If one were to read the headlines, you’d think the world was about to come to an end. “A doomed Earth of science fiction may well become a reality,” cautioned one British paper. “Entering the sixth mass extinction,” warned one science journal. “American Doomsday: White House Warns of Climate Catastrophes,” noted NBC News.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rolled out new regulations called the Clean Power Plan on Monday. While the rule is expected to cost American businesses and families upwards of $366 billion to comply with, it is being justified on similar damned-if-we-don’t grounds.
The doomsday news stories and lobbying rhetoric omit one important detail: The environment in fact is considerably better than it was just a few decades ago.
Data from the EPA’s National Emissions Inventory Air Pollutant Emissions Trends Data collected over decades shows a vast improvement in air quality since the 1970s. Measures of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, small particulate matter (PM2.5), volatile organic compounds, and ammonia have all declined over the past decades — and that’s with a growing U.S. population along the way.
Additionally, CO2 emissions are at their lowest levels in 20 years in the United States. And according to the Energy Information Administration, the carbon intensity of the U.S. economy has been decreasing steadily since the late 1940s.
What’s not to like?
Unfortunately, the good tidings of cleaner air and fewer emissions aren’t something you’ll see being touted by environmentalists, even though it’s what they’re working towards. Acknowledging things are getting better doesn’t open checkbooks. Scaremongering and claiming we must act right now is what sustains the fundraising, lobbying, and media momentum for campaigns.
We’ve seen alarmist predictions for decades—and environmentalists have consistently been wrong.
In 1971 Stanford ecologist Paul Ehrlich predicted, “By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people.” It’s now 2015, and the UK is doing just fine with a strong currency and well-fed populace.
Meanwhile, LIFE magazine predicted in 1970: “In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution.” That hasn’t happened. Harvard biologist George Wald predicted in the same year that “Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.” That definitely hasn’t happened.
Despite environmentalists’ most dire predictions, things today are looking up. Even the EPA admits that we’re much better off, noting: “From 1970 to 2012, aggregate national emissions of the six common pollutants alone dropped an average of 72 percent while gross domestic product grew by 219 percent.”
However, today the Obama EPA and environmentalists want to impose even more regulations using the same scare tactics.
The newly released Clean Power Plan (CPP) is the latest in a litany of overbearing regulations issued by the EPA under the guise of fighting climate change. The rule, which significantly tightens carbon dioxide emissions, is expected to cost $41 billion dollars annually—which means American families will have to shell out hundreds of dollars more each year to pay their electric bills.
Environmentalists were quick to draw ominous warnings in defense of the CPP. The Natural Resources Defense Council warns of “Rising sea levels. Raging storms. Searing heat. Ferocious fires. Severe drought. Punishing floods.” The group forgot to include “The sky will fall.”
Despite the hefty economic cost, the new rule is only expected to reduce global temperatures by 0.02 degrees Celsius over the next 85 years. Is that worth the massive cost to American households and businesses? Hardly. Even if environmentalists are correct with some of their dire predictions this time, the CPP isn’t going to avert them.
Instead of listening to the latest tall tale from professional Chicken Littles, the public should look on the bright side at how much the environment has improved. It’s a breath of fresh air.
Will Coggin is the director of research for the Environmental Policy Alliance.