Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day News That Doesn't Depress You... Things are Getting Better

Today is Earth Day. I'm all for the earth. I live here. Unless immigration to Alpha Centauri starts soon, I'm going to keep living here. Since the Feds just canned manned space flight to redirect NASA to monitor global warming, it may be a while before we travel to Alpha Centauri.

I like the earth and I like using natural resources to make my life and those of other people better. If we have abundant coal and can use clean coal technology to generate cheap, reliable electricity, I'm all for it. I wonder why we would spend a fortune building windmills that generate unreliable, pricey electricity.  It does not mean I'm in favor of damaging the environment because I favor cheap coal over high priced windmills.

During my entire career, I've been an advocate of energy efficiency.  I helped design cutting edge ice storage and cold air distribution systems. I've looked for ways to reduce energy in factory operations.  I've marketed and sold high efficiency products.  I don't know anyone opposed to energy efficiency. Yet, I think it's silly to mandate efficiency standards that result in large cost increases for minor efficiency improvements, resulting in economic payback periods that are three times the useful life of the appliance.  Being practical and pragmatic doesn't mean I'm against the environment.

I could go on. Too often environmentalists present a false choice. Either you're for carbon rationing and reduced standards of living or you're for destroying the planet. Frankly the best thing for the environment is unfettered capitalism, economic growth, and wealth creation. Environmentalism is near the top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, next to self-actualization. Impoverished people live near the bottom of the pyramid.  They don't care about their carbon footprint. They care about dinner.

Despite the shill warnings of impending doom, the fact is that we are not destroying the planet; not even close. In fact, we're making things better. The 2010 Index of Leading Environmental Indicators by the Pacific Research Institute's Steven Hayward isn't out yet, but check out the executive summary from the 2009 edition...

Growing evidence that tropical rainforests may now be expanding faster than they are being cut down, though more data are needed to determine the nature and extent of reforestation trends.

The world’s most severe environmental problems, as ranked by the Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland, are overwhelmingly problems of poverty in developing nations.

— No American or Western European city ranks among the top 50 cities in the world for air pollution in a World Bank ranking.

— Air pollution levels are falling in the 10 most polluted cities in the United States, by as much as 27 percent over the last decade in the case of fine particulates in Los Angeles.

— Recent ice core studies have found that levels of heavy metals in the atmosphere declined substantially during the 20th century, although heavy metal levels could rise again with increasing use of coal in Asia.

Stratospheric ozone, the “good” kind of ozone—akin to “good” cholesterol in blood—appears to have reversed its long-term decline and is now increasing over the United States. The level of ozone destroying chemical compounds in the atmosphere declined 12 percent from 1995 through 2006.

Water quality monitoring efforts are picking up steam, though it will still be several more years before we have enough data to draw a clear picture of water quality trends on a national basis. However:

— The U.S. Geological Survey sampling of drinking water drawn from surface waters in 17 areas around the continental United States found very low (nonhazardous) or no presence of 258 different man-made chemicals.

— Long-term monitoring of Lake Tahoe on the California–Nevada border has detected an improving trend in the clarity of the lake’s water over the last seven years, reversing decades of slow decline.

The health of U.S. ocean fisheries has improved substantially over the last few years, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service’s “Fish Stock Sustainability Index.”

— Recent research suggests that the rate of collapse of global ocean fisheries could be cut by two-thirds through the use of a property rights approach, according to a careful study published in Science magazine.

Flat or declining global average temperatures in 2008 have ignited new controversy over climate change. The data show that 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, and there has been no discernible warming for the last decade, after two decades of steady warming between 1978 and 1998.

— Arctic sea ice levels rebounded from the all-time modern low observed in 2007.

— The global ambient level of carbon dioxide rose by 0.5 percent in 2008, a slight increase over the average annual rate of the last 25 years, to 385 parts per million.

— U.S. carbon dioxide emissions rose 76 million tons in 2007 (the most recent year for which data are available), after having fallen 81 million tons in 2006. Most of this increase was attributable to colder weather in the winter of 2007.

Public opinion data on advertising and marketing suggest growing public weariness with “green” messages in general and messages on global warming in particular. In recent polls, 58 percent of Americans declined to identify themselves as environmentalists; 78 percent so identified themselves as recently as 1991.

— A Pew poll in January 2008 found that Americans ranked climate change last among a list of 20 priorities for the nation to address.

— A Rasmussen poll found a slight plurality of Americans (44 to 41 percent) believe climate change is a natural rather than a man-made phenomenon.

The United States is cleaner today than it was during my childhood. It's cleaner because we're wealthy enough to clean up after ourselves. Hamstringing enterprise and commerce with a carbon tax or cap and trade tax and rationing system will not help the environment. It will only increase government waste, fatten the politically connected, and impoverish the citizenry.

Remember, only a wealthy populace can afford to be environmentally responsible. Because of free enterprise, we are wealthy enough to be one of the cleanest nations on earth.  Environmentalists who truly want to clean up the planet should first encourage the creation of wealth.

Click Here to Download the 2009 Index of Leading Environmental Indicators (PDF)

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