Quinnen Gee_Social Disproprtioanlity

Quinnen Gee_Social Disproprtioanlity - Environmental...

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Unformatted text preview: Environmental Studies 188 – Environmental Ethics – Week 9: Social Ecology TA Quentin Gee, Fall 2009 Social Ecology claims that the primary sources of environmental degradation are social in nature, oftentimes focusing on economic inequalities amongst various members of society. How might a social ecologist argue for her position? Wealth, Political Influence, and Environmental Policy According to the former Chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, the distribution of wealth in the United States, “more fundamentally than earnings or income, represents a measure of the ability of households to consume.”1 And as the graph on the other page indicates, the distribution of wealth is highly tilted in favor of a select group of American Families. Perhaps more important than their purchasing influence is their ownership of stocks and mutual funds, effectively the ownership of corporations, the dominant business institution of our day. The top 10% of American families control approximately 85.4% of the stocks and mutual funds in America, which is a more prominent imbalance than the actual control of wealth (only the top 20% control 84.7% of the wealth).2 Thus, to the extent that corporations have an effect on public policy, we may reasonably expect a depreciation of democratic functioning in society. What effect do corporations have on public policy, and more directly, environmental policy? For starters, the president of the public interest group Public Citizen, Joan Claybrook, points out that, although corporations represent about 60% of the registered lobbyists, corporate spending on lobbying represents well over 90% of the money spent on this practice.3 The Coal Industry As an example of wealth, political influence and environmental policy, we may take a look at the coal industry, which represents nearly half of the electricity production in America. According to the non‐partisan Center for Public Integrity, “Senate disclosure forms reveal that [the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity] spent $9.95 million on Washington lobbying last year, far more than any other group devoted to climate change…”4 In addition to lobbying, campaign contributions represent another troubling element of political influence. In his book Big Coal, Jeff Goodell lays out spending by one prominent coal company, Peabody Energy (see graphic to the right).5 Of note is the percentage of company profits spent on campaign contributions. What benefits has the coal industry seen from their political influence? Carbon Capture and Sequestration technologies have garnered $60 billion total in subsidies through 2025, while renewable energy and energy efficiency must all share $90 billion.6 In addition, the 2009 federal stimulus package had already included an immediate $3.4 billion in subsidies for clean coal.7 This degree of funding comes in light of a general recognition that the technology will be prohibitively expensive, with one Harvard University estimation that costs will nearly double the average electricity rate.8 1 2 Greenspan’s comments come from a 1998 symposium in Wyoming. See http://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/speeches/1998/19980828.htm Wolf, Edward, “Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States.” The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and The Department of Economics, New York University. June 2007, p. 26. See http://www.levy.org/pubs/wp_502.pdf 3 Claybrook’s comments come from a 2002 public forum at Georgetown University, sponsored by the University’s Woodstock Theological Center. See http://woodstock.georgetown.edu/resources/articles/The‐Ethics‐of‐Lobbying.html 4 Lavelle, Marianne, “The ‘Clean Coal’ Lobbying Blitz.” The Center for Public Integrity, April 2009. See http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/climate_change/articles/entry/1280/ 5 Goodell, Jeff. Big Coal (New York: Mariner Books, 2006), xiix. 6 Summary of ACES Climate Bill. http://energycommerce.house.gov/Press_111/20090724/hr2454_housesummary.pdf 7 Lavelle, “The ‘Clean Coal’ Lobbying Blitz.” 8 The Harvard University study expects a 10 cent per kWh increase for carbon capture and sequestration, while the average cost of electricity now is about 11 cents per kWh. See Al‐ Juaied, Mohammed, and Adam Whitmore, “Realistic Costs of Carbon Capture.” Discussion Paper 2009‐08, Energy Technology Innovation Research Group, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, July 2009. See http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/19185/realistic_costs_of_carbon_capture.html Wealth Distribution in the United States: A Graphical Representation 40 Quentin Gee, UC Santa Barbara Each bar represents about 1.1 million households, as there were about 110,000,000 households in the United States in 2005. 35 Data from Wolf, Edward. "Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States." The Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and The Department of Economics, New York University. June 2007. http://www.levy.org/pubs/wp_502.pdf 30 Top 1% 34.3% of National Wealth 25 20 15 Next 4% (96-99%) 24.6% of National Wealth 10 Note: Printing at 300 dots per inch, each bar from the 4th and 5th quintiles only has about 1/3 of a dot, thus there is no display of their value. Next 5% (91-95%) 12.3% of National Wealth 5 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 4th and 5th Quintiles (Bottom 40%) 0.2% of National Wealth 3rd Quintile (41-60%) 3.8% of National Wealth 2nd Quintile (61-80%) 11.3% of National Wealth 1st Quintile (Top 20%) 84.7% of National Wealth ...
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This note was uploaded on 12/25/2009 for the course ENV S 188 taught by Professor Mcginnis during the Fall '08 term at UCSB.

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