In a world struggling to pick up the pieces of a lagging economy, sustainability and the effects of global warming are the last things on most people’s minds.
They shouldn’t be.
As British Prime Minister Gordon Brown argued earlier this week in his piece for Newsweek, environmental policies can only help—not harm—global economic development. Brown writes, “The economies that embrace the green revolution earliest will reap the greatest rewards.”
So why are so many countries, particularly the U.S., so slow to adopt progressive environmental policies? Many argue that in a world plagued by economic uncertainty, tumbling profits, and increasing debt, shifting our focus to costly environmental policies would throw a wrench into an already troubled system. The real answer, though, might be that our economic concerns are merely a cover for what many of us are really thinking: that climate change isn’t going to affect us any time soon.
A Gallup poll taken in March 2009 found that 68% of U.S. adults believe that global warming will become a reality within the course of their lifetimes; only 38%, however, believe that it will pose a “serious threat” to themselves or their way of life. In fact, studies have revealed that concerns over global warming have decreased over time, despite the efforts of notable celebrities and politicians to raise awareness about the issue. Perhaps, although we are able to recognize danger, we have trouble acting with immediacy unless the threat impacts us on a very personal level. Alternatively, it may be difficult for people to overcome inertia and act decisively unless they expect the crisis to strike within an immediate span of weeks or months. These numbers indicate that, while many Americans accept global warming as a scientific truth, they aren’t too concerned about how it might affect them personally. This attitude is shared by many people worldwide who are more worried about putting food on the table than about an increase in UV exposure or melting ice caps. Though this perspective is understandable, it’s near-sighted.
Despite a liberal push from President Obama and other leading Democrats to address the current climate crisis, reluctance to develop environmental programs during a time of financial difficulty has remained a persistent theme of Congressional hearings and sessions. Contrary to some politicians’ and pundits’ worries, though, the current recession provides a unique and critical opportunity to jumpstart a flat-lining economy. Failing production industries like the automobile industry and high unemployment may be tempered rather than exacerbated by the creation of an innovative and timely “green sector.” A push for decarbonization and emissions reductions (and federal funding) will allow companies to employ new individuals to solve environmental challenges without going into the red. Rather than holding back business, the green policies under consideration by a number of nations can actually help to stimulate financial growth and development in the coming years.
Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to green business policies. Whether in regard to energy, production, use of resources, or human hours, environmental practices discourage wasteful spending of money as much as of natural resources. In an economy which has been based largely on excess and frivolity, adding some good old-fashioned prudence to the corporate equation might just be the ticket out of a recession.
If we are truly going to recover from the economic crisis, we need to critically examine the reasons behind its occurrence. The global recession is the result of a number of issues—overextended credit, long-term debt, declining consumer confidence, etc. For many companies, though, a lack of innovation and responsiveness landed them in the bankruptcy pile, rather than mere bankruptcy woes. For example, U.S. car companies like Ford and Chevrolet failed to produce energy-efficient automobiles that responded to consumer needs; years later, they were knocking on Congress’ door for federal assistance. Meanwhile, Toyota’s Prius has sold so well that it maxed out federal tax incentives after it sold more than 60,000 hybrid cars.
It’s a difficult thing to tackle both the economy and the environment at once. But developing the green sector is a necessary challenge, and one that isn’t impossible to conquer. If political leaders encouraged individuals to look at green policies as economic opportunities rather than as a crutch, we wouldn’t need to choose between our environment and the economy. Far from a far-off dream, responsible economic policies that promote green development can lead the way to a world in which business and idealism go hand in hand.