number of themes such as climate change, acidification, or eutrophication, and to target groups such as agriculture, traffic and transport, refineries, or consumers.21
The above discussion suggests that international comparisons of environmental policy have become increasingly important just as they are becoming more difficult to undertake. Since environmental policy itself has become highly complex, comparisons of environmental policy will necessarily also need to be complex. These difficulties in comparing environmental policy have permitted public officials (and affected business interests) everywhere to claim that their policies are the most advanced, the most stringent, and the most effective. This litany is repeated by spokespersons from most OECD countries, and by picking the times and the areas where a country has been active it is even possible to provide proof for these mutually exclusive statements. For example, for decades, the United States lagged behind all other industrialized countries in its land use planning, worker protection and industrial safety measures. When it finally turned to remedying this situation in the late sixties, it adopted a series of remarkable environmental laws that appeared highly progressive, as long as the peculiar circumstances of prior US neglect were forgotten.
The role of science and technology is a constant among the diverse criteria for comparison of environmental policy. Significant environmental degradation is always linked to the introduction of "Western" technologies, which help to magnify the impact of humans on the environment. These technologies are everywhere the same, ranging from simple rules of conduct for sanitation and nutrition, which lead to a population explosion, to cutting edge electronic and biological technologies. Consequently appropriate control and the creation of necessary incentives to science and technology are a consistent need for the development of environmental policies. In general, only countries with a strong scientific community can participate actively in the definition, development, and implementation of policies concerned with the environment and sustainability because only these countries have the means to participate actively in the required processes.
It is generally assumed that countries undertaking particularly vigorous forms of environmental protection will be at a disadvantage relative to countries with lesser levels of protection. In practice the opposite may prove to be the case, but only if scientific research and technological innovation move in a direction that is consonant with environmental policy goals.
The assessment of environmental quality requires a long-term effort to establish appropriate monitoring facilities and to study and evaluate the results. This creates an important field of scientific research and technological development as the "interface" between society and the environment becomes better defined. It is unique in its consistent requirement for broad interdisciplinary cooperation, including not only various disciplines in a common area of activity—for example,