Are Americans anti-environmental?
I’m not so sure about that. There are many clichés about Americans, their big cars, that everything is air-conditioned and about their Texas oil fields. On the other hand, the United States is one of the world’s main producers of renewable energy, which satisfies 12.5% of their energy needs, which is just slightly less than France (14%).
COP21 in the United States is far away
Americans love pick-ups, these large utility vehicles with an open area in the rear. For 30 years, the Ford F-150 has been the best selling vehicle in the United States, not to mention its many competitors like the Chevrolet Silverado or the Dodge Ram. And you don’t need to be a farmer or a carpenter to drive a pick-up: it’s the most popular vehicle in the United States.
Last September, Challenge (a leading French business magazine) compared the Ford F-series to the modest French cars:
“These enormous vehicles (the shortest model is 18 feet long, nearly a full 6 ½ feet longer than a Twingo!) are very rugged, and not exactly plain by any shape of the imagination. They are spacious and sturdy, able to handle rough treatment and even rougher roads, and they don’t not cost any more in the States (for the base model) than does a Renault Kangoo in France!
To propel these giants, Ford didn’t skimp out on power. Three engine sizes are available: the V6 comes in 2.7L or 3.5L versions (more than triple that of a Twingo), or you can get a big 5.0L V8, the way they like them in North America.
A reduction in CO2 emissions? Whatever! Yet, Ford says it has reduced the weight by 770lbs and thus fuel consumption by to 20% compared to the previous model. The tiny three-cylinder engines currently offered by PSA, Renault and Ford in Europe would make F-series customers laugh.”
Americans like big cars, that’s for sure. What confuses me the most is when 4X4s pass me on the highway spuming black clouds of exhaust. At first I thought they had a mechanical problem, until I happened across an article describing the “Coal Rollers”. A Coal Roller is a pick-up that has been modified to pollute as much as possible. Truck lovers are very proud of their polluting big-engines, and claim it’s to show their dissatisfaction with the Obama administration and its environmental measures.
Why so little interest in the environment?
There are five factors contributing to Americans’ attitudes toward the environment:
– The size of the country
Just take a look at it! It’s huge! The United States is 15 times larger than France. The Texas or Dakota oil fields are very far when you live in New York or Miami. Keep in mind how far they really are: New York is a 4-hour flight from Houston, the largest city in Texas, or 1600 miles, the distance between Paris and Moscow.
– The low cost of fuel
I currently pay (March, 2016) €0.60 per liter. In the Paris area, the cheapest super unleaded still costs more than double! Even if a pick-up swills at a rate of 15.7 MPG it still costs less to fill up in the United States than it does in France.
– It’s an oil-producing country
The United States has traditionally been an oil-producing nation, and this industry creates jobs. According to DeutschlandFunk (a very serious German radio station), the unemployment rate in a small Texas town has dropped from 9% to 5%, and the average salaries have increased from $9 to $18 per hour due to the shale gas boom.
– Laws favor landowners
Unlike France and other European countries, natural resources found underground in Texas belong to the landowner. Simple cattle-ranchers have become multi-millionaires overnight. They earn up to 25% of the revenues from oil field production! You would certainly close an eye to pollution in this case, wouldn’t you?
– There’s a mindset opposing environmental protection
In the United States, being successful is viewed positively. Doing business and getting rich is widely encouraged. Caring about the environment doesn’t make you wealthy; quite the opposite. In a country where time is money (I wrote a blog about it here) only the naïve can afford to waste their time, and therefore their money, with environmental concerns.
The United States is a leader in paradoxes
The country places great importance on its National Parks, which are dear to the hearts of Americans. Massive areas are preserved and open to the public. The Grand Canyon, parks in the American southwest, the Rockies and many others delight tourists year-round.
The United States is also the leader in renewable energies. Certainly the mere size of the country and its abundant resources help. According to energies-renouvelables.org:2)
“The country’s ranking is impressive: it’s a worldwide leader in wind power, biomass, geothermal, and helio-thermodynamic energy…it has climbed to 3rd place in the world solar photovoltaic ranking…and is the 4th largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world…”
Compared to Germany (Don’t forget! I am just as much German as I am French. For more information, check out this page), which opted for renewable energies after the Fukushima disaster, Americans are very practical. When the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, power plants take over. In Germany, coal-fired plants take over and emit greenhouse gases!
The United States renewable energy satisfies 12.5% of their energy needs, and it’s trending upward. France is doing a little better at 14% and is lagging behind, according to Le Monde.
What are the implications for businesses in the United States?
The United States is far removed from environmental concerns even on an everyday basis. The supermarkets are full of plastic. Fruits and vegetables are “over-packaged” in plastic containers, plastic bags are given out freely at the check-out, there are a lot less cardboard boxes than in Germany or even France. But the legislation varies from state to state, even from county to county. So a plastic bag is free in the city of Washington, but in neighboring Montgomery County, it will cost you 5¢ per bag.
Even though 55% of Americans don’t think that climate change is a very serious problem, the fact remains that 45% think the opposite.1) The idea of environmental protection is closely related to voting preferences here. The Democrats (Obama and the Clintons’ party) and the Liberals encourage restrictive laws to protect the environment. The Republicans (the party represented by the Bush family and Donald Trump) consider such laws as unfavorable to employment and the economy. Or more simply, the Republicans are more anti-environmental, and the Democrats are more environmentally friendly.
If the next president is a Democrat, and he/she holds a majority in the Congress (which hasn’t been the case for Obama since 2014), the United States will undoubtedly strengthen the environmental protection laws. If it’s a Republican, which could be Donald Trump, the status quo will be maintained.
And what about you? What is your opinion? Are Americans anti-environmental?
1) PEW Research Center
Photo credit by Samuel Borges