August 25, 2009
Interesting article and I would generally agree with you.
Usually there are trade offs and this is often the cost of investment versus the savings going green provides. 'Going green' does of course provide savings because the investment is in energy saving equipment which saves money and reduces carbon emissions.
But there is more to green than carbon emissions and global warming. Cleaning up groundwater and soil pollution as a result of industrial and agricultural activity is a cost that industry seems to be able to avoid taking itself. We have seen how the car manufacturers going into chapter 11 and reorganizing has allowed the new 'viable' organizations to dump many of the abandoned polluted sites into the remaining bankrupt rump and as a result the taxpayer gets landed with the clean up cost.
At the moment, with lax regulation and especially with 'grandfathering' of historically high polluters, the trade off for the corporation is high and pollution continues. If the companies that caused this type of pollution had to bear the full costs of cleaning it up and knew they could never escape these costs then there would be even more investment in environmental protection in the USA.
Even so I agree with the quote: 'Try naming a U.S. city whose air quality is even remotely as bad as Beijing's, or an American river as polluted as the Han,' as Stephens says. 'You can't. America, the richer and more industrialized country, is also by far the cleaner one.'
When I look at what is happening at many industrial sites in developing nations, I am appalled and fear for the future generations that are going to have to live there literally absorbing the consequences of short term thinking.
As for the USA being richer and cleaner -- the same applies to Europe. Especially Scandinavia, which seems to be even cleaner and provide a higher standard of living than the USA.
As far back as 20 years ago I learned about a Swedish Zero Emission paper mill using trees from managed forests. Even the waste heat was used to provide hot water and heating for all the homes in the local city. They do not seem to have had any problem competing in a global market despite high tax rates and higher regulation. Something American business should think about when they complain that going green would make them uncompetitive and throw people out of work.
Despite a greener record in the USA compared with China and India we should also do what we can to stop abuses such as clear cutting of national forests with no replanting and 'mountain top removal' as a method of coal mining. We need to stop thinking cheap lumber for houses and think about long the term value of national resources. As for mountain top removal, if the coal producers had to pay for the clean up of the valleys they fill with waste and the power producers had to deal with the groundwater and mercury pollution from their emissions then the price of coal powered electricity would rise and we might not need a carbon tax or cap and trade to reduce GHG emissions after all!