The shutdown came about after President Obama and Congress failed to reach an agreement on the national budget and lasted more than three weeks, with huge repercussions being felt across the nation and financial uncertainty expected to last until December at the earliest.
The Devastating Fallout
Hardest hit were the many hundreds of thousands of US workers who were furloughed at the beginning of the shutdown. And their inability to work had repercussive effects across many industries, not least the environmental and scientific sectors.
Out of all of the federal agencies, possibly the worst off was the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Responsible for regulating air purity and controlling harmful emissions, a recent poll showed that 65% of the public were opposed to the EPA’s closure. This flies in the face of an opposing, particularly conservative opinion that the closure of the EPA was beneficial for many businesses which would have otherwise suffered in the face of new EPA regulations.
A Tenuous Position
The fact that an environmental agency ended up being the one of the principle targets of the US shutdown just goes to show the tenuous space environmentalism occupies within the US industrial and financial sphere, particular insofar as it relates to regulating emissions. It’s no great secret that economic and ecological crises are intertwined, and that the environmental impacts felt as a result of financial instability are far and wide reaching, and not limited to the regulation sector. In the most extreme cases, investment in ecology falters and structural adjustments often need to be made at regional levels. Not only is investment compromised in the first instance, but a lack of consumer spending provides an added incentive for environmental developers to look elsewhere.
Subsidiary Industries Affected
Speculation aside, the recent shutdown had some very real effects on subsidiary industries to the scientific and environmental fields. Federal employees, prevented from engaging in any type of federal activity even without pay, were unable to contribute to journals, scientific research studies, papers, or publications. The field of scientific journalism in the US, in effect, ground to a halt at the same time the government did.
Corporate Support Not Enough
It’s not that corporate support for environmental initiatives in the US is lacking. In fact, corporate support for sustainability has never been higher, and it plays a key role in encouraging both national and global investment. But one of the most potent threats posed to our ecological welfare today is climate change, and without emission control agencies in place and active, this threat simply cannot be met head on. But corporate support, and the focus of our global financial markets, are unfortunately geared towards wealth creation as a primary incentive. It may only be when this trend is reversed that we see any real and meaningful support emerge for our struggling environmental industries.