eissel 332).  In order to promote and boost the spread of green technology, the German government decided to implement policies that allowed private industry to meet regulation while posting a profit. “These conditions consist, firstly, in the regulation of natural monopolies such as gas and electricity supply grids… the development of market-based instruments of simulate change mitigation such as emissions trading and…subsidies for renewable energy technologies…” (Park and Essiel 332).  In other words the author is stating that the use of government regulation was effective because it set standards for private industry to follow while allowing the private sector to develop profit-making policies involving emission reduction practices.

Many opponents of government regulation state that the government only gets in the way of the profit minded private industry.  One example as stated in, “Price and Pride,” an article published in New Republic, a periodical composed of political commentary and opinions,  involves the possibility of price increases in oil by the Carter administration.  The author argues that, “…the only obstacle that stands in our way is the political power of the producers,”  (“Price and Pride” 5).  However, the main point of the price increase by the government was to, “…avoid the possibly fatal prospect of swallowing it all at once in a huge price increase in the 1980s.” (“Price and Pride” 5).  Government regulation can be a viable source of comfort for private consumers.  Government regulation of oil standards can remove suspicion that oil is bought by private industry in a corrupt manner to spike prices and increase profit (“Price and Pride” 6).  With government regulation private industry can still make profit with the protection of the consumer in mind from a monopolizing control on the prices of a necessity to many consumers.

The discussion of emission reduction by government policies is in fact addressing the larger matter of developing new practices in every day life to reduce emissions and develop new renewable energy sources.  George Himmelman, a scientific educator, explains that expectations for growth in the green energy industries are so high that Congress has committed forty-five billion dollars to investments in green energy industries (Hemmelman 27).  The development of renewable energy is important because current energy practices involve resources that are known to be limited in number and harmful on the environment. Although sustainable engineering may seem of concern to only a small group of scientists, it should in fact concern anyone who turns on a light switch, drives a car, flies in a plane, or even watches television as all of these draw power from an electric grid that can be reworked to use amore renewable source of energy. 

Works Cited

Council of Econ. Advisors. The Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisors, Economic report of the President 103 (2009).

Hemmelman, Chris. "It Isn't Easy Being Green." Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers 86.1 (2011): 26-29. Academic Search Premier. Web. 16 Nov. 2011.

Marchant, Gary E. "Sustainable Energy Technologies: Ten Lessons From The History Of Technology Regulation." Widener Law Journal 18.3 (2009): 831-858. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.

Orts, Eric W. Reflexive Environmental Law, 89 Nw. U. L. REV. 1227, 1229 (1995)

Park, Sang-Chul, and Dieter Eissel. "Alternative Energy Policies in Germany with particular Reference to Solar Energy." Journal of Contemporary European Studies 18.3 (2010): 323-339. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.

"Price And Pride." New Republic 178.8 (1978): 5-8. Academic Search Premier. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Saunders, Paul J., and Vaughan Turekian. "A Climate Policy for the Real World." Policy Review 165 (2011): 15-28. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 26 Oct. 2011.