By Donella Meadows
–July 19, 1990–
“I’m not too happy with them. I think their grading system is absolutely essentially absurd,” said President Bush at the Houston summit last week. He was speaking of the international coalition of over 150 environmental groups, which had just ranked the Group of Seven governments on their environmental policies.
He was mad because the U.S. flunked.
When he cools down, the President should take a look at the reasons for the rankings. They are laid out in a paper that is meant not as a political lash, but as a serious accounting of how the G-7 countries are doing on their own environmental priorities, as stated at the previous summit in Paris a year ago.
The Paris Communique declared the commitment of the G-7 nations in six areas: climate, biodiversity, ocean pollution, population, environmental support for Eastern Europe, and for the Third World. This year’s scorecard grades the countries on each of these issues on a scale from 1 to 10. The combined rankings show Germany ahead of the pack, with a grade of 6.5. The U.S. and Canada are tied for fourth and fifth place among the seven nations, each with a grade of only 4.2.
More important than the headline-grabbing combined scores are the detailed rankings, policy by policy. These show where each country is strong, where it is weak, where it can congratulate itself, and how it can improve.
On biodiversity, for example, the U.S. and Germany both were graded 6 out of 10, the highest of the seven nations. (Japan and Italy brought up the rear with grades of 2.) The U.S. stood out above all others for pushing the World Bank to tie its loans to tropical forest preservation. We won points for our moratorium on offshore oil drilling. We lost points for our decimation of wetlands and old-growth forests. We ranked high for supporting biodiversity research in the Third World, low for not agreeing to a “world park” agreement for Antarctica, and intermediate for our just-dawning policy on acid rain.
Another area where the U.S. ranked high was on aid for Eastern Europe — we got a 6 to Germany’s 8 (and Canada’s 2). On ocean pollution and Third World debt relief we scored fair-to-middling. Our worst grades came in the areas of climate change and population.
On the climate we got a 3 to Germany’s 7. We are the only nation of the seven that has not pledged to stabilize our carbon dioxide emissions. (Germany has a plan to reduce its emissions by 25 percent by 2005.) We received high marks for our funding of climate research and for our leadership in protecting the ozone layer. But we lost a lot of points in a costly area — directly costly to us — namely, energy efficiency.
According to the report the U.S. uses over 20,000 kilojoules of energy to produce one dollar’s worth of final product. West Germany, by comparison uses 11,000 and Japan only 9,700. Those high efficiencies mean not only less air pollution and fewer greenhouse gases, they also mean lower production costs, greater competitiveness, and a healthier balance of payments for those countries. In energy efficiency the U.S. has a long way to go, and every step it takes will produce an immediate payoff.
But our government has little commitment to efficiency so far. The administration has opposed Congressional efforts to raise car and truck fuel efficiency standards. It has decreased funding for research in energy efficiency. Of its proposed energy R&D budget for 1991, the Bush administration has allocated 42 percent to nuclear fission and fusion, 40 percent to fossil fuels, and only 19 percent to efficiency and renewables.
The U.S. got its lowest grade on what environmentalists see as the global problem that makes every other problem worse — population growth. We were awarded a 2; Japan and Canada received a 6; Germany a 7. The U.S. was once the world’s leader in family planning and population policy, but for the past ten years our official position has been that population is not a problem. We have withdrawn funding from the UN Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. We are the only G-7 nation that has not endorsed an international convention on discrimination against women.
In dismissing the scorecard President Bush said, “We cannot govern by listening to the loudest voice on the extreme of an environmental movement.” He’s right about that. But the scorecard didn’t come from an extreme, it came from 150 mainline groups, the solid core of environmental thinking in seven nations. They ranked him on his own stated agenda, not theirs.
And if he doesn’t want to listen to them, he can listen to the communique that he, with the other national leaders, signed in Houston: “We agree that in the face of threats of irreversible environmental damage, lack of full scientific certainty is no excuse to postpone actions which are justified in their own right.”
That’s great language. There will be more scorecards reporting on whether the language is turned into action.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1990