Earth Day turns 40 today, a good time to review some realities we didn’t know on the first Earth Day in 1970, when economic prosperity was assumed to be the enemy of the environment. That turns out to be wrong.
The Index of Leading Environmental Indicators has been monitoring the environment for more than a decade, using the best information from the Environmental Protection Agency and other official sources. The data confirm that in many ways, but not all, the world is a cleaner place than it was in 1970. It remains true that the affluent society does not want to be the effluent society. Economic growth is entirely consistent with environmental quality. That is now settled, unlike the issue of “climate science,” as in the familiar politically correct story line.
High-profile pitchmen like Al Gore tell us the earth is getting warmer and the cause is human activity, in the form of modern industry. Unless we curtail that industry the world faces catastrophic storms, sea-level rise, and global chaos. This all comes billed not as prophecy but as a matter of settled science. We now know, however, that the science is far from settled.
True science has no need to persecute dissenters and skeptics, but that is what leading climate alarmists have been doing, as the “Climategate” scandal confirms. Leaders of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at East Anglia University are uncomfortable with data at odds with the horror show.
The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) may have been warm as today, which nixes the charge that modern industry is to blame for global warming. For the last 15 years no statistically significant warming has taken place. The vaunted “hockey stick graph,” purporting to show sudden recent warming turns out to be problematic. Significant errors in temperature turn up in reconstructions by climate alarmist James Hansen of NASA.
On the first Earth Day in 1970, many assumed that simply tasking government with protecting environment would do the job. Turns out things aren’t so simple. Nature can defy both analysis and government regulations. Witness the volcanic eruption in Iceland, and of course Mt. St. Helens, which caused vast destruction in 1980, 10 years after the first Earth Day. We may have more government agencies now, but human beings remain helpless in the face of natural disaster.
In 2010 we also know that the same government that fails to balance the public checkbook also fails to balance nature. For example, California officials are prosecuting a man who allegedly shot a sea lion that was taking fish off his line. At the same time, state and federal officials in Oregon are killing sea lions for the crime of eating too many salmon, their natural diet.
By now the lesson should be clear. If war is too important to be left to the generals, the environment is too important to be left to the government. Legislators should make economic growth, property rights and personal incentives part of environmental policy, along with only the best science and of course common sense. That will make for a world still cleaner in 2020, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day
K. Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director for the Pacific Research Institute.