Tuesday, June 13, 2017

When Regulation Simplifies Our Lives


Many reflexively contend that regulation makes life harder, more complicated and constricting, and less convenient. And yet, here, in a packed room of people who wanted to learn more about invasive species, was ample evidence of how complicated an unregulated world becomes. Though many imported plant and animal species do not become invasive, the ones that do become a problem that each individual is then left to contend with. Uncontrolled transport of wood for packing crates coming from Asia, for instance, allowed the emerald ash borer to take hold in Michigan, and spread across the eastern U.S., causing millions of homeowners inconvenience and expense as the ash trees in our yards succumb. 

The same holds true for recycling. Because manufacturers can package their products in an endless variety of plastics, metals and papers, each one of us is then imposed upon to compare each piece of empty packaging to a long list of do's and don't's--a daunting project for even the passionate recycler. Packaging is geared towards maximizing purchase and convenience of consumption, leaving in its wake a hugely complex post-consumer dilemma that complicates our lives and fills our landfills and oceans with trash. Why not, instead, require all packaging be widely, easily, and demonstrably recycled, and expect manufacturers to use their ingenuity to figure out how to comply?

These are the sorts of quandaries that pack the community room at the library. If there were no food safety standards, we'd probably be cramming into the library to find out how to identify diseased beef at the unregulated supermarket, just as we'll each be seeking help to deal with the complicating, destabilizing consequences of climate change.

Regulations, if done well, can greatly simplify our lives. That truth needs to be repeated on a regular basis.

A previous post dealt with some aspects of invasive species in Princeton. 

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