Summit to Save the Earth the Big Green Payoff

Who says what's good for the environment is bad for the economy? From electric cars to solar cells, products that protect the planet will earn hefty profits in the future.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. is stepping up support for research into energy conservation and renewable power sources. Funding in these areas has risen from $324 million in 1989 to $540 million this year. But the President and Congress have not shown much interest in politically tough measures such as sharply higher gasoline taxes or more stringent auto-fuel-economy standards, both of which would force Detroit to design more efficient cars.

In Japan furious competition among companies is the main force behind innovation, but government policies, in the form of strict antipollution laws and encouragement of technological research, are a big help. One of the government's latest initiatives is the New Earth 21 project, which is aimed at meeting the threat of global warming. As envisioned by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, it will promote two activities: the development of technologies designed to reduce production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and the sharing of those methods with developing countries. miti is financing an ambitious effort to generate clean-burning hydrogen, which would not contribute to global warming, by using genetically engineered bacteria. There are also tax breaks and low-interest loans available for environmentally sound industrial projects, and local governments can get tax relief when they purchase electric- rather than gasoline-powered vehicles.

European nations are also moving to coax, and if necessary force, their industries to see the potential profits in environmental responsibility. In France the best example of a marketable, earth-saving technology is the TGV, a 300-km/h (186-m.p.h.) train that has won passengers away from polluting planes on the Paris-Lyons run and other routes. The train, whose operations are subsidized by the government, is now being considered for several routes in the U.S. -- a profitable triumph for French industry. In addition, the government is laying plans for a waste tax that will finance advanced waste- treatment plants, which could lead to an entire export industry.

In Britain, where the total market for environmental products has been estimated at $50 billion a year by 1995, the government has set up a $20 million fund to support innovations in recycling, environmental monitoring and reduction of waste and pollution from manufacturing processes. It is giving farmers grants of up to 50% of the cost of building new slurry and silage storage facilities to cope with fertilizer-heavy farm waste.

Britain's National Rivers Authority has been especially active. Its interest persuaded the electronics industry to come up with a briefcase-size monitor that can be used on a riverbank to measure the amount of dissolved oxygen and ammonia in the water, along with its acidity and turbidity. The authority also spurred the development of a remote-sensing water monitor, as well as an experimental technique that injects iron into stream beds to neutralize polluting phosphates. All three inventions are considered good export prospects.

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