Introduction Global Environmental Challenges

A number of environmental challenges confront our world. Past are the days when the only worry was how nations might provide clean air and water to their own citizens. Clean air and water remain important matters, but environmental concerns now include such problems as acid precipitation, depletion of the ozone layer, greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change. These problems span national borders (thus defying any single-country solution) and are deeply complex. For several of these problems, acid rain and global climate change in particular, the link to fossil fuel use is well established.

As the volume and scope of environmental problems becomes more generally understood and popularly recognized, a new way of thinking about the world's environmental challenges is emerging. This altered way of thinking is moving away from the practice of use and disposal and toward the notions of reuse, recycling, conservation, and sustainable consumption. The idea of using raw materials for the production of products that are disposed of when no longer wanted is gradually losing support. The newer way of thinking focuses on minimizing environmental impacts by reducing raw material extraction, reducing energy use, increasing recycled content of products, increasing product reuse potential, and eliminating or reducing toxic discharges or side effects.

An obvious fact, but one well worth restating, is that those who consume more have the greatest impact on use and disposal or reuse, recycling, conservation, and sustainable consumption. With the total value of goods and services produced valued at $10.2 trillion in 2001, the U.S. economy is by far the largest in the world. While 72% of that economy operates solely in the private sector, government spending accounts for 28. This simple fact means that U.S. federal, state, and local government spending—for good or for bad—has a huge environmental impact. Reforming the way governments in the U.S. spend money (consume resources) will not, in and of itself, solve the world's environmental challenges. It is, though, a very good place to start.

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