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Are the parties in the United States still vehicles for environmental politics? How do they occupy this political field, and what ideological and sociological aspects affect this process?

Seminararbeit 2005 20 Seiten


Table of Contents

1. General Introduction
1.1 Introduction and problem identification
1.2 Approach of this term paper

2. Environmental policy in the American discourse
2.1 Ideological determinants
2.2 Areas of Tension
2.2.1 Economic efficiency vs. Ecology
2.2.2 Sociogeographical variances Traditional labour versus modern production Translation into politics

3. Parties and Positioning in the field
3.1 Republicans: home for anti-environmentalists
3.2 A “green” voting record in Congress: the Democrats
3.3 The Green Party and environmental organizations

4. Historical Perspective: Presidential performance
4.1 “The Green Decade”
4.2 The Eighties: Reagan and Bush
4.3 Clinton and the 104th Congress

5. Conclusion and outlook

6. Bibliography

1. General Introduction

1.1 Introduction and problem identification

„There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. The parks stand as an outward symbol of this great human principle”. These sentences are not extracted from the platform of the American Green Party – they are from a quote of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States. In his thinking, “conservation was closely tied to American Values” (Sussman/ Daynes/ West 2001: 169). During his governing period, environmental care was directly incorporated in governmental action – various agencies and bureaucracies were established to deal with this topic.

Today, the United States rejects major international environmental treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol, requiring signatories to reduce green house gases below the 1990 level by 2012. The Bush administration has presented plans to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a swathe of land in northeast Alaska populated by migratory birds, wolves and caribou. The House of Representatives had already approved these plans, the Senate rejected them. In voting George W. Bush their 43rd President, a majority of the American people made their cross for a candidate with a green record tending to zero.

But not only does environmental policy seem to have left the political agenda on a larger scale, observers are increasingly getting the impression that the American people seem to care less for environmental aspects than ten or twenty years ago – only considering, among many other factors, the increasing number of polluting light trucks and SUVs on American roads. So can we conclude that, considering the fact that the parties fight for the support of the American mainstream, both Democrats and Republicans have banned environmental politics from their platforms? Indeed, it is the needs of American public that party platforms should address, as a part of the identification of a problem or issue of salience and the formulation of a policy. If such a tendency becomes obvious, do the parties react in that way?

1.2 Approach of this term paper

This term paper is to figure out to what extent the field of environmental policy still is a factor in the American political landscape – putting special focus on the political parties. It is not concentrating on the various aspects of which environmental policy constitute, such as air and water preservation, energy politics and consumer protection, but it will make the differentiation if a certain issue requires it. In fact, environmental policy herein is treated only as a political subject, focussing on which party concentrated on it, when, to what degree, and what ideological and sociological factors are at play in this process and in the internal party treatment of the topic. It starts with an attempt to elaborate a scheme of various areas of tension that are inherent in environmental politics in the United States, then it continues deducing how the parties fit within this texture. In the final part the paper takes a look in history, trying to find out if the scheme established in the middle part is confirmed by how the parties actually occupied this political area in the past and what their role was.

2. Environmental politics in the American discourse

2.1 Ideological determinants

In comparison to most of the European countries, taking into consideration values and attitudes of the United States, the constellation of the political parties in the congress and the voting behaviour of the citizens, the United States can be called a conservative country. Socialism has been almost eradicated from the political map – only some left wing Democrats or small splinter parties nobody takes seriously still fancy with socialist ideas. Values like patriotism, family and religiousness have become mainstream attitude in the States – “moral values” for most Americans were the motivation to elect George W. Bush their President, who previously had been known as a Republican hardliner from Texas.

“The environment is an issue without any obvious political home” John E. Bliese quotes Frances Cairncross of the Economist (2001: 10) – indeed, a statement from a theoretical point of view. However, in the environmental discussion in the USA, often sociological and ideological aspects are mingled into the debate. In the heads of most Americans, environment has a political home – it is a topic of quixotic anticapitalists, socialists and intellectuals. It has become mainstream thinking that somebody who cares for trees or animals has no idea of the problems of ordinary people.

Bliese, a member of the group Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP), has gathered the most salient misconceptions, stating that these notions of the topic have found their way into mainstream thinking:

- Environmentalists are anticapitalists and leftists
- Environmentalists are pagan nature worshippers
- Christians cannot be environmentalists
- Environmentalism is just gloom and doom
- Conservatives should be “for business”

There is a perceptible portion of ideology at play when environmental policy is discussed in the United States. It is not handled like the building of a bridge or any other technical or administrative issue where arguments are exchanged rationally, but a part of the political game where position taking, a term defined by Yale Professor David Mayhew (1974: 61), serves policymakers to sharpen their political profiles.

2.2 Areas of tension in US-environmental politics

2.2.1 Economic efficiency versus Ecology

There is an ongoing debate within the American society whether putting effort and money into the protection of the environment hurts the economy. Quoting John Bliese “many believe that there is a direct trade-off between, for example, pollution control and growth or between “jobs and owls””(2001: 21). “Concern most often focuses on whether environmental regulation will inhibit expansion the Gross National Product, how regulations will influence business investments and the market position of firms or industries, and whether regulatory costs are inflationary “(Rosenbaum 1998: 67). This debate occasionally flares up in most of industrialized or industrializing countries, but in the United States, it is remarkably heated and ideologically charged – even lobbying organizations have been founded that foster “free entrepreneurship” and it is their declared aim to hinder any act or bureaucracy, for example, designed to protect natural resources.

“Nations overall spending on the environmental programs the government administers” in 1994 was “about $140 billion per year, or about 2.2 percent of the GDP. Private industry bears about 57 percent of that sum, local governments 24 percent, the federal government 15 percent, the state governments 4 percent” (Vig/ Kraft 2001: 25). Indeed, environmental protection is costly, bureaucratic and its effects are hard to measure – an increasing volume of export goods or slumping unemployment figures are easy to count, but the condition of the environment is not, or only to a certain degree. Additionally, the result of the investment in environment usually can not be harvested within one or two legislation periods; what is needed are long term policies and thinking in decades and even centuries – definitely not a fact that makes the field very attractive to policy makers who want to boast good figures for their re-election.

Business, industry and their allies are in a strong position to argue: the risks of environmental degradation are abstract and no immediate threat to mainstream citizens – to lose ones job or life standard truly is. Both sides, environmentalists and their opponents, have ample statistics to make their positions clear, but usually it needs major events, for example catastrophes like the reactor meltdown in Chernobyl in 1986, to provoke real awareness for the topic. In periods like this, where new economic tigers like China or India storm the world markets, thousands of jobs are being transferred abroad and competitiveness is as significant as it has rarely been before - ecology in such a phase is mostly seen to be a restrain to the economy a country cannot afford.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
485 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Potsdam – Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät
United States Proseminar Politik Gesellschaft



Titel: Are the parties in the United States still vehicles for environmental politics? How do they occupy this political field, and what ideological and sociological aspects affect this process?