Should The United States Be Held To A Higher Environmental Standard By The World?

While the humanity faces one of its biggest challenges in the form of environmental damage and climate changes, it is disappointing to see that the largest economy of the world, which has not only been one of the biggest contributors to global warming during the last two centuries, but is also in a position to contribute the most to actions aimed at addressing it, shy away from doing its bit. It is time, United Stated acted like a true global leader.
Should the United States be held to a higher environmental standard by the World?
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Energy-consumption-per-capita-2003.png)

As the foremost economic power of the world, more is expected from United States in the area of environmental preservation and sustenance. At every environmental summit, there are great expectations that the United States will take the lead, only to be let down by the greatest global economic power. Are the global expectations unreasonable, or is there a rationale why US keeps shying away from this responsibility?

 

Our Environment is a Shared Heritage

We have only one planet to share, and that planet has one single integrated atmosphere around it, which cannot be divided into compartments of political boundaries, in spite of

all the attempts politicians may make to do so.

The issue is not about holding or not holding the United States to a higher environmental standard. The question is to find an answer to the common challenge of environmental hazards from climate change, and therein comes the real question. Is United States doing enough, or is it trying to become a free rider over the rest of the world, and in the process, digging a grave for humanity and future generations.

Why should US lead in Energy Discipline

Politics apart, the need of the hour is to be disciplined in using energy. It is here that lies the greatest justification for seeking a higher standard from the United States. The leading economy in the world since the middle of the twentieth century, it has also been the biggest guzzler of energy and fossil fuels in the world. Data shows that the per capital energy consumption in United States, at 300 to 350 gigahoules per capita, has been roughly six times of the global average of around 50 gigahoules per capita, since the 1960s. When compared with lesser developed countries, this assumes even worse proportions. If you put it in simple words, every person in United States has been polluting the world at least six times more than the global average, and ten to fifteen times as much as another person in a poor country.

While the data does not tell it as clearly about the earlier times, it is not difficult to see that these proportions would be even worse during the last hundred years preceding the 1960s. Since, most of the environmental pollution that has led to the existing scare has taken place during this period, it is not difficult to see that the people in the developed countries, led by the United States have been most responsible for this catastrophe.

This in itself should be enough reason for United States to take up more responsibility, along with other polluting nations, in addressing the environmental disaster that they have created. Any other approach on their part would appear neither justifiable, nor reflect the responsible stature that one would expect from global leaders.

Higher Ability to Make a Difference

Even if one avoids the blame-game, and goes by what the countries can actually do to help address this great challenge, it is highly disappointing to see the United States shying away from contributing to its potential. With the highest energy consumption levels in the world, it is obvious, that United States is in the best position to bring about a change.

We all know that humanity cannot survive without energy. In particular, given the kind of life-style we have become attuned to, there is a minimum energy subsistence level that dignified human existence demands. This minimum energy need can be considered as much of a human right as it the right to life and liberty. With most people in poor countries living almost on the verge of this minimum energy subsistence level, it is impossible to expect them to give up what they do not even have in their possession. The sacrifices being sought by the developed world from the developing ones are therefore not only extremely ridiculous, but actually reflect the same exploitative mindset with which they have looted and destroyed them during the last few centuries of colonialism.

Unless the global leaders, led by United States,


shun this exploitative mindset, and become willing to join hands with the rest of humanity as equals sharing a common public good, it is difficult to see how humanity will succeed in initiating joint actions to preserve our environment.

Best Placed to Utilize and develop Technology

Developed countries, led by the United States, are also in the best position to use technology for cutting down their fossil fuel emissions, and also have the opportunity of facilitating technology based energy conservation in the rest of the world as well. Easier terms of using technology in the developing countries can go a long way in cutting emissions and saving the world.

It is also not as if the whole of this cost for facilitating use of technology by the rest of world must be borne only by United States. Actually, what is required is a lead by United States in ensuring global initiatives that would balance the need of technology developers to be compensated, with the need of users around the world to get easy access to technology that can reduce fossil fuel emission. Unfortunately, it remains an area that is completely untouched and unspoken in global public discussions.

While one can understand the use of lobbying by corporate and big global businesses to prevent this topic from gaining hold in public consciousness, it is not unfair to expect that these big businesses, which also survive on the free externalities created by a healthy environment, will at least allow the political leaders and governments that they have huge influence upon, to explore reasonable ways of addressing climate change.

Need for a Coherent & Committed Action

All would agree that there is a need for coordinated efforts to stall impending climate changes. However, not every person on the planet will mark this issue as the single most important issue in his life. Because the issue is gigantic, because reasons and solutions are not always apparent, and because every person has a host of other problems that no one else is going to handle, so there is always a possibility that in spite of accepting it as the single most important challenge faced by mankind, we are still rarely willing to do something more substantial than just discussing and deliberating on this matter.

In case of United Stated, as also in the case of every other country or community, the arguments for sharing more burden arises not from its higher culpability, but because of its higher capacity to bear the burden. It is an issue as to whether the United States with nearly a third of global economy should be coming forward to bear a burden commensurate with its economic size. The answer to this riddle is also simple. All those who have a capability to contribute should be willing to take a stand and get counted in this hour of need.

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Global negotiations on any matter sooner or later tend to become political in nature. That is also the reason why they often fail. A global environmental agreement may also not be devoid of that. There is also a lot of bargaining on these items, which places the focus on issues other than the real one. However, one still expects that people ... ordinary ones, like you and me ... will do their bit in creating greater awareness about our responsibilities!



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