Economy and Life



Whether it be through intensified media attention, or due to the efforts of prominent scientists and other members of society, we have become increasingly aware of the detrimental effects that technological advances in industry and agriculture have on the global environment. However, as Carl Sagan points out in “Pulling the Plug on Mother Earth” awareness is not enough, nor is society’s response to the catastrophic implications of environmental pollution rapid enough. Slowness to implement sound strategies are in part due to the fact that the threats we face are nebulous, since they come in the form of particles of invisible gases and radioactivity, and in part because response to pollution appears to be so costly at individual, governmental and corporate levels. It appears that great material loss, as well as visual manifestation, have been the only ways to galvanize action towards altering and limiting technologies so that adverse chemicals and substances are no longer belched into the environment. For example, Sagan is right on the mark when he indicates that it took the reality that CFCs were destroying the sensitive but protective ozone layer to encourage large chemical companies to begin a gradual phase-out of these substances, even when scientists had already discovered the terrible effects of the chemical combination.

Sagan says that to slowly stop usage of such obviously dangerous substances is not enough, for even with current conditions, it is estimated that the damaged ozone layer will require at least 100 years to repair itself. In the interim, we are risking danger to the food chain, global warming, and increased cases of skin cancer. Rather than risk these catastrophes, Sagan calls for the immediate phase-out of CFCs, as well as to improve energy usage, plant trees, and curb the population explosion as supplemental methods to improve the environment.

While the cause and effect relationship between technological advances and pollution have certainly influenced public outcry towards change, and influenced corporations to alter their poisoning mechanisms, the immediate change that Sagan calls for will necessarily meet with resistance. Sagan’s own “revelation” about mankind’s reticence to act unless literally “under the gun” remains a valid point. Destruction of the ozone layer and incidents such as the Exxon oil spill in Alaska are indeed enormous calamities, and we have been cautioned by at least one reputable scientist as to the risks we take by delaying reform, but these events are still not great enough to spawn greater action than handling the immediate situation. It is one thing to agree that car travel pollutes the environment, and to see dense smog in the Los Angeles Basin, but millions will still get in their vehicles tomorrow to drive their jobs. Current technologies available have been incorporated into lifestyle at a very practical level.

The large cogs of public and private interests also turn slowly due to this infrastructure of product usage which has become so firmly entrenched. Decisions that were made decades ago, such as automobile transit phasing out train transit, and the manufacture of energy through the building of nuclear plants, effect and influence us right now at very fundamental levels. Just as the ozone layer will take decades to repair itself, society and public acceptance requires time to shift and modify as well, as Sagan does well to point out.

The challenge to orchestrate the changes necessary for environmental improvement are further complicated in at least two ways. First, there are conflicting viewpoints as to the role government plays to influence private industry to replace technologically damaging processes with more ecologically sound technologies. Second, to phase out current technologies is a burden many corporations are unwilling to take on; implementation of new technologies adversely affects profit margins. Third, governmental failures in policy, according to Morgensen and Eisenstodt in “Profits are for Rape and Pillage,” create a situation where corporations have no incentive to move towards pollution control. Implementation of governmental governmental policies and programs designed to improve the environment fail because there is no incentive for legislators to determine the costs and benefits of their legislation, as there is a lack of appropriate experience in the matter. Legislators focus only on the appearance of implementing solutions for the popular vote, then allow their decisions to be clouded by lobbyists and