Overall, how does the U.S. measure up to other developed nations

From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Overall, how does the U.S. measure up to other developed nations in terms of environmental responsibility?

—Lauren, Long Beach, CA

The U.S. ranks 45th out of the 142 countries evaluated by the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), which measures overall environmental progress using 20 core indicators, including urban air quality, environmental regulations and resource use. Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and Switzerland top the list as the most environmentally conscious nations. The United Arab Emirates has the worst score.

Developed by the World Economic Forum, The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, the ESI gives the U.S. a poor rating in greenhouse gas emissions and reducing waste, but applauds its decreases in water pollution and active discussion on environmental policy.

According to Juliet Schor and Betsy Taylor, authors of Sustainable Planet (Beacon Press), Americans consume more than citizens of any other industrialized nation. According to Schor and Taylor, if every one of the Earth”s six billion inhabitants consumed at the level of the average American, four extra planets would be needed to meet the resource demand.

On the other hand, argues University of California at Berkeley professor Jack Hollander, the author of The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, is the Environment”s Number One Enemy, environmental awareness and environmental movements are a function of wealth and education. Hollander writes, “my conviction that the vicious and self-perpetuating cycle that connects poverty and environmental degradation can best be broken by attacking and eliminating the source of the problem—poverty.”

According to Alex De Sherbinin, a senior staff member at CIESIN, an updated ESI is due out in 2005. The new and improved ESI will use updated data sets and address the development goals established by the United Nations Millennium Project, which have an implementation goal of 2015. Millennium goals include decreasing the number of poor and hungry people, improving sanitation and water services, reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per capita, and slowing the rate of deforestation.

CONTACT: World Economic Forum, 91-93 route de la Capite 1223, Cologny/Geneva Switzerland, (41-22) 869-1212, www.weforum.org/glt, contact@weforum.org; The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, 250 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511, (203) 432-3123, www.yale.edu/envirocenter ycelp@yale.edu; CIESIN, Columbia University, PO Box 1000, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964, (845) 365-8988, www.ciesin.org, ciesin@columbia.edu