Local Action in a New World Order

By McCallum, Scott | Environmental Law, April 1993 | Go to article overview
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Local Action in a New World Order

McCallum, Scott, Environmental Law

I. Pollution is Local

Those who monitor the workings of government tend to focus on the largest political systems and institutions in analyzing the environmental potential of the New World Order. As a consequence, the emphasis remains on relationships among nations and on redefined roles for environmental bureaucracies of national governments. Even the United Nations - a mega-institution - is getting attention as an environmental convener and broker. National governments and the United Nations should get their due, but only up to a point. While the Rio Conference series to rally environmentalists worldwide and attempted to set the framework for a common agenda, we now will settle back into the day-to-day task of protecting our environment. To paraphrase an axiom in politics, "all pollution is local."

Public awareness and concern over environmental damage can only be raised if it is felt locally. Global warming does not seem serious to a person experiencing a Wisconsin winter; the language of the North American Free Trade Agreement seems rather abstract unless the fact that particulate matter in the jet stream from Mexico is polluting Lake Michigan is made clearer.(1) Even then, the seriousness of the problem is beat understood by those who actually fish or swim in the lake.

When environmental problems are localized, our local institutions will respond more readily. Attention should be paid to the environmental actions of political subdivisions, such as state governments in the United States, provinces in Canada, or the autonomous republics in what was the Soviet Union. A closer look reveals cooperation among these local units. Environmental problems have fostered intercontinental relationships between and among small businesses, universities, and nonprofit interests at state and local levels. Sometimes these "small but beautiful" environmental initiatives are documented in local newspapers, national journals and the popular media. However, they often seem to take on the character of feature stories with heroes and heroines, victims and villains; they are not taken seriously as important ingredients in humanity's response to the challenge to manage planet earth for its own survival. These state and local experiences and initiatives are relegated to a lesser status than those undertaken by the "giants," even though they possess considerable potential for environmental progress and human understanding.

Therefore, it is time to recognize and develop the potential of the states as coordinated and coordinating actors in an international institutional family - a family created through people-to-people relationships and strengthened by free enterprise, enhanced by technology transfer, and communicated in a world of facsimiles, satellites and computers. Indeed, just as states, cities and other sub-national communities have become active participants in the international marketplace - through trade missions, foreign offices and export policies - they can embrace opportunities for environmental improvement initiatives. These initiatives have the potential to lift everyone's "economic boat" while progressing toward higher environmental standards that will protect the developing world's resources and developed world's economic viability. An patchwork makes the quilt, so will the work now being done at the local level become the defining characteristics of the global environmental picture.

II. A State's Potential

Building a case for a new state-to-state environmental dimension within the New World Order is possible by reviewing the experience and potential of one state - Wisconsin. With a distinguished record of natural resources protection and management, Wisconsin is well-positioned to become a meaningful catalyst for positive environmental change that reaches far beyond its Midwest borders.

There is a certain irony in reviewing Wisconsin's potential and its work to seize the window of global economic and environmental opportunity.

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