A Global Village

A Global Village

The world has long been America's oyster, but our breathtaking economic evolution means we must occasionally endure a distasteful piece of grit. However, we're not alone in grappling with the inevitable environmental irritations of progress, as I was reminded when I traveled to Austria for Envietech, an environmental conference.

What really struck me as we met with government officials and businesses was the contrast between how America and Europe are dealing with environmental issues. Simply put, Europeans — at least those in the European Union (EU) — appear more regulatory-driven and comfortable with that fact. And, their requirements have resulted in a dynamic set of technologies and methods to reach their environmental goals. For example, more than 150 companies produce environmental technology in Austria's second largest province, Styria. Complementing those businesses are several organizations that help develop national and international markets, including Austrian Clean Technologies, which was founded by the Austrian government and the Federal Economic Chamber in 2008.

Despite increasing numbers of regulations that govern air and water quality here, generally Americans still have a mixed reaction to environmentalism compared to their counterparts in the EU. What may account for that difference is the way in which we Americans identify ourselves as a nation of individuals who require little governance. We believe in taking personal responsibility for our actions. That independent spirit has led us to develop a nation with an enviable position in history.

But sometimes individuals need to work together to solve common problems, and nowhere is that better illustrated than in our ongoing debate over the environment. While we can intellectually isolate ourselves from those problems, the Earth's air and water are not ours exclusively. We know that we use a disproportionate share of the world's resources. We must also know that our consumption leaves a similarly sized trail of pollution. Because we are individuals who believe in taking personal responsibility for our actions, I am confident that America will not only join the rest of the world in addressing common environmental problems, but that eventually we will lead it.

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