Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Paul Steinberg of Harvey Mudd College explains the unique position of the United States as a potential global leader on environmental issues.
Paul Steinberg is an associate professor of political science and environmental policy at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. His research focuses on global environmental politics, with a special interest in biodiversity conservation and the environmental policy of developing countries. In 2001, he published Environmental Leadership in Developing Countries, in which he explains how Costa Rica and Bolivia have become leaders in environmental conservation. Steinberg holds a M.P.A. from Harvard's Kennedy School and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Dr. Paul Steinberg -Global Environmental Leadership
The U.S. was once the trendsetter in areas like air and water quality standards. There was a time when US officials had to convince the Europeans to protect the ozone layer. And today dozens of countries have put in place ideas first developed in America, from national parks to cap and trade schemes for pollution control, to laws guaranteeing citizens the right to information about government decisions and industrial practices. But over the past two decades we have ceded leadership to the European Union while falling behind in many areas, from alternative energy to the recycling of electronic waste.
What might a renaissance in US environmental leadership look like? We need our policy innovations to keep pace with our scientific innovations. The US holds fully half of the world's patents for chemical inventions, and two-thirds of the patents for "green chemistry" that doesn't harm the environment. But while Europe has a suite of new policies to remove harmful chemicals from consumer products, the US lags far behind. The US is the global leader in research on species conservation, with 40 percent of the world's published authors according to a recent survey. But while Europe has implemented new policies for habitat conservation, the US is destroying the mountains of West Virginia - one of the most biologically important regions in the world - in its search for ever-cheaper sources of coal. On the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the world's top authority on the global warming -the US has more scientific contributors than all of Europe combined. But while Europe is on track to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% by 2020, the US has no energy policy whatsoever.
Science and technology only advance sustainability if they are put into use by government agencies and the private sector. This requires good public policy, and now is the time for US policy leadership at home and abroad.