Can the United States Achieve a Sustainable Economy?
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Although a sustainable economy may seem like a distant possibility for the United States, it is well within the country’s reach. If it transforms social, environmental, and economic systems, it can strengthen itself and provide its citizens with a better quality of life.
What Is a Sustainable Economy?
A sustainable economy balances a nation’s wealth with its living systems. Using a combination of environmentally conscious legislation and investments, it nurtures economic and social growth. It is within the grasp of the United States as long as the country sets actionable goals and sticks to them.
1. Restructure Bureaucracy
Everyone living in the U.S. is aware of how unnecessarily complicated everything gets when it comes to the government. Even without considering its outdated technology or clunky systems, it takes forever for something to get done.
While the size of the country requires multiple agencies, departments, and commissions, they sometimes do more harm than good. For example, rooftop solar panels cost twice as much in the U.S. than in Germany — and take three times longer to install — purely because of excess policies, procedures, and laws.
Restructuring government bureaucracy to be accessible and helpful is essential for a sustainable economy. Simplifying things fast-tracks progress and improves the country’s strength. Besides, everyone would appreciate it if government agencies were easier to navigate.
2. Empower Consumers
Although consumers are the driving force behind the U.S. economy, they often get the short end of the stick with inflation, tax increases, and high prices. In fact, 1 in 10 people in the U.S. live in poverty despite the country being the richest in the world. To drive home the significance of this figure, you should know it isn’t even an accurate representation and might be worse in reality.
As of 2023, the federal poverty line sits at just $14,500 for one person and $30,000 for a family of four. Even though the cost of living is so high that many can’t afford homes, transportation, or groceries, they still don’t count toward the figure — or receive certain benefits — because they make more than $14,500 annually.
If the U.S. government empowers the people to build and buy sustainably, it starts trends that eventually set standards. After all, the saying “vote with your wallet” exists for a reason. However, this approach is only possible with a long, hard look at the tax and wage systems.
If Americans feel choosing sustainability is rewarding, they’re more likely to return to it. To help them, the government can regulate product standards and require business transparency. Its actions could make environmentally friendly options more profitable, driving growth.
3. Minimize Environmental Impacts
The U.S. economy relies on international trade, with the government spending and receiving billions of dollars monthly. It’s good for the economy but can take a toll on the environment. In 2022 alone, the government exported over 9.5 million barrels of oil and imported 8 million every single day.
If the government would switch to renewables and focus on domestic energy production, it could drastically lower the nation’s reliance on others while benefitting the environment. Less raw resource extraction and fossil fuel use would have significant positive impacts. Plus, the stability of the economy would be much more reliable.
4. Invest in Sustainability
Investments are the most significant part of a sustainable economy. The U.S. government holds the most power here since it determines where trillions of taxpayer dollars go. It’s made great strides recently, so this may be one of the most accessible options.
For instance, the Biden Administration addressed the impacts of climate change with almost $370 billion in funds with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act. The U.S. should focus on manufacturers, the supply chain, citizens, and government agencies. It may take some time to see change, but it’s well worth it.
Besides, investing in renewables is becoming significantly cheaper with time because of increased acceptance. For example, offshore solar energy costs dropped 82% between 2010 and 2020, a clear sign of sustainable progress.
5. Introduce Robust Legislation
The U.S. is fairly lax when it comes to sustainable legislation — where a carbon limit gets imposed, an oil pipeline gets approved. It must introduce robust environmental policies and laws to balance the nation’s wealth with its living systems. This approach would require significant time, effort, and coordination from both sides of the aisle.
If the U.S. follows in others’ footsteps, it could fast-track sustainable economic growth. For instance, it could mirror the European Union’s move to reevaluate corporate sustainability laws regularly. Paying attention to others allows us to learn from their achievements and mistakes, dramatically increasing the chance of success.
6. Nurture Economic Stability
The current economic system incentivizes careless mass production and rewards the pursuit of profit. While these aren’t inherently bad, they don’t exist in a vacuum — constantly producing new goods and expanding operations for the sake of the economy damages the country.
Picture the U.S. as a CEO who wants to bring in more customers and money each year. While it seems reasonable, it’s impossible to sustain. Even if everyone on the planet becomes a customer, the only way to keep increasing profits is to raise prices or cut workers’ salaries. Eventually, the company would collapse because no one could afford their product.
Even though this is a grossly simplified explanation, it gets the point across. Instead of constant, permanent growth, the U.S. needs to turn to stability to create a sustainable economy. Strengthening current systems and ensuring everyone gets equal support is essential.
The Importance of a Sustainable Economy
The U.S. needs a sustainable economy because it’s one of the only ways to improve citizens’ lives and increase economic growth while protecting the nation’s natural resources. With reinvestment in people and the land — the foundation of the country — it could become stronger than ever and dramatically improve the quality of life.
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About the author
Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.