How Green Is Your Country?

by Dennis Machicao

With the ever-increasing concern about the earth’s health, it is interesting to see where countries rank as far as their efforts to curb damaging environmental conditions. Can you guess who is number 1 and who is last?

According to the 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) that is based on measures of carbon and sulfur emissions, water purity and general conservation practices, the 4 greenest are: Iceland, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Sweden. An interesting mix of countries across the globe.

There are other surprises too:
5 – Norway
8 – Austria
9 – Cuba
11 – Malta
15 – New Zealand
17 – Germany
20  – Japan
22 – Czech Republic
30 – Ecuador

And where does the U.S. rank? Let’s get back to that later. Iceland, the tiny island country in the North Atlantic has for 50 years been trying to decrease its dependence on fossil fuels by tapping into the natural power that surrounds this country.  Waterfalls, volcanoes, geysers and hot springs provide Iceland with sufficient electricity and hot water.  Just about all of their electricity and heating comes from domestic renewable energy sources like hydroelectric power and geothermal springs.

Since Iceland’s geographic isolation in the North Atlantic makes importing gasoline very expensive, they have been working with alternative fuels for their vehicles and one of them is hydrogen, that is produced with water and electricity, both of which Iceland has plenty. In doing so, they eliminate a good percentage of greenhouse gas emissions that gasoline powered vehicles emit.

In short, Iceland’s number 1 ranking comes from the country’s dedication to taking full advantage of renewable natural resources and using them in their every day lives, thus decreasing their carbon footprint on the earth’s environment.

Switzerland’s number 2 ranking comes from being tough on pollution. The Swiss government charges fees for water and waste management services as well as environmental taxes, which promotes personal responsibility. It costs 1 euro for every bag of trash disposed of in Switzerland.

Trains are the most efficient way to travel and the Swiss national railway company reaches most destinations. In the larger cities trams and light rail service is available. It is also a bike friendly nation loaded with bike paths with traffic signals and left-hand turn lanes. Special route maps are available for cyclists. There are also dedicated bike trails that connect different parts of the country.

Organic products are plentiful in Switzerland with widely available organic brands. There are eco-friendly resorts with furnishings made from recycled materials or manufactured with sustainable Swiss wood.  And much of their waste is recycled. So, the Swiss take the environment they live in very seriously making them number 1 in the world for green living.

Now, with all that we hear about recycling and the American “green” psyche highly tuned, where does the U.S. Rank?  61.  I guess that’s not too bad considering the size of the U.S., after all we are not the size of Iceland or Switzerland or the other countries that rank above us.  But there certainly is room for improvement.

And who is ranked last you ask. Sierra Leone. The environmental issues in Sierra Leone are too numerous to mention, but some that stand out are slash-and-burn cultivation for agriculture, logging, clearing for cattle grazing, fuel wood collection and mining, which have contributed to a drop in forest cover. A brutal civil war resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and 2 million displaced people causing wide spread poverty.  There has been a loss of forest old growth, illegal logging and uncontrolled fires that decimated rainforests.

So we can see that most countries really take the environment seriously, some are aware of the problem and are taking the right steps to correct their ways and some just don’t get it, whether it’s due to education or government financial means to install programs to better their environment. Let’s hope that in years to come, each country moves up the scale and those at the very bottom can somehow correct their ways for not only their well being but also for the rest of the world.

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