Guarini Institute Welcomes Dr. James A. Kushlan for Discussion of Environmental Protection in the United States

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President Franco Pavoncello (left) with Dr. James A. Kushlan

President Franco Pavoncello (left) with Dr. James A. Kushlan

On Thursday, October 22, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs welcomed Honorary Trustee Dr. James A. Kushlan for a lecture entitled “Environmental Protection in the United States.”

As President Pavoncello explained in his opening remarks, Dr. Kushlan, a longtime friend and generous benefactor of John Cabot University, is an expert in environmental conservation. He is the author of over 20 books and more than 200 articles in the areas of ornithology and wetlands.

Dr. Kushlan began by explaining the difference between environmental protection, preservation, and conservation. Environmental protection encompasses everything related to the environment as a governmental function and, therefore, has a narrow scope. Similarly, environmental preservation is the act of setting aside an area and greatly limiting its use by humans in order to maintain its ecological function. Environmental conservation, on the other hand, is a much broader subject, also entailing a philosophical and activist approach towards the defense of the environment that goes beyond mere policy making.

According to Dr. Kushlan, US environmental protection is quite underestimated and, to a certain extent, much more effective than in some European countries. Indeed, while French and Italian natural parks cover respectively 2 and 5% of national land, in the United States they cover 12%. Furthermore, unlike the United States, the European Union environmental directives are quite silent on comprehensive European environmental protection, leaving the matter to individual member states.

Dr. Kushlan affirmed that the reason why the United States has a structured environmental protection policy is its history. Indeed, one of the first philosophers in the modern world who concerned himself with the environment was American Henry David Thoreau, who paved the way for the study of environmental protection in the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt too was a natural historian and a conservationist who pushed for environmental protection. During his mandate, President Roosevelt opened 150 new national forests, 18 national monuments, and 51 bird reserves.

Indeed, the United States has passed more than 40 federal laws on environmental protection and also created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during Nixon’s presidency in 1970. The agency conducts environmental assessment, research, and education. It has the responsibility for maintaining and enforcing national standards under a variety of environmental laws with a strong monitoring and enforcing regime.

Nonetheless, Dr. Kushlan argued that the United States, although one of the first pioneers and leaders in environmental protection, scores negatively on many issues. For example, the EPA legislation, created in 1970, has not been updated to face contemporary problems; Congress is constantly pushing to eliminate federal action towards conservation; climate change denial is embedded in the culture of many politicians (i.e. the governor of Florida has actually forbidden the use of the term “climate change”); and the country has failed to ratify the world’s most important environmental treaties, not willing to accept that an international treaty can supersede national laws.