Assessing the Responsibilities of Private and Federal Organizations in Solving Environmental Problems
In situations of economic stress or recovery, society has a way of redistributing blame to maintain peace and avoid further conflict. People living in a society feel better if they are under the protective wing of some form of government who can both enforce laws and take responsibility. The government, in turn, will allocate responsibility into specialized organizations. These institutions are granted the power to decide and execute the best methods of solving problems. Some of these institutions, i.e. the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, launch campaigns aimed toward the general public to take personal responsibility for their impact on the environment. At first glance, this may appear to be a means of freeing both government and society from blame. However, the establishment of such organizations distributes responsibility to accomplish a common goal; they try to divide any social concern so that it may be approached from multiple perspectives. This can only increase the probability of success.
The goal of this essay is to assess the responsibilities of private and federal organizations, specifically in how they support or impede efforts to solve different environmental problems.
The managerial model can be used to describe the processes in constructing social institutions and organizations. The managerial paradigm is a tool for understanding patterns of social behavior and change. When a society is under environmental crisis, the managerial paradigm emphasizes the need for substantial structural change. It is the responsibility of managerial decision-makers to create or maintain major social institutions, like capitalism and local government systems. The decisions made from these organizations are also subject to this model (Humphrey, et al., 2002).
Davis (2003) describes a smog epidemic that quietly adds to the yearly death tolls in cities around the world. More importantly, he compares the responses and solutions imposed by emergency government and social task forces or lack thereof. The London incidence, which claimed over a thousand lives a week, caught the attention of Parliament and several insurance companies. Unfortunately, managerial concern for this pollution problem did not arise until the consequences became much worse. The managerial method is dictated by reform from within, and the British government conducted studies that would help assess the situation and find the best solution. However, the numbers were muddled with the deaths of people who “would have died anyway” given predictions on past years, making the true smog-related deaths difficult to calculate. Also, the sickness and morbidity rates were not very organized and missing important numbers. An official report of the London fog was issued two years later naming influenza as the cause of death. Although managerial practices were initially intended, little was changed or implemented to solve the pollution problem. Thus, the managerial practices failed (Davis and Gaynor, 2003).
In the Los Angeles case, the California state government recognized the similarities between the deadly smog incidences in Donora and their own brown haze and issued the first Air Pollution Control Act of 1949. This soon authorized the creation of an Air Pollution Control District in every county in California. By 1954, LA had more cars than any other city in California and pollution was becoming a hot political issue. It had not become a managerial issue until a team led by Lester Breslow, California chief of environmental health, developed methods of dealing with air pollution that is used throughout the world today. California became the first state to impose auto emissions standards car engine tests and severely reduced the state’s air contaminant levels. The state was also first to set up programs for “setting and changing the standards for key air pollutants” (Davis and Gaynor, 2003). Breslow’s revolutionary approach to solving an environmental problem does the best job of illustrating the managerial paradigm than all of the other cases. By cleaning up the city’s air, Breslow renewed the community’s opinion of regulatory managers and increased political legitimacy during tough times. This gives agency managers greater ability to exercise authority for the benefit of the environment (Humphrey, et al., 2002).
Corporations are also subject to the managerial paradigm, although decision-making and accountability are handled a little differently. Corporations assume no liability and responsibility falls directly upon its shareholders. For the most part, decisions are handled by a board of directors. In a capitalist society, competition is the only driving force for self-improvement. Competition forces corporations to make the best product for the lowest prices for the benefit of the consumer. Nowadays, that just isn’t enough. When price or quality is similar, consumers tend to favor the corporation that is the most eco-friendly. Animal testing and industrial pollution are now universally frowned upon for any corporation. When found guilty of any anti-environmental deeds, a corporation can decide to settle the matter out of court or organize a committee or agency to solve the problem. In this example, both decision-making and responsibility-reassignment are practiced to demonstrate the fundamentals of the managerial model (Haeckel, 2005).
An example found in the text by Robert and Thanos would be the Pemon resistance to the logging and mining companies. Decree 1850 gave foreign industries the right to Colombian land including 40% of the native people’s reserve. CUG electric company planned to build a 470-mile power line would link Brazil and Venezuela with a steady stream of hydroelectric power. Unfortunately, the Guri Power Line would also impact the lives of 24,000 indigenous people, including the native Pemon of Columbia. Environmentalists from the United States argued that the desecration of the Pemon’s sacred land would destroy forests, decrease biodiversity, poison the water supply, and increase erosion. They were also worried that urbanization of local villages would increase crime and introduce prostitution. Activists protested foreign companies in a variety of ways to get their point across. They held over 75 public protests, blockaded highways, and even threatened mass suicide. In 1998, the Pemon and Colombian government came to an uneasy compromise. They agreed that the land be demarcated as sacred land and the Guri Power Line could be constructed, but no industry powered by the line could reside within the National Park borders. The U.S. became involved because they believed that the Pemon held the right to protect their distinctive, 4th-world relations with their land. The Venezuelan corporation, following the managerial paradigm, combated an activist movement, or a civil society organization, whose actions closely resembled that of the radical paradigm (Roberts and Thanos, 2003).
Institutions that impact the environment range from corporations exploiting natural resources to government issued policies limiting fuel consumption to pro-environmental activists collecting signatures for wildlife conservation. The paradigms involved range from managerial to radical. The environmental impact may be positive or negative and the actual, physical impact the parties have may vary. The driving forces behind these organizations include profit, responsibility, religion, love, and pure survival. The case studies presented should show how private and federal organizations may contribute to both environment and society.
Diamond, J. D. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York, NY: Penguin.
Haeckel, S. H. (2005). Origins and axioms of the industrial age managerial framework. Retrieved from http://www.senseandrespond.com/essays/industrial-age-managerial-paradigm/
Humphrey, C. R., Lewis, T. L, & Buttel, F. H. (Eds.). (2002). Environment, energy, and society: A new synthesis. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
Kinder, C. (1998). The population explosion: Causes and consequences. Retrieved from http://teachersinstitute.yale.edu/curriculum/units/1998/7/98.07.02.x.html
Roberts, J. T., & Thanos, N. D. (2003). Trouble in paradise: Globalization and environmental crises in Latin America. New York, NY: Routledge.
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