While we all live on earth and suffer from environmental degradation and climate change, these matters have become political weapons. On the left, the outer edges engage in attacks on the existing political and economic systems. They tend to characterize business as willing to harm or even kill us to stack up more profits. This allows conservatives to cast those concerned with the environment as radicals who are out to destroy jobs. As such, those on the right often regard any concerns about the environment or extinction of species as leftist plots to destroy their beloved capitalism. In many cases, this view has been manufactured and fed by economic interests to a degree that results in an outright rejection of scientific evidence and empirical experience.
Since environmental issues have become intensely political and baked into the tribal identities of the political parties it is very difficult to discuss environmental concerns rationally in the public arena. After all, if many of those in power are dedicated to denying that problems even exist, it becomes extremely difficult to work on solutions. This is analogous in some ways to trying to address drug addiction when the addict refuses to accept that there is even a problem.
In some cases there are those who have a clear economic interest in denial or opposition. For example, the heads of industry tend to want to avoid health and safety regulations that would cost them profits. It must be admitted that some regulations are needlessly burdensome, but this fact does not prove that all regulations are bad. There are regulations that are clearly just, such as those that aim at protecting people from serious health threats. These are also regulations that are just in the sense that they aim to put the burden of the costs on the industry rather than allowing them to shift costs onto others. For example, restrictions on dangerous pollutants put the cost of dealing with them on industry, rather than shifting them onto the people in the contamination areas in the form of damage to their health.
Even in cases in which regulations would impose minimal costs or even provide benefits, companies tend to fight them. This might be due to mere ignorance of the benefits. For example, the railroad owners initially opposed safety equipment for trains on the grounds of cost—but it turned out that this equipment advantageous. There is also the possible influence of ideology—that the market should be free of state regulation. Of course, this ideology seems rather tolerant of restrictive regulation that benefits the established companies (think, for example, of the effective cable monopolies). There is also a strategic advantage in opposing all regulation—if one yields nothing (even to beneficial regulation), then it is easy to hold off any other regulations. Individuals also oppose regulations for similar reasons, often under the influence of the companies that dislike those regulations.
It would, obviously enough, be wrong to try to force regulations onto companies that would be ineffective or harmful. It is equally obvious that just and beneficial regulations would be morally acceptable. Aside from those who oppose (or love) all regulations, these two claims are quite plausible. It is also obvious that people disagree about where particular regulations fall; that is, whether they are beneficial or harmful. Matters are also complicated by the obvious fact that regulations tend to involve a mix of harms and benefits and sorting them out is challenging.
While I am sometimes cast as an anti-business leftist, I do recognize the importance of companies in human civilization. I rather like living in a technological society with computers, supermarkets and airlines. That said, I also recognize the importance of having a healthy ecosystem. So, I hold that there needs to be a careful balance between our technological civilization and the ecosystem of which we are a part. Unfortunately, the various sides have tended to weaponize these matters and demonize each other, thus making it rather difficult to create and implement rational solutions to real problems. The gist of the problem is that even reasonable proposals get made into straw men and are often attacked savagely with well-funded ad campaigns. This, obviously enough, is not conducive with creating and implementing rational and just solutions.
Since I teach philosophy professionally, I am aware of what Aristotle said long ago: reason is the weakest form of persuasion. Having taught critical thinking for decades, I know that people are best swayed by fallacies (logically defective arguments) and empty rhetoric (no argument at all). As such, the best way to motivate acceptance of rational and just regulation would be to avoid logic and use the tools of rhetoric and fallacies to get people to accept them for the wrong (or no) reasons. This can, of course, be justified on utilitarian moral grounds. However, a philosopher should feel some shame (as a philosopher) for using such methods. But, perhaps, it is possible to win people over with reason. This will be discussed in the next essay.