More and more the environment is becoming a hot topic for debate with green parties around the globe gaining ever more political prominence. Realistically there will never be no pollution as even fundamental humanoid functions such as respiration and excretion pollute the environment albeit at a level which can be easily dealt with. Various global treaties such as the Kyoto protocol have looked at trying to find a socially acceptable level of pollution that will allow us to sustain ourselves and future generations. (full text of protocol can be found here: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.pdf )
The Kyoto protocol aimed to reduce the emissions of 6 green hose gasses by 5.2% of 1990 levels within a decade. Many countries refuse to accept this claiming that the economic consequences of such an action would be disastrous even though many leading scientists claim that green house gas emissions need to be cut by 60% to prevent dangerous climatic instability. The chief violator of the agreement is the US who is blamed for 30% of green house gas emissions in 1990 and as a result of their reluctance to conform to the protocol many countries such as Australia also hesitate to ratify the treaty. However without the chief polluter little headway is likely to be made.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions 2001
|Upon combustion most fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and water vapour. Water vapour constitutes no real problem however carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide have far ranging effects with disastrous consequences. Carbon dioxide is the main cause of global warming which could cause the earth to warm up by up to half a degree in the near future. This may seem inconsequential but it is worth pointing out that during the ice age the temperature was only four degrees colder on average than it is today.|
If for example the temperature was to rise in the near future we could see the polar ice caps starting to melt increasing the volume of sea water and flooding low lying areas such as the Netherlands. Whilst some flood others will experience extreme water shortages as shown on the diagram below.
Sulphur dioxide and carbon dioxide will also cause acid rain which is damaging to the environment in the form of trees and lakes and also to buildings. In Sweden, a country which inherits much of the UK's pollution due to the wind many lakes and forests have been killed mainly due to pollution from abroad. This is an underlying factor in trying to cut pollution as many people regard it as somebody else's problem and therefore have little or no incentive to clean it up.
Economists cite three main ways in which a government can impose pollution restrictions on an industry. The first is by imposing a (Pigouvian ~ "Polluter Pays") tax and enforced regulation. This as the name suggests is a tax imposed on the polluter which will effectively force him to cut pollution or be faced with heavy financial penalties. The second way is by giving property right (Coase bargaining), for example if we give the rights of the air to a nearby town a polluter would have to pay to pollute thus increasing their incentive not to pollute. The third method favoured by free market economists is to introduce "permits to pollute". This involves the government setting a standard level of pollution and allocating or selling a pollution permit to each firm i.e. how much each firm can pollute. The latter approach is the one that America has adopted and has received much criticism for worldwide.
America also wishes to move towards the policy of using carbon sinks as a means of reducing carbon dioxide. This method involved the planting of trees and vegetation so that they could absorb carbon dioxide. This method received much debate due to the fact that most scientists considered them to be short term alternative. There have also been some bizarre cases of trees being cleared to make way for a carbon sink plantations.
Many developing countries also feel that environment treaties are unfair towards them as they tend to have larger populations and yet are expected to pollute less. They have valid reason for there appeal as a casual glance at the statistics will tell us. The USA has 4% of the world's population but emits 25% of the carbon dioxide. India and Britain emit 3% of the world's carbon dioxide even though India has a population of almost 15 times that of Britain.