Talk by Phill Loosli

All Greenpulse members and other attendants taking a group photo with Greenpulses guest speaker, Phill Loosli.

A group photo with Greenpulse's guest speaker, Phill Loosli.

18 days after the first part, I have finally gotten down to writing the second part of Mr. Loosli’s talk on the US environmental movement. Forgive the tardiness, s’il vous plaît.

The first part of the talk, as I described in the previous post, was about the economic conditions that led to the overexploitation of resources. The second part goes into some details on how the environmental movement in the USA has evolved to address the issues described.

The US environmental movement began with the epiphany that something should be done about a river that would burn. Yes, you read that right, a BURNING RIVER!

The Cuyahoga river had caught fire several times in 1868, 1883, 1887, 1912, 1922, 1936, 1941, 1948, and in 1952. The 22nd of June, 1969 fire finally drew attention to the environmental problems faced in Ohio and the rest of America.

Because nothing says: “We have a problem here.” like a river that would just suddenly burst into flames.

The next milestone in the environmental movement was a moving account of the nearly unquestioned use of pesticides to tame nature by Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring. She was quoted as saying:

Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the Earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called ‘insecticides’ but ‘biocides’

When Carson died barely eighteen months after the publication of Silent Spring, she had very deliberately started the grass-root environment movement that would result in the banning of DDT, protection of the environment through legislature, and touched off the national debate on the use of chemical pesticides, the responsibility of science, and the limitations of technological progress.

The three arms of the United States government, namely the Judicial, Legislature, and Executive have since worked upon the environmental problems faced by the nation through the creation of government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA states its purpose as leading:

…the nation’s environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts. The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people.

Since I am no legal expert, nor can I claim to be an American in any case, you will probably be more satisfied by reading up on the role the US government plays in this website by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Loosli then went on to talk about the reasons companies may choose to “go green”.

Firstly, to perform an act of green washing, where the company seems to improve its policies towards the environment for publicity or to generate goodwill from the community, although their actions are nothing more superficial than stating your four-wheel drive is relatively more fuel efficient than an Aston Martin DB9.

The second reason is to cut costs. A grand economic incentive to go green. How about saving US$60 a year by replacing five conventional light bulbs with energy efficient ones?

The third reason is to fulfil some Corporate Social Responsibility requirement.

The final reason is a preempting strategy, which is to carry out environmentally friendly measures before legislation kicks in, followed by the scramble and confusion of changing a company’s management to fit the new laws.

Strategic, industry-wide cost increases were also touched upon in the talk. Companies like Wal-Mart, IKEA, and Jusco are able to use their size advantage to push for environmentally-friendly labelling, and to charge for plastic bags as well.

The role of the media in making a statement on the environment was shown through the example of the cultural icon, Time, which changed its trademark red border for a green one for Earth Day 2008. Time had only changed its borders once before, for the September 11th issue.

Mr. Loosli finally ended his talk by pointing towards the most important event this year on the environmental calendar, the United Nations Climate Change Conference Copenhagen 2009 (COP15), a worldwide debate on the current environmental conditions of the world, and more importantly, the solutions or lack thereof that will result from it.

Expect some debate on a carbon tax versus carbon caps as well as issues of importance to your very survival.

Mr. Loosli gave some advice to Greenpulse after the talk, which was to hold government accountable, and to get involved in the political discussions surrounding the environmental debate. For example: Greenpulse could start by analysing the Environmental Impact Assessment of new projects, than publishing our findings.

The logical conclusion from this is the very definition of Greenpulse’s role in the search for solutions to the environmental debate: to work as an external agent pointing out problems; or as an agency that works from within a government body to formulate solutions.

Expect some changes soon!

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