Art Callaham: Business and the environment

September 02, 2012|By ART CALLAHAM

Two of my friends, 16-year -olds Nate and Ethan, asked me, after reading my column comparing business with government in terms of structure, to comment on corporations (business) relative to the environment. So, Nate, Ethan, and all of the rest of the readers, here’s my take:

First let me say that there are no absolutes. Nothing I say in this column in favor of a business model relating to the environment or opposing business as it relates to the environment is always true or correct. That leads me to opine: Generally business is not the enemy of the environment. Nor is the environment always protected by business. Much the same is true for government. Finally, the environment may not need all the protection that business or government attempts or is required to provide.

Speaking of a need for protection, many may point at crude-oil spills in the oceans. “See, business is wrecking the environment, killing fish, water fowl and all sorts of ocean going creatures!” Well, yes, oil spills in the oceans do that. However, it is not the intent of business, or even Big Oil to create oil spills. In simple terms, no oil company I know of goes out of its way to spill oil into the oceans of the world — period! Oil spills, from an “intent” point of view, fall in the category of “doo doo happens,” regardless of the number of rules, regulations, laws, agencies and such that are in place to protect the environment.

Therefore, my next opinion about business vis-a-vis the environment is this: Generally, business or the business model does not intend to spoil or harm the environment. As always, you the reader may find some examples of gross neglect or even outright efforts by business to circumvent rules, laws and regulations where the result of those actions does in fact spoil the environment. However, I suspect that no one can relate a willful trend to ruin the environment across the broad spectrum of business.

Case in point concerning neglect or possibly even intent: In the 1980s, Union Carbide built a chemical plant in Bhopal, India, allegedly to circumvent United States occupational health and safety regulations. India, at that time, was not as strict concerning environmental, health, or safety standards as was the United States. Nor did India have a similar set of rules, regulations and laws. The net result of that overseas plant allegedly was the untimely death of thousands of Indians due to unsafe working conditions at the Union Carbide plant.

Further, the chemical spill associated with the deaths allegedly ruined a portion of the environment in India. I always hate to use the word “allegedly,” however, some businesses, some government agencies and some individuals take great umbrage with opinions stated as facts without the backup of “legal proof.” Therefore, in this example I’ll settle for alleged and let you research the proof.

That leads me to my third statement about business and the environment: Many times business is hamstrung by overzealous inspectors and monitors of the law, rules and regulations as well as overzealous lawmakers making laws that often defy a common-sense test. Businesses are in business to make a profit, while living in harmony with the environment. Laws, rules, and regulations should address a business and environmental harmony and not upset that balance while passing a common sense test when implemented.

Case in point, lawmakers who have never set foot on a farm sometimes make laws without input from farmers (yes that has occurred and not just in the farming business). Sure, there are lots of public hearings, public input and lobbying. However, some legislation gets enacted based solely on political ideology without apparent thought given to common sense. Then tragically, during the execution of laws, rules and regulations another layer — the inspectors, monitors and administrators — often add their own non-commonsensical interpretation to the mix.

I’ve often wondered if the biblical Noah was an environmentalist or a businessman when he worked for God. Did Noah, the businessman, decide, based on an economic development study and a detailed business plan, there was no room on the ark for unicorns (and that’s why you’ve never seen a unicorn to this very day). Or, did Noah, the environmentalist, decide that mosquitoes were an endangered species and loaded up two of those pests anyway. Well, I don’t know. But like I have noted previously about business and government — both being necessary, we must never necessarily discount our environmental responsibilities.

Art Callaham is a community activist and president of the Washington County Free Library Board of Trustees.

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