"Going green" is a hot buzz phrase among enlightened intellectuals, but among the politicians that make national policy, going green is often viewed as a fast track to an in-the-red budget. This sentiment holds true in the United States, India, China and just about everywhere else, too. Sure, there are pockets of advocate states and nations dedicated to addressing climate-change, but they face an uphill battle. (Learn more about going green in our special feature: Green Investing.)
The Costs of Going Green
The reluctance to address the forces that are polluting the planet always comes down to money. The following are six of the major hurdles holding countries back from going green.
Power generation fuels economic growth. Coal is still king when it comes to generating cheap electricity and heating homes. In less sophisticated nations, burning wood and dung provide heat to cook. The majority of the haze over the Indian Ocean is attributable to what is referred to as "biomass burning." It comes courtesy of cook fires fueled by animal dung. (Learn to save on your own utility bills, read Ten Ways To Save Energy And Money.)
Black gold deserves its own category. There's big money in fossil fuel. Gasoline and automobiles provide economic grown, create suburbs, lead to dependence on fuel and generate big profits. Nobody bikes to work in Minnesota in February.
Clean Comes at a Cost
Environmental safeguards aren't free. Everything from air scrubbers on smokestacks to waste disposal for hazardous chemicals does not come cheap. Research and development costs are significant as are the costs of actual implementation.
Compliance Certification isn't Free
Even countries that want to do the right thing face the challenge of compliance certification. Corporations have poisoned the ocean with mercury, ruined lakes and streams with PCBs, and blighted landscapes with heavy metals. If watchdogs aren't watching, the bad guys often do business as usual. Unfortunately, it costs money to mandate compliance. (Read more in What Does It Mean To Go Green?)
Countries that comply with environmental best practices in essence subsidize those that don't. If one nation cuts back on its oil usage, other nations get to buy oil at a lower price. The oil-producing nations certainly won't stop taking it from the ground. They'll just sell more at a lower price to make up the profit difference. The result? More pollution.
Countries that can't feed their citizens don't spend money on clean power generation. The same goes for countries where unemployment is approaching double digits. The need for economic growth leads to a "nobody wants to be first" attitude when it comes to biting the bullet on pollution.
Powerhouse Nations Set the Tone
Tiny rich Scandinavian countries do a good job in going green. In fact, they are the global leaders in going green. It's too bad they're tiny. Giant poor nations (think China and India) do a terrible job. They claim to be too poor to focus on environmental impact, and they have a point. When you can't feed your people, you spend your time and money worrying about food, not about how it gets cooked.
The United States is no better. The U.S. signed but refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an environmental protection effort billed as necessary to sustain life on the planet. The big objections from the richest nation on earth (and the largest polluter in terms of fossil fuel emissions) are all related to economics.
At the bottom line, if the U.S. claims to be unable to afford going green, how can we expect impoverished third-world nations to do so? (For more, read Top 10 Green Industries and Forget Green, "Green" Will Do.)