While the report "Coal Ash: A 130 Million Tons of Waste" (reported by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes on CBS) highlights an environmental issue with implications for human health, how does this...

While the report "Coal Ash: A 130 Million Tons of Waste" (reported by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes on CBS) highlights an environmental issue with implications for human health, how does this situation relate to ethics/responsibility, communication, or psychology?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This "60 Minutes" report, aired on October 1, 2009, reports on the waste products of burning coal to create electricity. Much of this waste is coal ash, which contains mercury, arsenic, lead, and other toxins, and is dumped into wet ponds. As a result, this waste can pose environmental hazards of great magnitude. 

This situation relates to psychology because it is an example of a concept called "diffusion of responsibility." In this situation, people are less likely to take responsibility for their actions because they are members of a large group, so the responsibility for their actions seems unclear. For example, the American power industry is very large, so it's unclear who exactly should take responsibility for spreading environmental waste. Each company breaks up the responsibilities for creating and spreading the waste among many people, so it seems unclear who has the ultimate responsibility. However, this is no excuse for these companies to create situations that pose major health risks for people in the community in which the waste is deposited. In addition, the power industry is invested in reporting and communicating as little about accidents and problems that relate to their practices to the general public as possible.

This issue can also be looked at through the lens of business ethics. Many corporations have started to use a model called the "Triple Bottom Line," or TBL. In this model, corporations have responsibility not only for economic results but also for ensuring environmental sustainability and social sustainability. This means that they must evaluate their actions to see if they not only result in profits but also in long-term protections for the environment and for people in their community. The actions of the power industry clearly do not achieve the "Triple Bottom Line." 

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