With all the recent talk about a slow economic recovery and rising unemployment in the United States, there is a real risk that major environmental concerns will once again get overlooked for the sake of achieving renewed growth. Worse still, the failure of the UN Copenhagen Conference of 2009 to achieve substantive gains and the inability of the U.S. Congress to pass climate change legislation could lead many observers to conclude that the push for sustainable economic development is losing momentum. Based on some recent trends and events, however, I believe neither is happening and that the general consensus of the past decade that economic prosperity must not be achieved at the expense of environmental conservation is holding firm.
The quest for renewable energy sources and the development of green technology is generally supported by policymakers across the globe. The lack of progress at the Copenhagen summit had more to do with the process than an absence of conviction. Countries throughout the hemisphere, from Chile to Canada and Quebec realize the threat that global warming poses to our collective future.
The emerging debate around the exploration of shale gas in the Northeast of the North American continent is evidence that the economic potential of this resource should not blind us to the concerns of local populations regarding the technology used and its possible impact on the environment. New York State is in the process of establishing a moratorium on shale gas exploration in order to conduct further studies on its environmental consequences. Pennsylvania, which has embarked on an aggressive initiative to explore shale gas, has also substantially increased the number of its environmental inspectors. Just recently, the Quebec government asked its environmental assessment agency to conduct a thorough study of shale gas exploration with the promise that legislation will follow that takes into consideration the studies’ results.