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General Introduction to Environmental Policy
A. Course Introductory Remarks
Welcome to environmental policy. This course has been created with particular care to focus on the following areas: • • Understanding the main themes (knowledge base) that influence environmental decisions, specifically science, economics, and values. Create a conceptual framework (‘tool box’) through an understanding of the three themes mentioned above in order to provide a cognitive tool that can be used 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 principles learned work in context.

To help achieve the goals stated above, I have taken some pains over the past few years to 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 level of understanding about environmental policy as a practice, something that is often not the case – 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 shut up” and create my own text on the subject entitled Environmental Decision-making in Context: A Toolbox. This text will form the foundation of meeting the three primary goals outlined above: understanding the themes of environmental policy; creating a conceptual framework that can be applied to environmental problems; and actually applying 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 students with during a course I was running on environmental policy. I know there are other ways to approach the subject area, but I hope you will find this method to be foundationally comprehensive as a ‘how to’ approach to environmental problems.

For example, many texts utilize a mix of historical pieces to weave together some understanding of the ‘evolution’ of environmental policy in the United States (and globally). 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 an understanding 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 context where 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 begin answering these three questions using the framework established in the materials. My hope is that everyone will find something of value depending on the level of interaction they desire with environmental policy as a subject area. For example: • Public managers will be capable of understanding the causes of environmental issues and the relative roles and responsibilities of government in relation to those issues. 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, what impact 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 to determine alternative directions including ‘superior’ (more efficient, etc.) policy directions 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 in the past; I hope you agree insofar as you find the materials clear, digestible, and essentially ‘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 considering these words separately. Environment, I have learned, is a term that means different things to different people. Most include natural settings in their definition of environment. Others talk about the importance of the environment being judged by its use. Still others see the environment as something sacred, having symbolic and religious significance. 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 one universally accepted definition, a policy generally refers to the approach one takes towards a given issue or problem. An example might be the academic dishonesty policies contained your student handbook. If you read this information, you will find there 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 academic dishonesty. In this course, you will be asked to look behind the policy to understand how the policy came 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. The question may have been: What do we do if we think a student has cheated? This question likely led to a group being formed to try and answer the question. The group likely studied the issue, and sought input from experts in various fields. They may even have looked at how other universities handle the issue. Ultimately, a formal procedure was established for dealing with cheating.2 This procedure was then formalized, in writing, as an 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 a contextual understanding of environmental problems, you can then begin to think about the evaluation of policies (what makes a good versus a bad policy), as well as how specific 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 by referencing the contextual fields that impact environmental decisions:

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 are actually instituted; if this means a ‘council’ must be created, then resources have to be secured to ensure for the creation and maintenance of that council. During this process some consideration of the benefits of having this procedure in place may have been balanced against the costs incurred in creating and maintaining the council.

Understanding the role of science, economics, and values in environmental decisions is the contextual aspect of environmental policy.

As can be seen, what we refer to as ‘environmental policy’ here is really an amalgam of principles that include a combination of scientific understanding, economic considerations, and value-based preferences. The suggestion, then, is that environmental policy is an activity that occurs at the intersection of these three areas of human study. • Science helps us understand cause and effect relationships in the natural world. In addition, applied science (technology) allows us to understand the kinds of tools that are available in responding to environmental issues and developing policy directions related to the environment.4 Economics helps us place our understanding of environmental issues into context. For example, by using economic principles one can assess the relative benefits and costs of human activities that might impact the environment. In doing so, the


For example, observational science can help us understand the connection (correlation) between the levels of carbon in our atmosphere and average global ambient temperatures. This cause and effect relationship can help us understand an environmental issue; forcing more carbon into the atmosphere can result in an increase in average global temperatures. In addition, applied scientific advancements can help us find potential solutions to this problem; technology advancements in wind and solar energy production methods allow for an alternative to burning coal as a means of producing electricity and thus provides a solution that minimizes one of the potential causes of global warming: burning coal.

tradeoffs between different policy directions (choices) can be better understood, and thus can lead to better decisions when presented with alternative policy directions.5 • Values help us understand the role of human-based incentives in both the individual and group context. Dynamics that effect our perception of value are of particular importance in understanding the role of values in environmental decisions and thus environmental policy. By understanding the motivations behind human decisions, greater insights on what we are calling ‘environmental policy’ can be made. For example, are people swayed on an environmental issue because of objective factors, or are subjective factors influencing their decisionmaking? Knowing the answer to this question and the associated factors are critical to fully understanding the role of values in environmental policy.

During our time together we will be exploring these three areas in relative depth. I say “relative” because we cannot spend too much time on any one issue. For example, we will be touching upon aspects of physics, environmental science, and biogeochemistry in the first main chapter of the assigned text. These are all important fields of specialty that deserve (at least) a full semester of treatment each. The same can be said for the economics and values section, where relatively complex concepts such as discounting, game theory, and agent-based modeling are explored in order to provide the conceptual tools promised. While I believe I have provided sufficient information to understand the concepts in the text and lecture materials, what is ‘sufficient’ is not unlike the definition of beauty; the ultimate answer is for each of us to decide individually. Those who have a background in any of the areas we discuss will have some advanced understanding – although this is not required! Where appropriate, I do supplement the

Economics is powerful as an instrument in comparing “apples to apples,” which is critical in policy analysis. Using the tools of economics can help us understand precisely why environmental harm occurs in human activities, and why this harm must be actively intervened in by government (at least in most cases). For example, most environmental harms are unintended consequences of market-based transactions that allow for the externalization of costs outside the transaction itself. The market price paid for burning coal to create electricity includes the prices paid to extract and deliver the coal as the input for electricity generation. Not included in this price is the cost of additional carbon placed in the air as a result of burning the coal. If this additional carbon is responsible for climate change, then the additional costs borne by climate change (more storms of greater intensity, droughts, sea level rise, etc.) may be externalized from the cost of using coal. If all this is true, then there is a market failure in our system because the markets are not accounting for these costs in the price charged for coal; in essence, these costs are externalized in the market transaction. From a public policy standpoint, the externalization of costs can be a reason why environmental problems existing, and economic principles help us understand the dynamics by which these kinds of phenomena occur (and also can help to identify policy solutions).

materials with additional readings for greater insights on what I believe to be key points for understanding. The point I am trying to make is two-fold: • First, there is no ‘fat’ contained in this course; everything required in this course is essential for your understanding of the materials. Thus, you should avail yourself of everything offered. Second, the materials offered in this course should not be considered the only materials relevant to your study. The text is well referenced and contains a detailed bibliography of primary materials at the end of each chapter. For those who are truly interested in understanding the details within this course (and have the time) – utilize the references! Go further, challenge yourself, see how much ownership you can gain over the materials; you may be surprised with how far you can take yourself with the effort.

I hope you gain as much out of the materials in this course as I have placed into their development. We begin a journey of exploration into better understanding ourselves, and our role on Earth. Environmental policy is really about gaining this understanding so that we can make more informed decisions for our mutual benefit today and for future generations. Thank you! END OF SECTION.