Environmental managers needed to hold thin green line of climate change

Indiana has been found lacking in its ability to protect vital wetlands due to deregulation and inadequate staffing. Inadequate staffing in Maryland has resulted a huge backlog of permits (to pollute) not being reviewed and worse, violators of pollution laws not being held accountable for the sometimes-fatal risks they pose to humans.

Because of lack of support environmental agencies are finding more and more that they are unable to meet their mandates to protect human health and the environment. Even our national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), although realizing recent, limited budget increases, is finding it difficult to fulfill their mandates after four years of severe budget cuts, deregulation and disrespect from the previous administration.

Underserved communities in Jackson, Miss. are unable to access clean water because of an inoperable, drinking water facility serving more than 180,000 people. States such as Louisiana, attempt to grant permits in these overburdened areas that can lack protections required by federal environmental laws.

Indiana continues to rank as one of the worst performers on water quality due to its refusal to enforce water and coal ash regulations. In drought-plagued Arizona communities are poised to become ghost towns due to inadequate regulation of its groundwater. Meanwhile, our politicians pass laws to compensate those exposed to toxic waste over the decades atour military installations, such as Marines, Sailors, and their families at MCB Camp Lejeune.

We hear it often, and rightfully so, “America needs more health care professionals, police and teachers … to heal us, protect us and provide a better future for our children.” And it appears municipalities, states and our nation are trying to respond in a positive although probably still inadequate way.

Consider this: We lose about 36,000 people annually to car accidents and nearly another 25,000 people to homicides in America. Worldwide, roughly 90,000 people die every year due to warfare. The numbers are staggering.

More staggering is that in the United States alone, we lose roughly 200,000 peopleannually to polluted air and water. Not to mention the loss of critical ecological habitat and pollinators due to toxic pollution and ill-conceived development that have been threatened for decades. Toxic pollution and climate-related risks are directly impacting ours and our children’s future.

So, why are we not clamoring for more professionals to protect human health and the environment from pollution?

It’s complicated. Americans prefer not to think about certain “protectors,” whether for national defense or environmental risk. Then, there are those who believe that they and business can best protect humans from environmental harm — i.e., they want to regulate and manage themselves.

Perhaps most confusing for an unresponsive public is that we would have to admit we need these “protectors” to save us from ourselves. We are responsible for the environmental insults that pose such serious risk to human health and the ecosystem. More fuel, plastics, pesticides, etc. through legal but excessive consumption.

At the same time, we are subjected to “greenwashing” by the entities that profit from our demands. Their promises of conservation and clean-up sound good and feel good but do little good. As with California requiring proof of plastics being truly recyclable, well-trained environmental managers are needed to call out greenwashing and use science to hold scammers accountable for this planetary scourge.

Global climate change is here and climate-related risks are increasingly affecting our way of life, but health and environmental threats have been with us for more than a century. Quality environmental management is a critical profession in a modern world. Spare yourselves the platitude that environmental professionals are “tree hugging,” woke, deep-state protectors of birds and bunnies. Our environmental laws were crafted with the primary standard of protecting human health. They mandated reasonable assurances of economic balance where even experts on economic competitiveness agree well-crafted regulations not only protect us from the few greedy and/or incompetent violators but increase competitiveness. These scientist/managers at the local, state and federal level strive to provide clean drinking water, breathable air, as well as living, working, learning and playing environments reasonably free from dangerous toxins — every day. They do so while providing a sustainable environment for future generations with the almost unimaginable task of maintaining a vibrant economy.

We need more of them, and they need to be trained to function in the tri-sectoral — public, private and non-profit — landscape that comprises modern environmental management.

To be clear, the work environmental professionals do, and the decisions they make, are matters of life and death for living beings but also for our way of life. Now, like a buzzard that has come to roost, global climate change exacerbates these everyday threats making this profession even more critical. It’s time we consider environmental managers as “the thin green line” necessary to match “the thin blue line” of other law enforcers.

Marc L. Lame is professor emeritus in the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

Richard A. Marcantonio is a teaching assistant professor in the Department of Management and Organization at the Mendoza College of Business, and a fellow at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

They are co-authors of the new book “Environmental Management: Concepts and Practical Skills.”

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