Updated: Feb 9, 2022
„Think global, act local” is not just the overarching theme of these readings, but also the biggest challenge yet opportunity in environmental politics that we collectively face. As human beings, we tend to be concerned about what could affect us the most. Hence, we tend to look at the smaller scale of things to make problems and conflicts more approachable and come up with an opinion for ourselves. To link this to past readings, we experience the “tragedy of the commons”, where every individual seeks to better their standings in a community. All three readings analyzed issues of what could benefit a few individuals versus what could have an impact on a greater scale.
First, Pralle’s review on Framing Trade-offs: The Politics of Nuclear Power and Wind Energy in the Age of Global Climate Change set the tone and frame for the following readings. She mentions the importance of the frame we use to approach environmental problems. As a business student, I know that framing in negotiations is detrimental to swing the outcome in your direction. Nobel prize laureate Daniel Kahneman noted this human fallacy in his famous book Thinking, Fast and Slow. He mentions that anchoring establishes the mean on your subconscious bell curve that addresses all the possible solutions for an underlying problem. Thus, by setting the tone of a debate, you establish the outer boundaries. If you take advantage of that first-mover advantage, you are more than likely to have the desired result than your opponent. This logic applies to environmental policymaking as well. For example, the Austrian government framed the hydropower debate in Austria in the 1970s based on the strong environmental movement around the world. Many hydro plants were built along the Danube River because the negative impact on the local biodiversity and landscaped was supposedly far outweighed by the global environmental benefits. However, ten years later, a group of environmentalists stormed one of the big hydro projects in Hainburg and forced the politicians to stop their plans of an additional power plant. These actions reframed the whole hydropower approach. Today, the government acts within a framework that considers not only the production of “clean energy”, but also the recreational and economic values untouched landscapes offer. Only two more Danube hydro plants were built in the last 30 years. Nevertheless, it took 8,000 local passionate citizens and national news coverage to reframe the political approach.
Judith A. Layzers mentions in Local, Collaborative Problem Solving: Using Habitat Conservation Plans to Save Southern California’s Endangered Landscape the conflict of local landowners, the local government, and the plan of saving an endangered landscape and species. As a passionate chess player, I compare the situation in the text to a stalemate. Many backs and forths between the involved parties and agencies did not lead to one common denominator. In the pluralist society we live in, a solution affects so many different interest groups and eventually, you cannot please all involved parties. At least that is what the underlying framework suggests. Even though Layzers briefly mentions a win-win frame in the text when addressing the collaborative planning approach where the problem could be solved in a species and jobs rather than species versus jobs manner, short-term economic interest with instant gratification usually outweighs long-term intangible plans. As we discussed in class on 9/16, humans tend to only see the prevalence of an issue when it is visually presented to us. Thus, it took tremendous effort, financially and legally, and about 15 years to come somewhat close to San Diego’s preservation goal.
Framing and the “local versus global” debate were also the underlying themes in Layzer’s other chapter Wise Use, Property Rights, and the Antienvironmental Movement. Many local governments felt pressured by the federal government and did not like its conservationist approach. Local governments and individuals felt entitled to their land and they took an anti-environmentalist stance to have their property rights defended. Again, the framework for this debate zoomed in on local issues rather than looking at the overarching theme of conserving precious land and all the biodiversity it entails. Referring to the constitution, mobilizing tremendous resources, and harassment and intimidation were all resorts used to swing the pendulum towards less regulated properties rights. However, the federal government also launched campaigns and mobilized agencies, funds, and political power to withstand the local pressure. Even though some conflicts might have been resolved, critics (myself included) might see a lose-lose situation in this debate.
In conclusion, I think that our approaches to most topics are rooted in an overarching problem of entitlement and self-interest. Many frameworks of environmental policy debates are lose-lose ones. Tremendous resources from both sides are wasted to manipulate all involved parties to achieve the most desirable outcome for oneself or one’s interest group. However, I think we should come together and try to find win-win solutions. In the end, we all inhabit the same planet, and we should strive for win-win approaches to secure our personal well-being and environmental health. Instead of pointing fingers and flaws on a local, regional, federal, or global level, we should seek consensus in how we make this world a better place. Martin Luther King once said: “Nothing worthwhile is gained without sacrifice.”
Layzer, Judith A. “Local Collaborative Problem Solving: Using Habitat Conservation Plans to Save Southern California’s Endangered Landscape.” Chap. 16 In The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy. Second. Washington D.C.: CQ Press, 2005.
Layzer, Judith A. “Backlash: Wise Use, Property Rights, and the Anti-Environmental Movement.” Chap. 13 In The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy. Second. Washington D.C.: CQ Press, 2005.
Pralle, Sarah and Jessica Boscarino. 2011. Framing Trade–offs: The Politics of Nuclear Power and Wind Energy in the Age of Global Climate Change, Review of Policy Research, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 323–346.