According to a March Gallup poll, 50 percent of respondents thought the quality of the environment in the U.S., as a whole, is getting worse. But the reality is very different. Heritage hosted an Earth Day panel event in April addressing some of the overlooked truths about the state of the nation’s environment:
1. Human freedom and prosperity lead to environmental success.
Studies show that wealthy countries are environmentally healthier countries. Able to worry less about meeting basic needs, wealthier societies can afford to direct their attention to environmental improvement.
2. We’re not running out of resources.
Some would have us believe that as population increases and economies grow, we are consuming resources too quickly. But this simply isn’t the case. In fact, many natural resources are renewable and respond positively to stewardship and management. As we learn more, innovate, and advance technology we develop more efficient ways to access, use, and reuse natural resources. The recent boom in shale oil and natural gas is a perfect example of this process.
3. The quality of our air is cleaner and safer.
Over the past 30 years (data gathered from 1980 through 2012) concentrations of each of the six common air pollutants have drastically decreased:
- Ozone: decreased by 25 percent
- Particulate Matter: 33 percent (data starting in 2000)
- Nitrogen Dioxide: 60 percent
- Sulfur Dioxide: 78 percent
- Carbon Monoxide: 83 percent
- Lead: 91 percent
This reduction in pollutants has happened at the same time the country has grown in wealth, population, and economic activity.
4. Although tough to measure, water quality is also improving.
Americans are using water more efficiently even as population has increased, and only 9 percent of the waters of the United States are considered impaired.
5. The government owns more land than it can manage.
While the nation’s air and waters have improved in quality, the nation’s land management continues to stagnate— at best. The federal government owns some 28 percent of the United States and indirectly controls well beyond that amount through laws like the Endangered Species Act. The federal government alone owns:
- 42 percent of Arizona
- 47 percent of New Mexico
- 62 percent of Idaho and Alaska
- 81 percent of Nevada.
The government doesn’t have the resources to maintain such vast amounts of land and waters, but also because it has no incentive to steward it well. And in many cases the federal government has thwarted efforts of private citizens to improve the land.
6. Thanks in part to the big successes made in other areas of the environment, the environmental pressure groups have pitched global warming as the next great environmental issue of the day.
The result has been heavy handed regulations that treat CO2 emissions as pollutants to be cut. Yet even if one were to assume climate alarmists’ models were correct and decide to cut all U.S. carbon emissions today—no driving or flying, no running factories, stores or homes unless they run on nuclear power, and probably best not to exhale either—this would only decrease world temperatures by 0.08 degrees Celsius by the year 2050. Former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has herself conceded that America’s efforts alone would not meaningfully impact global CO2 levels.