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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Environmental Report Card

Air Date: Week of

The U.S. may rank number one in terms of world influence and power, but its standing is less than stellar when it comes to the environment. Living on Earth’s Ingrid Lobet reports on an international eco-index that rates each nation’s environmental performance.


GELLERMAN: It's Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Just ahead: Victoria's Secret exposed. But first, mirror, mirror on the wall, which is the greenest country of all? Would you believe Finland? That's the conclusion of more than 50 researchers who, for the past six years, have been working on an index to rank nations of the world from the most eco-friendly to the least. The latest rankings were announced at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and as Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports, the U.S. got mixed reviews.

LOBET: The environmental report cards are in, and the overall marks for the country that prides itself on having hosted the first Earth Day could be better.

The United States placed 45th out of 146 nations on the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index, trailing Botswana, Albania, and Papua New Guinea.

The index is a joint project of Yale and Columbia universities and it rates countries on 76 environmental factors including population density, coal consumption and deforestation. It then assigns a ranking based on the results.

Daniel Esty directs the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and helped develop the index. He says U.S. performance on environmental issues ranges from excellent to negligent.

ESTY: With regard to some things, like provision of drinking water, the U.S. is the best in the world. But with regard to other issues—waste and consumption and particularly greenhouse gas emissions, the United States is really at the bottom tier of the world.

LOBET: Esty says the index isn't meant to gauge standard of living….but with its focus on natural resources consumption and pollution, it does weigh heavily against industrialized, heavily populated nations like the United States.

Still, many highly developed countries like Germany and Japan placed much higher than the U.S. And Esty says the index shows that countries, including Finland, Sweden and Norway, are able to stay competitive in world markets while protecting the environment.

ESTY: Old myths die hard, and I think the myth you have to sacrifice economically to be environmentally sound is one that's persisted for decades. And I think this is where we really need to look at the data and have policy driven off the real facts and not people's long-standing opinions which may be misinformed.

LOBET: The sustainability index was first unveiled at the World Economic Forum in 2002. The U.S. also ranked 45th in that tally. Some countries, like South Korea and Belgium, were so dismayed by their low scores in the first index that they used the results as a roadmap for improving their environmental policies. In this year's index both countries jumped more than 10 places.

ESTY: The index is meant to provide a policy tool so that environmental decision-makers have some capacity to understand how they are doing in addressing the full range of environmental challenges.

LOBET: Esty and his research team plan to release the next ranking in 2008. For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet.

[MUSIC: Bob Dyan "Cold Irons Bound" Time Out of Mind (Columbia) 1997]



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