joe sherlock

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How can we increase the effectiveness of Environmental Law?

Environmental law is a fairly new concept, and it is increasing becoming more apparent that we must put measures into place that reduce the amount of pollution we transmit into the biosphere.

A growing consumerism population will indefinitely put increasing pressure on the environment, however enforcing countries to be sustainable is especially difficult since Environmental International Law is not legally binding (meaning countries have the option whether to sign a protocol).

How can we increase the effectiveness of Environmental Law, would a single universal definition of ‘the environment’ help or should greater enforcement measures be put into place?

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    Nov 13 2013: Hi Joe....really good question!

    I believe that everything needs to start in our own backyard. Encouraging other countries to be more sustainable is much more difficult when we ignore the issues right in our own back yards.

    So, I think/feel awareness of our environment needs to start with each and every one of us as individuals. The state I live in (Vermont) has had environmental laws for years, and it also took years to change the perceptions of people and to better ENFORCE the environmental laws.

    For example...
    Years ago, I challenged a toxic business in our village which was CLEARLY in violation of local, state and USEPA laws. One would think that the laws would be enforced immediately. However, the owner of the business was on the local permitting board, and friends with state "enforcers". It took persistence and courage (my life was threatened) on my part to continue the process.

    We all need to be willing to take the steps necessary to enforce environmental laws that are in place, and if there are none in place, the citizens of that area can work toward that goal.

    After taking care of the toxic business issue, I volunteered to serve on the permitting boards, which I continue to do. That gives me an opportunity to support enforcement of environmental laws regionally. The more people who speak up about it and become part of the solution, the better opportunity we have of reaching our goal. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem:>)

    BTW....welcome to TED conversations:>)
  • Keith W

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    Nov 12 2013: why do we always think monopolized force through the channel of government is necessary in making a positive difference? What is any proposed environmental law going to do to actually make a difference. Watch John Stossels "Green Tyranny" he has the lead NASA climatologist on talk about how all proposed regulation will do very little to stop climate change while it murders the global economy. Have you read Obamas proposed global environment plan? if its not a ponzi scheme i dont know what is? The real way to make change is to invest in science and technology, thats it that all. Plus you think the developing world will ever comply with global environmental regulation while in the pursuit of industrializing. ha what a joke. An enlightened masses is always helpful and if people vote with their wallet and support companies with good policies that will do way more than any existing environment law since companies will all adjust to the feedback of consumers out of necessity.
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    Nov 12 2013: Forget making laws, they just put people in a defensive stance.
    Instead promote win-wins.

    I’m no environmentalist activist, but I just happen to be much greener then those I know who claim to be. I’m green for my own personal enjoyment and not for some questionable mission to save the world.

    I got a civic hybrid in 2008 for its cool engine tech, high resale value, high mpg, and it being green was just icing on the cake. I have added insulation to my house because a hate the cold and love save on the heating cost, reducing CO2 was not a concern. I have planted a lot of trees, bushes and such because I enjoy being at one with nature, see bees, butterflies, humming birds, rabbits, dear, etc., hearing bull and tree frogs, and not for environmentalist activist scare tactic reasoning. And a government telling me what I had to do would make resent having to do so, and would encourage me to do nothing more then what was legally required.
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    Nov 12 2013: The way we can increase the effectiveness of a law is by modifying the culture of a given society. Laws are not effective if they conflict with culture, and usually such conditions lead to very negative consequences. So what can we do? The answer is that we can educate and innovate. If people understand how we fit into the environment, and also have the necessary critical thinking skills, they will do what they can to reduce the pressure on the environment. Likewise, new innovations are constantly increasing the efficiency with which we can utilize resources.
  • Nov 12 2013: Laws are simply laws.

    The real question is how do we change societies attitude towards the environment?

    People who hike, camp, or spend more time outdoors apprentice the environment more and therefore protect it.
    People who stay indoors have little interaction with the natural environment protect it less.

    Laws are based on values. If there is no value, it will not be effective.
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    Nov 11 2013: Although this might sound a bit strange, I think one of the best ways of increasing the effectiveness of environmental law is "re-branding" or "de-branding." I'm a firm believer that everyone generally wants to make the best choices that they possibly can make, and this also includes reducing their environmental impact. However, most people want to come across as humble, as opposed to advertising to the rest of their peers that they are reducing their environmental impact.

    This is a very strange phenomenon, but recent studies have shown that "green labeling" is politically polarizing, which leads many consumers to make less "environmentally friendly" choices. For instance, most people will buy LED or CFL bulbs for their projected cost savings alone, but are less likely to make such selections if they are labeled as "environmentally friendly" (source:

    The same theory could be applied to "environmental law." If we were to "re-brand" or "de-brand" such laws so as not to come across as "too preachy," or "too liberal," then I think we could increase the effectiveness of such laws.
  • Nov 14 2013: The lack of political willpower to increase costs in the short term (such as by raising environmental standards without 'grandfathering' in existing violations) is one of the biggest issues. Unfortunately, we're more concerned with avoiding shocks to the economic systems in place than we are to actually solving the problem of climate change or avoiding environmental disasters.

    To make environmental laws more effective, we need to get rid of the loopholes in the economic system which create externalities. For example, by holding companies responsible for the costs of recycling their products AFTER a consumer is done using them, and charging companies extra for non-recyclable products, we could bring the cost of recouping those resources into the equation. This would allow the market to do what it does best, find a solution that would make recycling more effective and less costly. However, if we simply don't account for this, we will end up farming our disposal sites for resources later on. We need to analyse the incentives for both businesses and consumers to identify ways to make people want sustainable products instead.
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      Nov 14 2013: I definitely agree. From the standpoint of political willpower, the other primary issue is due in part to politicians voting along party lines instead of thinking for themselves. This is especially the case with environmental law, where proposals are usually shot down before they even make it to the senate floor. Overall, I think that both of the primary parties are to blame, as neither generally want to compromise. If they do "compromise," it's usually in the form of adding various loopholes that render the proposed bill ineffective.

      Beyond this political issue, you also make a great point about holding companies responsible for recycling post-consumer products. While this could also fall within the political sphere, I honestly think that it is within a corporation's best interest to focus on post-consumer products, as it generally would be more cost-effective for them to do so. Not only that, but many of the so-called "green" options for packaging and raw materials tend to be more cost-effective in the long-run. In a lot of cases, corporations can save quite a bit of money just from simply reducing the amount of packaging for each of their products, and/or finding more effective alternatives (and this is speaking from experience given that I work in the shipping industry).

      For instance, the folks over at Ecovative Design have come up with a very creative way of replacing styrofoam/plastic packaging ( The greatest part about their method of using organic matter as a replacement for styrofoam packaging is that it is more cost-effective from an energy-saving standpoint, not to mention that this technology also has a ton of other potential applications. Yet the problem is that many individuals and corporations don't see the "forest for the trees." Instead of seeing such innovations as a way of saving money, they see "eco-friendly" and "green" and decide to take a pass.
  • Nov 12 2013: My advice is to stop looking for a universal, catch all solution. International law is nothing more than words on paper unless individual nations decide to honor it; most of the time, the nations that meant to honor it would have passed their own similar laws anyway.

    This is a problem to be solved at a national level of each individual nation. An international solution can simply be ignored by those that find it inconvenient.
    And yes, this means that it'll probably never be fully solved, same as most other global problems, for much the same reasons.
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    Nov 18 2013: Give a listen to this interview with Adam Minter. He doesn't directly answer your question but he adds a new perceptive to the problem.

    "When you think of recycling, you probably think of cans, plastic bottles and newspapers. Well, think a little bigger.

    There are businesses devoted to recycling metal, paper, plastic, oil, textiles, cell phones, computers, motors, batteries, Christmas lights, cars and more. The hidden world of globalized recycling and reclamation, and its impact on the environment and the global economy, is the subject of the new book Junkyard Planet by journalist Adam Minter."
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    Nov 17 2013: It's not about law.... it's about people, too many in a small place. You can pass laws until the cows come home, but if you don't reduce population density, the biggest of all pollutions, the best you can do is increase jail density...
    Pollution is a product of human existence. You can't legislate concern and that is the only way people will deal with their messes.... if they have concern.
  • Nov 17 2013: To me environmental law is something that needs to be put on the fast track of development for not only my country (USA the most wasteful place on earth) but with the entire world population of species in mind. Sustainability is the next most important development of the modern time due to the shortage of natural resources. We have burned through so much of our oil reserves, cleared out so much land for farming removing 70% of forests. What behavior I feel we really need to change is the how businesses think of success only in profit and not consequences. To make this work we would need the people at the top to change their lifestyles and the way they think when it comes to future development. Sadly I don't believe this is achievable.
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    Nov 17 2013: when it come to environmental law the question that should be asked is : Who is to Benefit???

    more and more indigenous people are removed from their natural environment forcefully and voluntary, which means we have no custodians to look after resources and environments... therefore we create laws of prohibition

    we need to change our thinking...
    stewardships should be created for people to look after the natural environments...
    too many environmentalist and conservationist are admin orientated and have no connection and experience to the work they studied for....

    stewardships is an opportunity for local community educational empowerment and economic upliftment...
    a stewardship is not an employment opportunity but job creation as the people would be involved in decision making....

    so... of what use are creating harsher laws to benefit the environment when we are not paying forward ideas to local communities to help prevent polluting the environment...
  • Nov 17 2013: I understand your concern and I feel as though we must look at all angles of the situation. I've been thinking of conserving trees all over the beautiful forests. he war against drugs must be obliterated.Initially by stopping the 'refer madness', and planting industrial hemp as an organic crop to give, paper, latex, grain, better mortar for our buildings, clothes, rope, and if anyone had any damn sense allowing the strains of hemp that have medicinal properties to be studied and grown in peoples back yards just like my herb garden with oregano, aloe, dill, sage, lemongrass, for cooking and tea and skin care. The cocaine, meth, heroine, ect needs to be under regulation of persons in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and biochemical fields who are NOT TAINTED BY ANY AFFILIATION WITH DRUG CO, or the FDA or DEA who are cops not doctors.

    Secondly, meat the way it is grown these days is far less than ideal. I know some may cringe, but I think was should eat, as a main source of protein, bugs like crickets mealworms, superworms, katydids, ants+ their eggs & larva. Most of them feed off grain and can be frozen then toasted then turned into a protein rich powder to add into our everyday food. Not eating another vertebrate reduces the risk of cross contamination of disease that vertebrate mammals can give each other. This highly nutritious protein can be fortified with vitamins and mixed with rice to make a sort of meat ball. TBH if you eat clam shrimp and lobster This food source should not really be an issue. and it cuts down on methane release etc. from farm animals and may help animals to be grass fed and organic, and since the desire to eat them may be swayed via the media, we could save forests which are going to become deserts and where unknown plants and animals grow that can help with disease. Let the trees and animals take back over the land and we can learn how to conserve space, resources, and time.
  • Nov 14 2013: Joe,

    Will take an alternate angle into the topic you present seeking to establish a practical workable resolution to cultivate.
    The underlying concern here (as I see it) centers on: what to do to increase the effectiveness of environmental measures that seek sustainable ways while at the same time precluding other ways?

    Just a word of caution I may sublimate the solid foundational notions upon which some structures stand and change the direction of stuff.

    What's the use of laws when individual measures preclude enforcement? Why seek greater enforcement ? why cultivate limitations?
    Why focus on increasing the effectiveness of what doesn't work and expect it to work?

    Let's now shift the focus to what does work (with or without laws) and increase the effectiveness of sensible reasonable stable individual choices embraced. First of all lets recognize that there have been people who live in a mutually enriching relationships with their surroundings while cultivating and caring for the wellbeing of themselves, others and the surroundings.

    We need to shift from an opportunistic exploitation of Environmental resources to abundantly enriching sustainable cultivation of beneficial opportunities chosen by individuals. In other words It's good business option to choose and have sustainable business that endure as it expands, and it's a bad business choice to pick a dead end alternative.

    My contribution involves focusing on increasing guiding principles awareness and understanding for sustainable developments that everyone would choose to embrace while at the same time increasing awareness of deadly practices.
  • Nov 14 2013: I'm not certain but it might help if we create this thing called Democracy. I look around and I don't see it in play.....anywhere.
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      Nov 14 2013: Democracy can be quite subtle. Essentially, every time that we purchase something, we are casting a "vote." If we, as consumers, make more "environmentally friendly" choices, it's very likely that corporations will follow suit by creating more "environmentally friendly" products to choose from.

      However, as I previously rambled about, there are individuals who don't want to come across as "save the planet" types. In which case, I feel that corporations should not advertise the fact that a certain product is "environmentally friendly." Instead, they simply could advertise the fact that there is money to be saved by investing in a specific product. Everyone wants to save money.
      • Nov 14 2013: Yes yes. You make excellent points. Ultimately, the power rests with us as individuals. Responsibility rests with us. We look around and, try as we might to find another to blame, we are the only ones to blame for the woes. Such is the case with all addictions? For now, regardless of environmental laws, we seem to very much be a Walmart society. How does one more effectively dent the collective consciousness in the same way that modern day advertising does? In the same way the Media Industrial Complex does? Is it possible? Wonderful day
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          Nov 14 2013: I agree that we tend to play the "blame game" for most of our woes, environmental issues or otherwise. Overall, I think this is where we can more effectively "dent the collective consciousness," and the first step is realizing that we spend more time pointing fingers than we do accepting that we ourselves are also to blame.

          In the grand scheme of things, blame doesn't really accomplish anything, besides of course fulfilling a self-serving bias by which we accuse various other external elements for contributing to the destruction of our environment. Either that, or we completely deny the fact that humanity has played a significant role in destroying the environment.

          I'm optimistic that we can eventually overcome the power that the "Media Industrial Complex" has over our society. Yet in order for us to promote change, education is a necessary cornerstone. Consumers need to start making more informed decisions, as even Walmart can be coerced by consumer spending habits to provide more "environmentally friendly" products. No joke, check out Walmart's Corporate Sustainability website: (now if only they can put an end to sweatshops).

          This is just the start. Here in Upstate New York, many of the local supermarkets have opted to sell locally grown produce and a wide assortment of "green" products. Consumers essentially have cast their "vote," and the corporations have listened. Granted, we have a long way to go, but things are slowly changing for the better.
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    Nov 14 2013: Interesting....
    A growing consumerism population.... a growing population... period.
    People put pressure on the environment. I have been in places where population is so sparse, there is no impact on the environment.... And in other places where the population is so dense, the environment is almost uninhabitable.
    So, how do we write such a law. How do we make a single rule that is applicable to all with equal justice. You can't.
    "Environmental Law" has to be specific and applicable.
    Here in the USA, there have been environmental laws passed on a federal level that apply nationally and of course are... well, foolish. Of course, that has not stopped the Federal Government from trying.
    Consider on the international scale.... A law for Tokyo and the Mongolian steppes?
  • Nov 13 2013: The concern for environmental laws is commendable. let us pause for a minute and consider how we have come to this stage? How was it created?

    We basically arrived at this stage due to embracing of Industrialisation over Agricultural development. In agriculture a farmer sows seeds into mother earth and waits for it to flower into corn or any other staples, and what the earth gives back to him is what he enjoys - This person loves mother earth and will go to any extent to protect the sanctity of the earth from where he gets his life source.

    in the case of an industrialist his direct interaction with mother earth is very limited, he sees the abundance of natural resources as a god given blessing for him to exploit and make a fabulous killing out of it.

    Unfortunately we as a society have embraced consumerism and rapid industrialization as the driving force for ensuring a qualitatively better living standard which our agricultural brethren could never have dream t off.

    Now here lies the challenge. In a span of 150 yrs - 200yrs we have raced amongst ourselves as to who will be the first to ensure the complete degradation of mother earth . As a civilization we have come far ahead in terms of quality of living standards when compared to our forefathers. Now, having tasted the fruits of Industrialization we are asking ourselves to step back and give nature its due place in our lives. Is it possible to reverse this tide?

    when we look dispassionately we can see that at best we can be opinion creators, while the people who legislate and those business honchos who befriend the legislators are the real culprits in this entire drama.

    In short only if we cultivate these two classes of people can we think of having effective legislation's which curbs environmental pollution and degradation.

    Can this be achieved!!!!
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    Nov 13 2013: Adherence to environmental statutes, or even the impetus to promote their enactment, depends on the willingness of people to adjust the status quo, and those of us who are living relatively comfortable lives and are, not coincidentally, holding the reins of power, appear to have little such inducement other than logic and, possibly, their sense of fair play.

    Unfortunately, most of us grudgingly accept the need for immediate action but are too comfortably entrenched; unwilling to read under a duller light, or to suffer the discomfort of a lowered thermostat in winter or open windows in summer.

    In our case, in our economy, the answer may be (I can hardly believe I'm going to say this) significantly increased costs for all power sources. I am likewise tempted to suggest that the resulting increases in power-source revenues could be used to promote the advancement of alternate, environmentally-friendly power sources (as if Government and Big Power could be constrained from gobbling it up).
  • Nov 13 2013: I doubt that anything will work other than having a much better education system. Then people would be better able to evaluate what's going on. The main problem is that politicians and the public, both, have little if any understanding of the problems. Education. Good education. Very important to educate in detecting fallacious thinking, propaganda, and such stuff, for example.

    Laws do little. There's a need for money to enforce laws. There's then loopholes and such. In the end, a better educated people can do much better than any laws.
  • Nov 13 2013: Agree with Don, Keith. The freedom of INDIVIDUAL CITIZENS makes Env Laws costly & ineffective. See quote:
    "The California Air Resources Board asked the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to analyze how various environmental policies help achieve the state's goal of reducing statewide emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The lab's conclusion: Dream on.
    Assuming California's implausible and economically damaging policies were implemented in totality—cap and trade, low carbon fuel and renewable electricity standards, zero-emissions-vehicle mandate, and more—emissions in 2050 would be virtually unchanged from today. Even if the state were to adopt more aggressive measures, emissions would exceed the state's target by 100%.
    For example, the state could obtain 50% of its electricity from wind, solar, geothermal and biomass; grow its fleet of zero-emission vehicles to 17 million from 50,000 today; increase fuel efficiency to 78 miles per gallon, and expand rooftop solar generation by 800%. It would still miss its target by a green mile.
    According to the study's lead researcher, Jeffery Greenblatt, California would in effect have to squeeze 90% of emissions out of every corner of its economy to meet its goal. That can't be done purely with more renewable energy, electric cars or high-speed rail. Demand for energy must also significantly be reduced. But demand is primarily driven by population and economic growth, which Sacramento can't control, try as the politicians might to reduce both.
    Meantime, California is spending billions every year on electric car and rooftop solar subsidies, energy efficiency upgrades and alternative fuel development to achieve its pie-in-the-sky emissions goal. And don't forget the Governor's $100 billion bullet train, which during its first few decades will increase emissions. All of which underscores how modern environmental policies are less about solving problems than they are about indulging faith-based dreams."
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    Nov 13 2013: Don’t forget laws are crafted by politicians and not TEDsters: and the way politicians use outdated information, give contracts to their highest contributor, use the latest celebrity driven misinformed thing to wright the laws, normally the laws do more damage than good.

    For example the US has laws to limit cattle on federal land to stop desertification, even thou it is proven to be the cause of desertification.

    And that is just one example.
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      Nov 13 2013: Hi Don,
      I agree with some of your comment, and I suggest that environmental laws are not ALL crafted by politicians. I am on the regional planning commission, which gives our legislators feedback regarding environmental laws. Granted, we do not actually craft the laws. However, having representatives from every municipality in the region supporting a certain law....or not supporting something, makes quite an impact on the legislators. So, there IS one TEDster who is helping to craft environmental laws/regulations:>)

      In addition, I serve on the regional project review committee...reviewing projects that have a regional impact. This is another opportunity to influence the enforcement of environmental laws/regulations/policies:>)
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        Nov 13 2013: Hi Colleen,

        Thanks for being the bearer of good news, and it does raise an interesting environmental law topic for debate. Should most environmental laws done at only the regional level instead of the national level? With such a large variance in environments, one size fit all seems unlikely to be the best approach.

        P.S. I post this before seeing your above post, and LOL we have vary similar lines of thought.
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          Nov 13 2013: I LOVE being the bearer of good news Don, and I also LOVE having similar lines of thought.....ESPECIALLY when it impacts the environment.....thank you for that:>)

          Excellent point Don....with differences in environments, some things cannot be regulated with "one size fits all" rules, and it would be a waste of time to try to do so.

          Based on my research of environmental law, which started with the challenge of the toxic business, it appears that there are some regulations that can happen on all levels, depending on the particular threat to the environment. We probably would not need wetland rules (as Vermont has) for desert areas. Clean air, affects all of us, so air quality laws could cover a broader area?
  • Nov 12 2013: This is very strange. All the responses were on point and I agree with each of them. Good Question. Environmental law could be considered a new democratic movement. Since our industrial age and the pollution associated with it are attached to current regimes and republics it seems natural to want to embrace the new government order and all its declarations. When I was recycling newspapers as a boy we started to take other items not yet popular recycled items. We use to talk then about the future of recycling. The future is now. And everything we described then as the future of recycling is now 30 years later.

    Tell me what environmental laws you want to put into play. Most of the regulatory bodies in the US want stricter or tighter clauses to bind production processes. This generates fees, so we have an endless supply of fee based demands made by our current operating governmental system to motivate for cleaner improved processes. Environmental law is much like work place safety or hours governing workplace discrimination.

    Maybe environmental lawyers need to define what constitution they want to support or create their own. I could see all environmental law being crafted from an environmental Constitution which has a lot of promises and wants to seek out pre determined outcomes. This might be useful for moving toward actual laws.
  • Nov 12 2013: 1. Figure out what the objective is AND STICK TO IT. No partial this + partial that + partial whatever else.
    2. Become a totalitarian state that executes everyone who dares to dissent from this environmental law.

    There, environmental law will then become extremely effective.
  • Nov 12 2013: I think send a message of environmental stewardship to all nations through UNIDO

    • Nov 12 2013: The UN can bark, but its got no bite to it.
      Waste of time honestly; its near powerless as an organization. Member states hold all the real power, you should be working on them on an individual basis instead.