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Jennifer Schwab Headshot

Taking a Haircut for Our Grandchildren

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It
may be controversial, but it’s the best we’ve got.  The Environmental
Performance Index (EPI) provides a way to numerically rate each of the globe’s
countries by their overall greenness, or lack thereof.  Not surprisingly,
Switzerland is first, the U.S. is 39th, while China is down at No. 105 and
India comes in at 120th. 

The
EPI rates everything from air, water, health of its citizens, agriculture,
impact on climate change, ecosystem vitality, among others.  It was
produced by a group of top environmental scientists with grants from major
foundations.

EPI’s
findings quantify a situation we all know exists:  how can the less
populated, wealthy, developed countries demand that the other less developed
countries follow suit in drastically reducing carbon emissions to save the
planet?   Especially those like China and India who are giving birth to a
middle class numbering in the hundreds of millions.  Many countries that
did poorly on the EPI are producing consumer goods for U.S. shelves that are
exported since we don’t want to build them here and it is dramatically cheaper.
 The classic NIMBY (not in my backyard) scenario, indeed. 

Experts
and pundits from venture capitalist Vinod Khosla to President Obama himself have
delved into this issue with the same conclusion – all countries must
participate in setting environmental policy and they must do it now. 
 In my view, one thing is clear:  rich or poor, from the most
advanced to the most primal, all citizens of the world and their governments
must make lifestyle changes to clean up the planet.  This is a global
problem, not a time to point fingers at "who's done what & when".
 Otherwise, our grandchildren if not our children won’t be left with a
whole lot to work with. They will be wishing they could turn back to a time
when there were options.    

The
time is now for all countries to accept that their economies must take a bit of
a haircut in the name of environmental responsibility.  How much value
will the super stringent vehicle emissions regulations in California have when
on the other side of our world, millions of new drivers will be putting cars
and trucks on the road that have antiquated pollution control systems?  We
need to bear in mind that our relatively small population of around 330 million
is absolutely dwarfed by India and China’s billions.  Soon
enough, these countries carbon emissions will make the Western world appear
miniscule.  Without comparable cleanup standards and subsidies in the
Chinas, Indonesias, and Indias, what’s the point for the rest of us to drive
hybrids and acquire solar panels? 

This clearly needs to be a
worldwide effort, with everybody putting aside their own immediate priorities
for the greater good.  This is not strictly magnanimous, nor is it the
naive ranting of a tree hugger.  If we don’t all clean it up, and soon, it
will be a moot point – by the year 2050 or even sooner in my opinion.

Two
key confabs – the G20 conference in Pittsburgh, which is happening as we speak,
and the revisiting of the Kyoto accord (let’s hope the U.S. signs this time)
which is slated for Copenhagen in December – will hopefully be the first major
steps in a global initiative to this end.  While economic concerns need to
be balanced with environmental policy, we may not have the luxury of arguing
about it for 10 or 15 years for it will be too late.

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