"…When a country that emits 25% of the world's greenhouse gases acts as an uninterested, sometimes hostile bystander in the environmental debate, it looks like unbearable arrogance to many people abroad."
So writes Norbert Walter, chief economist of Deutsche Bank Group, in an article published in the New York Times.
Walter refers to the US. His words typify European opinion, vented fully this week at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.
That view is getting tiresome.
The US bows to no country or region in environmental concern or progress.
During 1970-2000, it cut aggregate emissions of six regulated air pollutants by 29%, according to US Environmental Protection Agency data. In that period, US gross domestic product increased by 158%, energy consumption by 45%, and vehicle-miles traveled by 143%.
Since 1988, an index the US uses to assess human health risk from exposure to toxic chemicals has decreased by more than two-thirds.
Largely because of aggressive regulation, US lakes and rivers are much cleaner than they were in the 1960s, and more than 265 million Americans reliant on public water systems drink water that's among the world's cleanest.
Environmental debate is, in fact, vigorous in the US. It includes healthy questions about whether laws and regulations that have produced these results can be updated and improved without compromising progress.
Except for extremists, Americans don't call one another uninterested, hostile, and arrogant for holding contrary opinions on these issues.
What Walter means by "environmental debate," of course, is European anxiety about global warming. This is clear in his scolding of the US for its emissions of greenhouse gas.
Especially in the global warming debate, however, the US is no bystander. It simply has reached different conclusions than European governments have about the need for radical remedies.
Unlike its European counterparts, the US government recognizes that science raises compelling doubt about the wisdom of taxing citizens in an effort to manage the climate.
It's not lack of interest. It's not hostility. It's certainly not arrogance. It's disagreement. Why that troubles Europeans so is perplexing.
(Online Aug. 30, 2002; author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)