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Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions
zonian land use in a positive way (Schmink and Wood, 1987:50; but see Price, 1989). Some Latin American countries, such as Costa Rica, have taken leadership in setting aside tracts of tropical forests as parks and conservation areas, despite high debt levels and dependence on exports to the United States [Gamez and Ugalde, 1988]. A range of other factors in addition to dependency must be considered to account for the variety of resource use patterns in the Third World.
The state is a major institution affecting global environmental change because state actions modify economic institutions and affect a wide range of human actions, including those with global environmental impacts. As already noted, democratic states may be more responsive to popular pressures to take action on environmental problems than nondemocratic states. It may be more difficult in the latter for nonelite groups to get environmental issues on national policy agendas and then to influence the legislative process through the expression of public opinion. Another critical dimension may be the degree of centralization of the political system. One perspective argues that systems in which decisions are decentralized, primarily through markets, are apt to respond more readily to resource constraints. However, under certain circumstances, a more centralized, state-controlled form of decision making might be better able to take a long-term and broader perspective.
Specific public policies can also have significant environmental consequences, both intentionally and inadvertently. Many governments have pursued policies aimed at maximum exploitation of natural resources in pursuit of economic growth that give environmental concerns a low priority. However, many governments, primarily in the West, have also enacted policies to ameliorate the effects of industrial growth on the environment. State action can also have large unintended effects on the environment. For example, emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollutants in the United States have been greatly affected by the many policy choices of the U.S. government that have encouraged the use of the automobile as a form of personal transportation. Similarly, policies pursued by such federal agencies as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of the Interior, and the Atomic Energy Commission have affected environmental quality, even though—or perhaps because—environmental quality was not an issue in their policy deliberations. Knowledge about why different governments develop different environmental policies is discussed in more detail in Chapter 4.