The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy has issued its 2008 Environmental Performance Index and –what a surprise — the United States looks like a bad guy, dropping from a 2006 ranking of 28th, to a 2008 ranking of 39th out of the 149 countries surveyed. Canada, our environmentally angst-ridden neighbors to the north, also slipped in the rankings, dropping from 8th to 12th in only two years. Oh, Canada!
Given that the U.S. and Canada have both shown huge success at cleaning up their air and water, reforesting their land-masses, reducing toxic chemical exposures, and improving nearly every environmental indicator you can name, you’d think it would be hard to make us look like eco-villians. But it’s not that hard if you’re determined: you just stack the deck.
First, you set up targets that are so low that no large country with a robust industrial, agricultural, and transportation sectors could ever hope to reach them. Thus, you set a goal of zero for SO2 emissions (we’d better not burn any of our plentiful coal), intensive agriculture, agricultural water stress, and more. Best of all, you set a goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions from the generation of electricity. Yes, ZERO. And you set a per-capita target for CO2 emissions at 2.4 megatons of CO2 equivalent, which was just about what Kyrgyzstan produced in 2003.
Then, you load the environmental performance points on…greenhouse gas emissions! In 2006, factors relating to GHG emissions (energy efficiency, renewable energy, and per-capita CO2 emissions) counted for 10 percent of the possible points a country could earn. In 2008, despite the lack of an increased trend in global warming, that amount was bumped up to a full 25 percent of the totally available points thanks to the a new focus on GHG emissions from electricity generation — a nice way to penalize large countries that give all their citizens access to electricity. (So much for switching to plug-in hybrids!)
The Yale environmental-performance ranking pretends to offer an objective assessment of relative performance. But even a cursory glance at the way environmental performance is measured shows that the deck is stacked against countries with strong economies, strong industrial and agricultural sectors, large land masses with associated transportation demand; and temperature extremes in summer and winter that require heating and cooling.
Wait…that sounds like North America. What a coincidence.