Progress is certainly being made on environmental issues in our current political system. This is historically evident, as legislation such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act have done tremendous good for the environment. Many federal agencies have also been created to protect our environment and natural resources, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among many others. Over the past thirty years, air quality in the United States has drastically improved, with levels of carbon monoxide, ground-level ozone, lead, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide decreasing steadily over that time. The nation’s waterways have become cleaner and safer, with lower levels of industrial pollution, sewage discharge, and nutrient runoff. There have also been effective international agreements, including the Montreal Protocol and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The Montreal Protocol called for a phase-out of chemicals that deplete the ozone layer, leading to successful repletion of the ozone layer that continues today.
While it is certainly true that the broad, sweeping change necessary to combat issues on the scale of global climate change has not occurred under our current system, the answer is not to abandon the system. Rather, smaller-scale change is necessary. For instance, the role of science in American politics must be reformed, specifically that policy should be based on sound science, not anti-science rhetoric based in ideology. A multitude of similar reforms could substantially improve environmental policy in the United States. An attempt to uproot the current system does not guarantee that environmental conditions will improve. Instead, it creates a condition of political turmoil that is conducive to chaos rather than effective policy. Clinging to the current system may be frustrating for environmentalists that want strong environmental policy immediately, myself included, but reforming within the current system and building on our past successes is a more reasonable solution than a radical abandonment of liberal democracy.