Living Green

Ranking the best (and worst) countries.

By Matthew E. Kahn | PhD from Reader's Digest | October 2007

It’s an inescapable fact: People living in affluent countries tend to be better educated, enjoy a higher standard of living, live longer lives and have a brighter future. The downside: Their material wealth results in a larger carbon footprint.

Happily, their affluence and education makes people who live in these countries more likely to be aware and active when it comes to doing something about that footprint. Consider Norway (No. 3), which is party to more than 40 international environmental accords. It’s no coincidence that nearly all Norwegian children graduate from high school.

A Move to Improve
It’s in the interest of all countries for each one of them to gear public policy toward developing an informed citizenry. The goal should be an engaged, educated public that can act as a powerful antidote to environmental destruction.

Turn Things Around While There’s Still Time
How great is the potential environmental impact of China (No. 84) on the rest of the world? Consider: If its car-ownership rate matched that of the United States, one billion cars would be on China’s roads. That would translate into total gas consumption of 520 billion gallons per year—nearly half the current world use. But setting aside that hypothetical, the sheer size of China’s population and the explosive growth of its economy are creating significant environmental pressures. For instance, in Beijing today, the level of one type of particularly harmful air pollution is more than four times the level in New York City.

There are signs the Chinese government is taking environmental problems seriously. Next year’s Summer Olympics in Beijing could be a major turning point. Following the lead of South Korea (No. 35), which made a major effort to clean up Seoul before the 1988 Summer Games, China has announced a number of ambitious green goals, including cutting the use of coal in half, eliminating 200 manufacturing plants in the Beijing suburbs and lowering sulfur levels in gasoline. The challenge now is hitting those targets.

A Move to Improve
Global environmental management requires global cooperation. That means Western nations need to move more quickly in sharing with China emerging technologies that can be used to develop clean, alternative energy.

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