Why should the U.S. care about foreign environmental policy development?

Not to make light of the current global situation, but it reminds me a lot of a board game called Forbidden Island. The goal is to rescue treasure from an island while the sea level rises (hint, hint). However, it is not about each individual player trying to get more treasure for his or herself. It is about all the players coming together to save the treasure and get out on time. Essentially, it is the players against the game, and either everyone wins – or everyone loses.

Likewise, as we face the environmental challenges of today, there can be no taking sides. The world is now so interconnected that what happens in a small part of the world makes waves and affects the rest of us. The solution lies not in isolation and refusing to participate in international agreements, but rather, in full cooperation.

“No place on the planet can remain an island of affluence in a sea of misery. We are either going to save the whole world or no one will be saved.”

Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit

The United States has been for many years one of the world’s biggest polluters. A small, yet powerful, group of people have for too long dictated the actions of the country by denying what most other countries across the world are already experiencing. The poor continue to suffer the worst, and have no ways of preventing what is happening in their natural environment. But ultimately, the damage will spread to the West.

The well being of the U.S., environmentally and economically, is intertwined with that of other countries. The country has the potential to have an enormous impact on the international efforts to protect the environment. And there are countless reasons why the U.S. should care, be it national security, the supply of energy, access to food, healthy oceans and forests, clean air and water, trade and business, etc.

By implementing measures that would address economic, development and climate goals, the U.S. would attract broad political support at home and around the world. Rio+20 is the opportunity to commit. The other option, failing to act, can only result in disaster.  If we irreversibly alter our environment, it could ultimately threaten the very existence of life on Earth.

Because, in the end, either everyone wins – or everyone loses.

By Mariana Orozco, 2012 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern

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