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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 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 (http://www.ecovativedesign.com/). 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.

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