Government and Industry Address the Environment

Two articles in today's press show a growing trend toward environmental awareness in mainstream politics and business.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports the EPA may soon officially declare CO2 a "dangerous pollutant," and designate a formal "endangerment finding" for the greenhouse gas. To those of us who have been following the politics and science of climate change, this seems like a no-brainer, and perhaps not much of a step forward. But according to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, greenhouse gases can be regulated if the government declares them a threat to public health and welfare, and that regulation would be enforced by law.

The EPA proposed classifying CO2 and five other greenhouse gases as health-harming pollutants back in April, and the enforcement of that proposal would obligate congress to regulate them under the Clean Air Act, even as ACES lingers in the Senate and takes a back-burner to the debate on health care reform (see my blog post from August 5th, "More Struggles Ahead for ACES.)

Industry, along with government, is beginning to focus on the environmental impact of its decisions. Today's Wall Street Career Journal profiles Nuno da Silva, a "professional pollution calculator" whose business has exploded in the past couple of years despite massive job loss in other sectors. Da Silva's job is to calculate the energy and resources used in the manufacture, use and disposal of products. He makes a "life cycle assessment" by looking at all stages of production, and not just the impact of a single finished product. (See The Story of Stuff for a more thorough description of the full life-cycle of consumer goods.)

Da Silva's work has resulted in some surprising findings. For instance, the plastic soles on New Balance sneakers were found to impact the environment more harshly than the pollution generated from shipping shoes to the U.S. all the way from Asia. As consumers begin to factor the environment into their purchasing decisions, findings like Da Silva's will inspire companies to change their modes of production, shipment and disposal. (See my post from June 9, "Looking at the Life Cycle of Travel," for a description of how life cycle assessments are affecting the travel industry.)