Archive for the ‘Environmental Law’ Category

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Last week, Jalopnik.com nicely summarized what’s going on with the Volkswagen  US emissions cheating scandal, not be confused with the Mitsubishi Japanese emissions cheating scandal. The short of it is that the car manufacturers programmed the computers to output a false set of numbers when attached to an emissions testing machine. They did this for many years. And the real numbers were above those permitted by the law.

It bugged me that, initially, this was blamed on a few engineers. The uppest management tried to make those engineers into scapegoats. This bugged me because I couldn’t believe that this kind of operation could have gone on without some degree of consent from uppest management. Then, about two weeks ago, charges against an engineer were announced. I’m relatively confident that some engineers probably should go to prison over this: the total amount of emissions that were allowed by this gambit were dramatically higher than those permitted by law. And this is the kind of stuff that literally kills people who have breathing problems. But I sincerely hope this is just one guy they will flip so that they can go after the folks that gave the go-ahead. Otherwise, well, I’d be irritated.

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This post was triggered by a few recent articles noting the power of large companies. But first, out of fear that some may dismiss these words as some commie fringe commentary, I should clarify immediately that I’m talking about a small handful of truly enormous business entities. And I use the generic term (business entity) because although some may be corporations, there are a legion of types of such entities. Repeating this for emphasis: I’m not talking about the extraordinary majority of businesses entities, which are small and absolutely healthy endeavors. On to the meat of the post.

I assume that most have heard of the row between Apple, Ireland, the European Union and the United States tax agencies, which I will not go into here. But it was contemporaneous to this bit of news from Austria, where entities such as Starbucks and Amazon pay less in taxes than businesses that are, by comparison, microscopic. These news are hardly surprising, given that most of these policies are written by or for those very companies. This goes even farther than pro-business legislation: some companies, such as Samsung, have grown so big that they are practically sovereign countries. To the point that the bulk of carbon emissions can be traced down to fewer than 100 companies worldwide. The point I’m making here is illustrated by this quote from that last link:

I, as a consumer bear some responsibility for my own car, etcetera. But we’re living an illusion if we think we’re making choices, because the infrastructure pretty much makes those choices for us.

As another example, in the face of catastrophic climate predictions under the best information we have, the pinnacle of worldwide environmental regulatory response (because it’s a planetary issue at this point), is a demand that countries to state their goals, explain whether they meet them and why not. With basically no enforcement power. And that was really the most feasible deal we could achieve, given the point I’m making here.

These matters would not be quite so troubling if open-market economic systems did not have an irrefutable tendency to concentrate wealth in the hands of few, basically turning into monopolies. Worse, under the current business scheme, it’s very difficult to trace the root decision makers of problems, so liability shielding has achieved unprecedented levels. Worse, the ongoing increase in our automation abilities (which I favor) is eroding the income and purchasing power of a large fraction of the consumer population, which is the main motor that keeps economies going.

I try to keep my alarmism to a minimum, but it might be time to consider panicking.

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Use of plastic bags has decreased by almost 90% in England since the introduction of a 5 penny charge per plastic bag. I love this example of regulation because it shows how just a tiny nudge can remind people to do the right thing by recycling old plastic bags or using long-term bags for groceries. I complain about poor lawmaking so often that I thought I should spotlight moments like this.

Water Wars are Avoidable

Posted: August 2, 2016 by Nazim in Environmental Law

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Water wars have been a common forecast among geopolitical speculators. Although water itself is one of the most abundant natural resources on the planet, 97% of it is, for most purposes, unusable due to salinity. And desalinization has been commonly regarded as unfeasible or too expensive. However, technology in the area has advanced considerably, to the point that Israel currently makes more freshwater than it needs, and is planning to make even more. This is, in part, thanks to a zealous water conservation campaign that has reduced freshwater usage. My takeaway point here is that if it’s feasible for Israel, it’s probably feasible in most of the first world, and hopefully in less wealthy countries once production efficiencies get going.