Editor’s Viewpoint: Environmentalism: An American perspective
The world has been America’s oyster for decades, but our breathtaking economic evolution also has led to a little grit in the oyster shell. But, we’re not alone in grappling with the inevitable environmental irritations of progress, as I was reminded while travelling through Austria last week visiting environmental companies, trade and export organizations, and Envietech, the country’s largest environmental conference.
What really struck me as we met with government officials and businesses were the similarities and differences between how we are dealing with environmental issues. Simply put, Europeans — at least those in the European Union (EU) — appear more regulatory-driven and comfortable with that fact. And, while we tend to eschew regulations, in Austria, their requirements have resulted in a dynamic set of technologies and methods to reach their environmental goals. For example, more than 150 companies produce environmental technology in Austria’s second largest province, Styria. Complementing those businesses are several organizations that help develop national and international markets, including Austrian Clean Technologies, which was founded by the Austrian government and the Federal Economic Chamber in 2008.
Despite increasing numbers of regulations that govern air and water quality here, generally Americans still have a mixed reaction to environmentalism versus in the EU, where there is a general acceptance of it among politicians and the general public. What may account for that difference can be found in our attitude about “being an American.” We identify ourselves as a nation of individuals who require little governance because we believe in taking personal responsibility for our actions. In most areas of life, our independent spirit has led us to develop a nation with an enviable position in history.
But, sometimes individuals need to work together to solve common problems, and nowhere is that better illustrated than in our ongoing debate over the environment. However, accepting the idea of further emissions controls (read global warming) becomes more complicated because it smacks of federal government control or worse, global government control.
The truth is that environmental issues are global, and while we can intellectually isolate ourselves from those problems, air and water are not ours exclusively. If we know we can afford to use a disproportionate share of the world’s resources, then we also know that our consumption leaves a similarly sized trail of pollution. However, because we are individuals who believe in taking personal responsibility for our actions, I am confident that America will not only join the rest of the world in addressing common environmental problems, eventually we will lead it.