2.2.4  The Environment

The public in 1992 supported at consensus levels an approach to resolving a tough environmental problem which still arises frequently and leaders usually ignore. One of the most impressive examples from among all of ATIís data of the importance of seeking a wider range of policy choices came with the following question:

As you may know, some of the products and waste materials of various industries can pollute air, water, and soil, and are dangerous to our health. Decision makers need to know how the public wants them to impose standards on the discharge of these toxic wastes in various situations.

Let me read you one that comes up fairly often: Suppose that an industry that is important to the economy says it would be put out of business by foreign competitors if it had to pay the cost of eliminating toxic waste by-products and so, to stay in business, would move to a foreign country where health and environmental laws are less strict. Which of these options comes closest to what you would like to see happen?

  1. The government requires the clean-up at the taxpayerís expense so that the industry does not move out of the country.

  2. The government compromises and requires only as much clean-up as it determines the industry can afford.

  3. The government requires the clean-up and takes the risk that our economy will suffer if the industry moves out of the country.

In the pretest we found that a plurality went for option B. Fortunately, we decided that another option was important to add before conducting the survey. It was:

  1. The US or the United Nations takes the lead in negotiating an agreement that would require all countries to enforce the same toxic waste standards for this industry.

Since 1991 it has become commonly accepted that companies will move their polluting plants to countries that will accept them in exchange for economic benefit promises. Neither the US nor the UN takes the lead in negotiating such agreements. Such agreements are frowned on by the World Trade Organization, which now has the authority, not to negotiate such agreements, but to prevent them if they interfere with free trade.

But no ideological hang-ups prevented the public from going outside the envelope of traditional choices for the one choice that could solve the problem instead of poking it around the edges. Two thirds of the respondents switched over to the new choice to yield these results:

A. 5%; B. 17%; C. 9%; D. 66%.

Clearly here was an example of the public being ahead of both the leaders and the news media both at the time and to this day. In 1992, these results had the makings of a consensus position on how to handle recalcitrant polluting industries.

In the ensuing years this issue so far has been decided completely contrary to the publicís wishes.

>>> 2.2.5  The Roles of the UN and the US

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