The Environmental Sustainability Index brings reform for environmental policy.
Critics of industrial pollution have long been held at bay with the argument that what's good for the environment is bad for business. Enter the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), a statistical tool that just may end the debate over the negative effects of environmental standards on economic growth and bring reform for environmental policy. Developed by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) and the Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), the ESI promises to significantly influence environmental public policy worldwide.
"There are some people," says CIESIN project team leader Marc Levy, "who would argue that you either get rich or get clean. With the index, we've ruled this out. It's just not true that as the environment improves the economy suffers." Indeed, the index reveals that countries with strict environmental protections often have high economic growth, although Levy points out that without further research, "correlation does not prove causation."
The ESI compares 56 countries around the world in terms of five basic components: the status of the current ecosystem; the stresses on that system; the effects of changes in the ecosystem on people and society; the political framework in a country that enables it to respond to environmental challenges; and the degree to which a country cooperates with other countries to reduce environmental impact. These components are then broken down into 64 specific variables — such as percentage of energy drawn from alternative power sources and number of threatened species — in order to determine a country's overall ESI value.
Proponents of the ESI would like to see it serve as an annual benchmark for measuring trends. "Currently environmental policy initiatives aren't grounded in data and facts," says Levy, "and we suffer as a consequence. People want to put their efforts where it matters most, but until now it's been just guesswork."
By eliminating much of the uncertainty in policy-making, the report may both highlight the need and clear the way for real reform, while underscoring the fact that a stable economy requires the careful management of all of a country's resources, not least of all the environment.
— Peter Carter
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