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POL562: Module One Lecture

POL562: Module One Lecture

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Published by Chad J. McGuire
Introduction to the principles of environmental policy.
Introduction to the principles of environmental policy.

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Published by: Chad J. McGuire on Dec 14, 2012
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02/03/2014

 
I. General Introduction to Environmental Policy
 
A. Course Introductory Remarks
 
Welcome to
environmental policy
. This course has been created with particular care tofocus on the following areas:
 
Understanding the
main themes
(knowledge base) that influence environmentaldecisions, specifically
science
,
economics
, and
values
.
 
Create a
conceptual framework 
(‘tool box’) through an understanding of thethree themes mentioned above in order to provide a cognitive tool that can beused in evaluating environmental decisions through a policy lens.
 
Apply the knowledge base and conceptual ‘tool box’ to several kinds of 
environmental problems
(fact patterns) in order to understand how the principleslearned work in context.To help achieve the goals stated above, I have taken some pains over the past few yearsto accumulate my experience and thinking on environmental policy as a course for students trying to understand what it really means in context. I’ve never been a fan of most of the texts on environmental policy because they provide what I might refer to as
 secondary context 
to the field. Rather than discussing environmental policy as a
process
 utilized in making decisions about how humans interact with the environment, most texts provide non-foundational insights on the topic that look at it from a variety of  perspectives beyond the ‘foundation’ of the topic itself.
1
I have always seen this as placing the proverbial “cart before the horse” because is presumes students have a levelof understanding about environmental policy as a practice, something that is often not thecase – even with those who ‘practice’ in the field.Due to my frustrations with current volumes on the subject, I set out to “put up or shutup” and create my own text on the subject entitled
 Environmental Decision-making inContext: A Toolbox
. This text will form the
foundation
of meeting the three primarygoals outlined above: understanding the themes of environmental policy; creating aconceptual framework that can be applied to environmental problems; and actuallyapplying those frameworks to problems at the end of the book. Thus, in some ways, the book itself represents the kinds of detailed
lecture
notes I would want to provide studentswith during a course I was running on environmental policy. I know there are other waysto approach the subject area, but I hope you will find this method to be foundationallycomprehensive as a ‘
how to’ 
approach to environmental problems.
1
For example, many texts utilize a mix of 
historical pieces
to weave together someunderstanding of the ‘evolution’ of environmental policy in the United States (andglobally). While this information is certainly relevant in understand
how
 
environmental policy has come to be a subject area in civilized society, it fails to provide anunderstanding of 
what 
environmental policy is as a practice.
 
 The ‘approach’ I note here is heavy on the
public policy
aspects of environmental problems, meaning the approach is meant to help place environmental issues in a contextwhere one is thinking of the issue from the perspective of a
government agent
. From this perspective we can ask three main questions:
 
What
is government choosing to do about the environmental problem?
 
Why
is government making this choice?
 
Are there
consequences
to this choice, and if so, what are they?By the end of this course you should have a solid understanding of how to beginanswering these three questions using the framework established in the materials. Myhope is that everyone will find something of value depending on the level of interactionthey desire with environmental policy as a subject area. For example:
 
Public
managers
will be capable of understanding the causes of environmentalissues and the relative roles and responsibilities of government in relation to thoseissues.
 
Policy
analysts
will be able to use the conceptual framework as a way of determining the
impact
of government choices on the environment. For example,if government chooses Direction A over Direction B as a policy approach, whatimpact does this have on different environmental goals/objectives?
 
Evaluators
of policy will be able to not only understand
impacts
and
tradeoffs
  between policy choices related to the environment, but they may also be able todetermine alternative directions including ‘superior’ (more efficient, etc.) policydirections that what is currently in place.Obviously because I have created the materials (including the text), I feel this version of environmental policy is a more refined and fundamental course than what I have taught inthe past; I hope you agree insofar as you find the materials clear, digestible, andessentially ‘helpful’ in your understanding of environmental policy in context – thank you!
B. Introduction to Materials
As we begin this journey into environmental policy, I ask that we start by consideringthese words separately.
Environment
, I have learned, is a term that means differentthings to different people. Most include
natural settings
in their definition of environment. Others talk about the
importance
of the environment being judged by itsuse. Still others see the environment as something sacred, having symbolic and religioussignificance. No matter how you see the environment, what is important is that you
 
understand its meaning can vary from person to person. This, in turn, impacts the preferences from which individuals deal with environmental issues.
Policy
should best be understood as a
 process
, and not a
thing 
. While there is no oneuniversally accepted definition, a policy generally refers to the approach one takestowards a given issue or problem. An example might be the academic dishonesty policies contained your student handbook. If you read this information, you will findthere is a specific process (or approach) taken when an individual suspects a student of cheating. Included are the procedures used to formally make the accusation, the procedural safeguards for the student to defend themselves against the accusation, and the process for resolving the question (usually a trial-like process before a tribunal). What I just described is a process that holistically can be said to be a
 policy
towards academicdishonesty.In this course, you will be asked to
look behind
the
 policy
to understand
how the policycame to be
. For instance, it is reasonable to conclude the policy (and process) for academic dishonesty was the result of a general question that needed answering. Thequestion may have been:
What do we do if we think a student has cheated?
This questionlikely led to a group being formed to try and answer the question. The group likelystudied the issue, and sought input from experts in various fields. They may even havelooked at how other universities handle the issue. Ultimately, a formal procedure wasestablished for dealing with cheating.
2
This procedure was then formalized, in writing, asan official university policy (given a stamp of approval,
legitimized 
in policy parlance).To understand
environmental policy
, you will need to understand how the policy process works generally, and also the specific
contextual aspects
of environmental policy.
3
Once you understand how the policy process works, and once you have acontextual understanding of environmental problems, you can then begin to think aboutthe evaluation of policies (what makes a good versus a bad policy), as well as howspecific policies are working in context.
The Venn Diagram: Overview of the Fields of Environmental Policy
 The following Venn Diagram is a visual representation of environmental policy byreferencing the contextual fields that impact environmental decisions:
2
Undoubtedly part of this
 formalization
process included a determination of 
resources
 available to handle the proposed policy put in place. In other words, providing a set of  procedures to deal with accusations of cheating includes ensuring those procedures areactually instituted; if this means a ‘council’ must be created, then resources have to besecured to ensure for the creation and maintenance of that council. During this processsome consideration of the
benefits
of having this procedure in place may have been balanced against the
costs
incurred in creating and maintaining the council.
3
Understanding the role of 
science
,
economics
, and
values
in environmental decisions isthe
contextual aspect 
of environmental policy.

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