Samples Environment Protecting the Environment: Government’s Role or the Province of the People?

Protecting the Environment: Government’s Role or the Province of the People?

1102 words 4 page(s)

The debate over many issues ultimately comes down to a question of government involvement. Namely, even if one admits that a certain social problem exists, is it the job of the government to compel, through legislation, a certain type or behavior, or is the job of individual people to take action in their own private lives. The statement, “It is not the responsibility of the Government to implement far-reaching Green policies, but the responsibility of individual citizens to complete practical tasks in their everyday lives in order to protect the environment and keep it safe for the future generation” is one that implicates this important debate. While there are different schools of thought on this subject, and one could form a reasonable argument in favor of the necessity of individual action, environmental protection is too important an issue to be left to the whims of the public and too encompassing a problem to be addressed by any one family or even any single nation.

The statement above seems to imply a false dichotomy, as it proposes an either-or concept that does not have to be. Simply put, government legislation without individual compliance is doomed to failure. It can be the responsibility both of the people to act in responsible ways in their own homes and for the government to shape overall policies that both lead people in the right direction and coerce the proper behavior in this regard. A number of governments around the world have installed various environmental policies. In the United States, for instance, the government has done bigger things like requiring vehicle manufacturers to lower their carbon emissions and smaller things like forcing people to purchase light bulbs that are more energy efficient (Gottlieb, 2005). Likewise, the government there has taken a passive approach in some instances (Shabecoff, 2003). Rather than putting something into law, they have offered incentives to individuals to be responsible environmentally, giving tax breaks for certain kinds of vehicle purchases and incentives for green home-buying and building (Kelemen & Vogel, 2010). In the United Kingdom, the Environmental Agency has enacted a plan to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by as much as eighty-percent over the next four decades (Golub, 2013). Likewise, on a more practical level, that same organization has taken steps to support the building of new wind turbines around the country, looking to reduce CO2 emissions in the process (Vig & Kraft, 2012).

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Those who favor government regulation note that some problems are too important to be left to the whims of the people. After all, human beings sometimes get things very wrong, especially when they do not have personal incentives to get those things right. Climate change and environmental protection is a major issue. It is an issue so major that if it is not solved sometime soon, all other issues will cease to be important because there will no longer be an earth upon which would could debate gun policy, the social safety net, or proper trade policy. The problem with allowing human beings in their individual lives to lead the effort is that those individuals are not directly incentivized (Mocca & Watson, 2013). While they may say they care about protecting the world for their grandchildren, they understand that they will most likely be dead and gone by the time any of these consequences come about (Ekins & Speck, 2011). This leaves these individuals in no position to lead the way on environmental protection. Likewise, there is an argument that this particular problem is too big even for one nation, let alone one family. The effect that families have on the environment is small compared to that of big businesses and the like. While it is possible that one family could influence the actions of a business by not patronizing that business, this seems like a poor means of shaping international policy.

Those who believe the responsibility lies in the hands of individuals note that all movements begin not with the compulsion of government, but rather, with the willing activism of people (Cox, 2012). They note that much of the time, government simply drags along behind people who figure out how to do things right, leaving the government to enact policy that reflects the changed reality. Likewise, these people believe that individuals making good choices across the broad spectrum could spark a movement that would trickle down to businesses, as well, with those businesses needing to kotow to the whims of suddenly aware consumers (Schlegelmilch et al, 1996).

In the end, this debate is not one that is best taken as an either-or proposition. Both the government and the people have a role to play in saving the environment. Government, on one hand, has the reach and ability to team up with other nations in order to come to some real resolution on how to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions (Rodriguez et al, 2013). Likewise, government has the force and power to make people and companies respect certain laws which are necessary for the survival of the earth. When things are that important, it is best that they are not left to chance, but rather, that there is a strong government effort to make people follow those policies. At the same time, individuals must comply with the law for it to have any effect. With both sides working together – people making good decisions with government putting into place responsible policy – it is possible for the world to police itself on this issue, saving the planet for the generations to come.

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  • Ekins, P., & Speck, S. (Eds.). (2011). Environmental Tax Reform (ETR): A Policy for Green Growth. Oxford University Press.
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  • Vig, N. J., & Kraft, M. E. (Eds.). (2012). Environmental Policy: New Directions for the Twenty- First Century 8th Edition. Sage.

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