Policy Punctuation is an Event that Normally Comes about Suddenly

A focus event or policy punctuation is an event that normally comes about suddenly. These events also bring with them, harmful effects to the environment and society and are usually contained to a certain geographic location/city/community. Issue saliency can be defined as the amount of awareness brought to the issue (aka focusing event), or how relevant the people feel the issue is. One example of this that we talked about in class would be the Donora, PA incident. The towns zinc plant and steel mill continuously pumped out tons of toxic smoke, leading to the people of Donora waking up one morning in a cloud of yellow smog (Murray, 2009). The smog is said to have caused a burning sensation in the throats, eyes, and noses of the residents of Donora (Murray, 2009). This specific policy punctuation led to the creation of the Clean Air Act in1963 and ultimately, the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.

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The Clean Air Act was passed in 1963 with major amendments coming in both 1970. When it was originally passed in 1963 the act was mostly research based and also supported research on air pollution, as well as provided some money so that individual states could create their own pollution control agencies. At this point in the Clean Air Act’s existence it did not really do much to solve the problem of air pollution, but more or less just got the ball rolling on the issue. The real change started in 1970 with the amendments to the Act that created the Environmental Protection Agency. The 1970 amendments occurred largely in part due to increased saliency on the issue. In regard to the effectiveness of the Clean Air Act, the Act has been very effective. According to Lisa Jackson, a former administrator at the EPA, “The total benefits of the Clean Air Act amount to more than 40 times the cost of regulation. For every dollar we have spent we get more than $40 of benefits in return.” (earthjustice.org, no year given). Another staggering statistic that shows the effectiveness is that in the Clean Air Act’s first 20 years it prevented more than 200,000 premature deaths and 18 million cases of child respiratory illness (earthjustice.org, no year given). It could be very problematic to wait for a policy punctuation on climate change to draft climate change policy, because at that point it could possibly be way too late to reverse the damage done by the climate change.

Common pool resources, in regard to scarcity and excludability, are goods or resources that are made available to everybody in abundance, but have the possibility to be limited if a high cost occurs. The tragedy of commons occurs in a system where resources are shared and where the individuals act independently of one another based on their own self-interest. The tragedy of commons leads to major problems when these individuals, self-interest is not in accordance with the common good of all other people, therefore leading to the overharvesting of said resources (i.e. forests, fisheries, etc.). Also, there is no one to solve the tragedy of commons, but sometimes private property (privatization), state owned property, and common property can work to solve this issue. State owned property tends to work well in countries that are already developed, but not in currently developing countries. State owned property also runs into problems of corruption and insufficient state budgets. Privatization or private property tends to work really well when the person who owns the property is engaged and active in their community, but faces challenges due to the fact that the land is private property and the data needed to fix the tragedy of commons is not available for public use. Common property works sometimes because it allows for the community to own the land as a whole rather than one person or small group of people making all the decisions about the land.

Common property can certainly run into problems when everybody in the community has conflicting perspectives on how the land should be used. There are many approaches that can be used to potentially solve the tragedy of commons but three specific ones are collective-action arrangements, monitoring, and graduated sanctions and there are pros and cons to each of them. Collective-action agreements are when the stakeholders of a specific common pool resource come together and make the rules and regulations, as well as adapt other regulations, for a specific common pool resource. This can work if all the stakeholders work closely together and hold each other accountable to the rules and regulations, but they can also fail due to the fact that most stakeholders will never see the others on a regular basis if they are not close with one another. Another con to the collective-action arrangements is that the stakeholders creating the regulations could possibly create rules and regulations that do not benefit the protection of the common pool resource at all, but rather rules the benefit the stakeholders instead. Monitoring is when people continuously audit or check the use of common pool resources and then report to the people using the common pool resource. A pro of this approach would be if someone who is not using the resource is auditing the common pool resource and making sure the appropriators of the resource are not overharvesting.

Having an outside source audit allows for more accountability to be held. One con to the monitoring approach would be if the people auditing the use of the resource are the same people using the resource. This leads to problems if they lie about how much the resource is actually being used. Once again, self-interest plays a huge role in this con of monitoring. Graduated sanctions are punishments (normally fines) are given out to people who do not follow the rules and regulations set for the common pool resource. One pro of sanctions is that they are given out and put into effect very quickly so that the person/company does not have time to harm the common pool resource and a con of sanctions is that most people do not care if they have sanctions placed on them, so they will not follow the sanctions to begin with. A complex resource governance system is a system that allows multiple actors (people, local governments, municipalities, etc.) to decide how certain resources are used. An example would be the California River Basin. California is scarce on water and so the complex resource governance system is used to determine how the water is used and divided up.

Public goods are goods that are both non-excludable and non-rivalrous, which means that anybody has the opportunity to use it without having to directly pay for it (i.e. clean air or national defense). Public goods also tend to be created from market failures. Public goods problems and the free rider dilemma are very similar in nature in the fact that in both cases people are using the good without having to pay for it, which then could lead to the under-production or overuse of the good. In regard to climate change, climate change is a public goods problem because nobody is excluded from “using” the climate and it is also free (i.e. clean air), and also the climate is the result of people’s behavior. When it comes to solving the issue of climate change, the contributions to solve the issue carry tremendous costs such as, an increased price of energy, greater restrictions, and less economic productivity. All of these costs are very unappealing to countries, which could lead them to free ride on the climate change initiative. Some countries are willing to pay the fine for not adhering to climate change policy, because at the end of the day, for their economy, paying the fine will be cheaper than paying the costs associated with correcting climate change. Therefore, in order to solve the issue of climate change, each country needs to contribute their “fair share”.

The Kyoto Protocol was a protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the goal of this protocol was to decrease Carbon Dioxide emissions to “a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The Kyoto Protocol was not at all effective due to a couple of reasons. First, the goal emissions standard was not very high to begin with and then on top of that, the goal remained stagnant the entire time. The next reason is that a lot of countries had to put in little to zero effort to reach this goal. For example, Post-Soviet countries loved this protocol because their emissions were already at the goal when they signed the Protocol. And lastly, there is a major gap between Annex-1 and non-Annex-1 countries and the quickly rising emissions and economies of developing countries.

The Paris Accord/Agreement is an agreement that brings all nations together to fight against global climate change. The main goal of the Paris Accord is to “keep a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.” (UNFCCC, 2018). The agreement requires all participating countries to annually report their emissions and their implementation standards (UNFCCC, 2018). There is also a “global stocktake” every five years to check the total progress towards reaching the goal of the Paris Accord (UNFCCC, 2018).

The Paris Accord did address many of the issues that caused the Kyoto Protocol to fail. The Accord was designed specifically to address the issues with the Kyoto Protocol (Wong, 2018). It also helps that the concern for climate change, now, during the time of the Paris Accord, is much greater than when the Kyoto Protocol was put into place (Wong, 2018). Also, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Accord is 100% voluntary, and the countries that chose to participate are countries that are determined to correct the issue of climate change (Wong, 2018). Another key point here is that Paris Accord is not, in any way, shape, or form a legally binding agreement, whereas the Kyoto Protocol was a legally binding agreement (Wong, 2018). The Paris Accord being completely voluntary and non-legally binding allows for countries to change and adapt their climate strategies and act independently of one another (Wong, 2018).

Cities in the United States have done quite a lot to address the issue of climate change, while the federal government has done close to nothing to address the problem. One key way in which cities have been able to overcome their “public goods problem” (in regard to climate change, is through collaboration with other cities. Climate Mayors is a coalition of mayors from cities all over the United States have come together to discuss the issues of climate change and how to solve them (climatemyaors.org). These mayors were willing to put aside economics and money to come together to fight climate change, unlike the United States as a whole. The United States federal government is more concerned with the economic costs associated with fighting climate change than the ramifications that could occur if climate change is not dealt with. President Trump said this as to why the United States pulled out of the Paris Accord specifically:

“Even If the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree – think of that; this much – Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount. In fact, 14 days of carbon emissions from China alone would wipe out he gains from America – and this is an incredible statistic – would totally wipe out the gains from America’s expected reductions in the year 2030, after we have to spend billions and billions of dollars, lost jobs, closed factories, and suffered much higher energy costs for our businesses and for our homes.” (Wong, 2018)

There are multiple ways in which cities and mayors can address their carbon output. One way is by making their buildings energy efficient. Buildings are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions within cities (McCarthy, 2017). Installing smart heating and cooling systems into the buildings allows for those systems to adapt the temperature based on how many people are in the building (along with other factors), therefore reducing energy usage (McCarthy, 2017). Another way in which cities can address their carbon output is to create more greenspaces and expand on the ones they currently have. Planting trees and adding these greenspaces can improve the air equality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and also reduce the urban heat island effect (McCarthy, 2017).

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Policy Punctuation Is an Event That Normally Comes About Suddenly. (2021, Mar 23). Retrieved December 2, 2022 , from

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