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Eco-Reality Strikes Back: Earth Day at 50

By Steve Milloy

As climate bedwetters hyperventilate about the state of the environment for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, reality strikes back. Here is my summary of the state of our environment.

[Note: Image clipped from the cover/title of Iain Murray’s 2008 book]

Eco-Reality Strikes Back:
Earth Day At 50

By Steve Milloy,

Good News Drowned Out by Apocalyptic and Agenda-Driven Hysteria:
“You didn’t clean that up.”

Summary: Americans began cleaning up their industrialized environment in the late 1940s  well before the first Earth Day in 1970. Since then, many decades of efforts have produced a U.S. environment that is as clean as any industrialized society in the world, especially considering a population of 330 million with a historically unparalleled high standard of living. In fact, this high standard of living is what made environmental clean-up desirable and possible.

Air quality. U.S. air is as clean as it has ever been. From 1980 to 2018, except where noted [Source: U.S. EPA]:

  • Carbon monoxide, down 83%
  • Lead, down 99%
  • Nitrous oxides, down 61%
  • Ozone, down 31%
  • Particulate matter (10 micrograms & below), down 26%
  • Particulate matter (2.5 micrograms & below), down 39% (2000-2018)
  • Sulfur dioxide, down 91%

Drinking Water. “Generally, water systems in the United States provide reliable and high-quality drinking water. Violations tend to be infrequent.” Source: PNAS

Surface waters. U.S. surface waters are as clean as any in the world and progress continues to be made. Since 2005, 832 bodies of water have been restored from run-off/non-point-source pollution. Under President Trump’s leadership, this includes 131 bodies of water. [Source: EPA]

Waste sites. Superfund waste site clean ups have accelerated under the Trump administration [Source: EPA]:

  • Last two years of Obama EPA – 9 sites cleaned up, vs.
  • First two years of the Trump EPA – 28 sites cleaned up

Also, there is no evidence that any emissions or releases from any toxic waste site has caused any harm to human health. [Source: Milloy, S. Science-Based Risk Assessment: A Piece of the Superfund Puzzle (National Environmental Policy Institute, 1995)

Greenest Earth. The Earth is greener than ever before, according to NASA [Source:].

Climate. Since the pre-industrial age, there has been approximately 1.1°C of warming and almost 50% more CO2 in the atmosphere. Since that time, more people are living longer lives at a higher standard of living [Source:]

  • Life expectancy is up from approx. 40 years (1850) to approx. 79 (2019)
  • US per capita GDP is up from approx. $2,825 in 1850 to approx. $53,000 in 2016 (2011 dollars)

The wealthiest nations are the cleanest and healthiest nations.

How did we clean our environment? Environmental progress is due to:

  • Awareness. Informed societal concern has grown since the late 1940s.
  • Wealth. Financial resources have allowed the nation to afford a clean environment.
  • Appropriate laws/regulations. Successful regulation has been fact-driven, not ideology-driven. Economy killing overregulation has opposed and avoided.
  • Improved science/technology. Technology has provided an improved ability to assess and remedy environmental problems.

What does the future hold? Our environment is clean and safe. We will be able to maintain this status with:

  • More wealth
  • Strong property rights
  • New technologies
  • Better education
  • Less hysteria

Verdict on environmental activism & Earth Day. While green groups and Earth Day organizers will grasp for all environmental improvement and protection credit since 1970, the actual story is far more complex.

  • Since the 1960s, green groups have often taken extreme positions to advocate for overregulation that has impeded environmental protection and wasted time/money.
  • Radicals often attack capitalism with the line, “You didn’t build that.” On Earth Day, that should be retorted with: “You didn’t clean that up.” Environmental protection has been a group effort enabled by our wealth and system of government.