05 October 2015

Environmental policies that hurt the environment

As cities move beyond recycling paper and metals, and into glass, food scraps and assorted plastics, the costs rise sharply while the environmental benefits decline and sometimes vanish. “If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront,” says David P. Steiner, the chief executive officer of Waste Management, the largest recycler of household trash in the United States. “Trying to turn garbage into gold costs a lot more than expected. We need to ask ourselves: What is the goal here?” The reign of recycling, John Tierney, 3 October
Say no more. Or rather, say it again and again: what is the goal? Recycling is not a goal: it is an alleged means to ends that remain unspecified. We'd do better to think about those ends, specify them, and then encourage people to achieve them. Recycling can and does play a role, but not always, as the article excerpted above shows.
We see something of the same lack of clarity about environmental goals in the recent Volkswagen debacle. A recent article title sums it up: The Volkswagen diesel scandal was driven by carbon obsession
From 2001, punitive rates of up to £500 were applied to cars [in the UK] which emit carbon emissions of more than 225g/km, while cars below 120 g/km were treated to token road-tax rates. As manufacturers quickly discovered, the only way to get many vehicles below these thresholds was to make them diesel.It was well known that diesel engines produced large amounts of tiny carcinogenic soot particles, but this was brushed over. Particulate emissions were meant to be dealt with by filters, yet these are known to become blocked if engines spend too much time idling, as they do on urban roads. Diesels also produce far higher levels of nitrogen oxides, the subject of the VW scandal. Ross Clark, 3 October
A Social Policy Bond regime would improve on this sort of  random policymaking. Certainly, the first steps would be difficult, but they are essential: defining the environmental goals we want to achieve. Most likely, we'd target for reduction pollutants that adversely affect human, animal and plant life. The bonds are sufficiently versatile that other objectives could be simultaneously targeted. The important thing is that, under a bond regime, we'd be targeting meaningful goals according to their lethality, rather than their media profile.

For more about application of the Social Policy Bond concept to the environment start here. There are also numerous posts about the environment on this blog.

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