October 30, 2011
The argument over laws that protect the environment has always had the same basic theme: people, business, governments, etc… want the freedom to do whatever they want with the environment and environmentalists want to limit these people so that the environment is not damaged. This is a tough equation to balance, as people are never inclined to give up freedoms, even if it benefits the environment. So the two sides always go back and forth, with the environmentalists arguing for the value of the environment, and the other side arguing that the legislation is simply unnecessary bureaucratic red tape.
This idea that environmental legislation is unnecessary red tape has become quite popular in recent years. Now it is often cited as a reason not to enact environmental legislation. People and politicians believe it is a legitimate reason because red tape is associated with harming economic growth and generally getting in the way of government or business operations. Especially considering current economic conditions in which all governments are looking for ways to stimulate growth, so called “red tape” is particularly frowned upon. Assigning the tag to environmental legislation has damaged the credibility of these laws and of the movement in general. The term also creates the impression that environmental laws are dealing with insignificant issues that are not really worth our time. The public has accepted this view possibly because, as we read in two class articles, the environmental issues we face today are not visible or drastic enough to impact most peoples’ lives.
This is a growing problem in the environmental movement as many laws, both ones already enacted and those in the process, are coming under fire for being unnecessary red tape. Environmental campaigners in England are furious that the government has labeled all of Britain’s 278 environmental laws as red tape and is allowing the public to decide which regulations are unnecessary and should be axed. This has outraged many people there as this is comparable to the US government questioning the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and every other important environmental law ever enacted!
It seems that people and governments around the world are forgetting the reasons why these environmental laws were put in place in the first place. In the current economic environment businesses and people are even more focused than ever on cutting costs, quite often at the expense of the natural environment. Peoples’ mindsets need to be changed if we want to make progress with the environmental movement and get past the idea that it’s all just red tape. They need to be reminded that environmental laws are there for a reason; that the laws are designed to be a pain in the ass to businesses trying to damage the environment; and that although the laws may seem like red tape, they are there to protect something valuable so cannot be simply dismissed by such a misleading term. Convincing people of these ideas should be a goal for the environmental movement because once people can relate to this mindset, one of the biggest environmental bridges will have been crossed.
About the author: Stephen Lowe is working towards his bachelor degree in the USC Dornsife Environmental Studies Program.