Pulling The Plug On Mother Earth

Whether it be through intensified media attention, or due to the efforts of
prominent scientists and other members of society, we have become increasingly
aware of the detrimental effects that technological advances in industry and
agriculture have on the global environment. However, as Carl Sagan points out in

"Pulling the Plug on Mother Earth" awareness is not enough, nor is
societyís response to the catastrophic implications of environmental pollution
rapid enough. Slowness to implement sound strategies are in part due to the fact
that the threats we face are nebulous, since they come in the form of particles
of invisible gases and radioactivity, and in part because response to pollution
appears to be so costly at individual, governmental and corporate levels. It
appears that great material loss, as well as visual manifestation, have been the
only ways to galvanize action towards altering and limiting technologies so that
adverse chemicals and substances are no longer belched into the environment. For
example, Sagan is right on the mark when he indicates that it took the reality
that CFCs were destroying the sensitive but protective ozone layer to encourage
large chemical companies to begin a gradual phase-out of these substances, even
when scientists had already discovered the terrible effects of the chemical
combination. Sagan says that to slowly stop usage of such obviously dangerous
substances is not enough, for even with current conditions, it is estimated that
the damaged ozone layer will require at least 100 years to repair itself. In the
interim, we are risking danger to the food chain, global warming, and increased
cases of skin cancer. Rather than risk these catastrophes, Sagan calls for the
immediate phase-out of CFCs, as well as to improve energy usage, plant trees,
and curb the population explosion as supplemental methods to improve the
environment. While the cause and effect relationship between technological
advances and pollution have certainly influenced public outcry towards change,
and influenced corporations to alter their poisoning mechanisms, the immediate
change that Sagan calls for will necessarily meet with resistance. Saganís own"revelation" about mankindís reticence to act unless literally "under
the gun" remains a valid point. Destruction of the ozone layer and incidents
such as the Exxon oil spill in Alaska are indeed enormous calamities, and we
have been cautioned by at least one reputable scientist as to the risks we take
by delaying reform, but these events are still not great enough to spawn greater
action than handling the immediate situation. It is one thing to agree that car
travel pollutes the environment, and to see dense smog in the Los Angeles Basin,
but millions will still get in their vehicles tomorrow to drive their jobs.

Current technologies available have been incorporated into lifestyle at a very
practical level. The large cogs of public and private interests also turn slowly
due to this infrastructure of product usage which has become so firmly
entrenched. Decisions that were made decades ago, such as automobile transit
phasing out train transit, and the manufacture of energy through the building of
nuclear plants, effect and influence us right now at very fundamental levels.

Just as the ozone layer will take decades to repair itself, society and public
acceptance requires time to shift and modify as well, as Sagan does well to
point out. The challenge to orchestrate the changes necessary for environmental
improvement are further complicated in at least two ways. First, there are
conflicting viewpoints as to the role government plays to influence private
industry to replace technologically damaging processes with more ecologically
sound technologies. Second, to phase out current technologies is a burden many
corporations are unwilling to take on; implementation of new technologies
adversely affects profit margins. Third, governmental failures in policy,
according to Morgensen and Eisenstodt in "Profits are for Rape and Pillage,"
create a situation where corporations have no incentive to move towards
pollution control. Implementation of governmental governmental policies and
programs designed to improve the environment fail because there is no incentive
for legislators to determine the costs and benefits of their legislation, as
there is a lack of appropriate experience in the matter. Legislators focus only
on the appearance of implementing solutions for the popular vote, then allow
their decisions to be clouded by lobbyists and political maneuverings. The
resulting regulatory standards and technological mandates inappropriately
micromanage the private sector, limiting their creativity to allocate resources
to improve and change. Improving the environment is seen as conflicting with
growth in business, and it becomes more of a risk than an opportunity. For
example, new regulatory standards have to be met on national, rather regional
levels, and