By Gary Thomas
Welcome to USA
Environmental Issues of USA
Key Environmental Policies
A Clean Future?
Welcome to USA
|The National flag of the USA.
source: CIA factbook
The USA is a large country situated on the North American continent,
with a total area of 9,161,966 sq km, making it the 3rd
largest nation in the world.
The climate is generally temperate in the contiguous states, but as
USA contains both Alaska and Hawaii, the climate varies from tropical
The United States is currently the most prosperous and powerful
nation on the planet, with an annual GDP of around $15.04 trillion as
per 2011 estimates.
Environmental Issues of
People in America have a high standard of living, but this has come
at a price to the environment. The USA is responsible for around 18% of
all global CO2 emissions, the second largest in the world at
5,425million tonnes as of 2009. Furthermore, per capita (i.e. per
person) emissions in the USA are much higher than any other country in
the world at 17.3 tonnes. For comparison, the average emissions per
person in the European Union are 7.5 tonnes per person, and in China it
is around 7.2 tonnes per person.
Furthermore, due to the vast amount of food, gas and electronic
commodities consumed by the USA, the WWF has estimated that if
everybody on the planet lived as an average North American does, then
we would need 5 planets in order to be sustainable.
The USA has also been criticised for not ratifying the Kyoto
protocol, and is the only signatory not to do so. The Kyoto Protocol is
an extremely important part of the UNFCCC treaty which is aimed at
fighting climate change, and came into effect in 2005. The USA signed
up to the Koyoto protocol in 1997, but pulled out amid concerns that
the protocol put too much pressure on developed nations relative to
Apathy towards carbon emissions and climate change is one of the
major environmental concerns related to USA. A 2010 poll conducted by
Gallup has shown that American concern for environmental issues was at
it’s the lowest level of for 20 years. Gallup has suggested that this
may be because of economic concerns or perhaps that Americans perceive
the environmental condition of the United States to be improving.
It has been found in a new study that Russell 1000 companies (the
high-ranking companies on the Russell 3000 Index stock market index)
based in the US are less likely to adopt significant climate change
policies. The study, conducted by The Conference Board, Bloomberg and
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Focal Point USA, shows that though
39% of non-American companies have suitable climate change policies in
place, this figure is less than halved when looking at companies based
in USA and is closer to 16%. Moreover, the study showed that US
companies are less transparent than global competitors when discussing
Water is another major environmental issue in USA. Due to air
pollution, the USA and Canada experience disproportionate amounts of
acid rain, and this can cause damage to trees, soils and animal
ecosystems as well as destroying buildings. Pesticides and fertilisers
used in farming can also cause water pollution.
Fresh water is scarce in western areas of the country and there is
currently a major drought in the mid-west, the worst in more than half
a century, leading to widespread crop failure. Desertification in these
areas is also a concern.
Though a land of opportunity, the USA is a
considerable global contributor of carbon emissions into the
atmosphere.Image Source: www.photos.com
Policies of USA
The United States is party to many international environmental
Various Air Pollution agreements: these include the Convention on
Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution and the Protocol to the 1979
Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution Concerning the
Control of Emissions of Nitrogen Oxides or Their Transboundary Fluxes.
Desertification: The United Nations Convention to Combat
Desertification, which aims to prevent drought and desertification,
entered into force in 1996 and is 193 nations are party to this.
Environmental Modification: This convention aims to stop any use of
environmental modification techniques in warfare.
At a national level, the USA has its own laws and regulations to
tackle environmental issues. The United States Environmental Protection
Agency, or EPA, is the main agency that deals with sustainability in
the United States.
The Clean Air Act is a federal law that helps to monitor and
regulate air emissions and through this law the EPA have been able to
implement National Ambient Air Quality Standards in each state to
protect human health. It was fully established in 1970 and amendments
were made in both 1978 and 1990.
The Clean Water Act, established in 1972, regulates pollution in
water systems and regulates the quality of surface water. This has
allowed the EPA to set industry wastewater standards and standards for
surface water contaminants.
The Toxic Substances Control Act allows the EPA to ask for reports
regarding chemical substances.
A Clean Future?
There does appear to be improvement in terms of CO2
emissions, as emissions from the United States have fallen by around 7%
since the start of the millennium. America is now also not the world’s
biggest polluter, as the CO2 emissions of China are now 80%
higher than those from the US. This gap will continue to get bigger as
the USA heads in the right direction, with the United States achieving
a 2% decrease in carbon emissions in 2011.
President Barak Obama is also an advocate of a sustainable future,
and is hoping that the USA can cut CO2 emissions by 80% of
1990 levels by 2050. This is the same target as other developed
nations, such as the UK and EU.
The USA is the most influential nation on the planet and if serious
changes are going to be made towards sustainability then it is America
that must lead the way. It is clear that in the past the USA have been
reluctant to make the necessary changes in their comfortable lifestyles
to ensure sustainability, but now it does appear that the wind is
starting to change and the country is embracing sustainable living to a
far greater extent than ever before. Let us hope that it isn’t too
little, too late.
The unspoilt grandeur of Alaska, USA. Image
Credit: CIA Factbook.