A Green Foreign Policy | The Nation


A Green Foreign Policy

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Applying the EIA to foreign policy should yield similar benefits. If our trade policy with China, for example, were subjected to an EIA, the findings would confront US officials with some awkward facts: that the United States does much more in China to encourage expanded coal use than energy efficiency, even though China is already the world's second-largest producer of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change; that the World Bank, over which Washington has decisive influence, displays an even more lopsided pro-coal bias; that a policy that promoted energy efficiency would lower China's coal use by 50 percent; and that while today's policy delivers great benefits to fossil-fuels companies, the efficiency alternative would yield comparable benefits to other American-based companies even as it produced far more jobs for American workers. Faced with this information, US officials might of course still make the environmentally incorrect decision. But they would find it more difficult to do so, especially if they were being monitored by citizens' groups, the media and Congress.

About the Author

Mark Hertsgaard
Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent, is an independent journalist and the author of six books...

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EIAs would, in short, institutionalize an environmental perspective on foreign policy. They would not guarantee that environmental values always triumphed, but they would formally insert them into the official debate--a necessary first step--and help create the political space in which to fight for alternative approaches.

And what should those be? The temptation is to offer a laundry list of measures to encourage environmentally sustainable practices in all spheres of human activity, from agriculture and energy to construction and transportation. The truth is, experts here and abroad for the most part agree on what changes are needed to bring humanity's behavior into balance with the natural systems that make life possible on earth. The trick is to figure out how to make those changes happen.

Which brings us back to the power of the market. Assuming that the market will be with us for years to come, we must find a way to make it compatible with environmental survival. Not an easy task, but not impossible either. The way to start, I believe, is for the United States to launch a Global Green Deal: a program to retrofit civilization environmentally from top to bottom--and in the process create the biggest jobs and business stimulus program of our time. Making use of both market incentives and government leadership, a Global Green Deal would do for environmental technologies in the twenty-first century what government and industry have done so well for computer and Internet technologies at the end of the twentieth: launch their commercial takeoff.

Under a Global Green Deal, the government need not spend more money--only shift existing subsidies away from environmentally dead-end technologies like coal and gas-guzzling automobiles. Every year, the General Services Administration buys about 50,000 new cars for official use from Detroit. Under the Global Green Deal, Washington would tell Detroit that from now on the cars have to be hybrid-electric or hydrogen-fuel-cell cars. Soon, carmakers would be climbing the learning curve and offering the competitively priced green cars consumers say they want.

We know this model of government pump-priming works; it's why so many of us have computers on our desks today. America's computer companies began learning to produce today's affordable systems during the sixties, while benefiting from long-term subsidies and guaranteed markets under contract to the Pentagon and NASA. Thirty years later, the United States is still reaping the benefits: The cyberrevolution is fueling one of the most extraordinary economic expansions in history.

The same principles would apply overseas. As noted above, the potential market for energy efficiency is huge in China (and throughout the Third World, for that matter). If Washington were smart, it would help the Chinese buy lots of this technology rather than the fossil fuels our tax dollars currently subsidize, thus producing lots of jobs and profits for American workers and companies, while at the same time fighting climate change.

We need an environmental foreign policy that recognizes the power of the market without surrendering to it. In today's world, every government ends up cutting a deal with capital. The goal should be to make it a deal that also works for the rest of us. A Global Green Deal would be no silver bullet. But it would allow the United States to lead by example and begin to "green" economic behavior around the world--and that would be a foreign policy worth having.

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