April 22 2013
Happy Earth Day! As winter resides and spring comes on in all its glory, I can’t help but dream of warmer weather, hiking in pristine mountains, drinking from clear mountain streams, breathing pure crisp air, and swimming in blue beach waters.
The quality of our environment has greatly improved, and this should be celebrated. Yet some efforts to benefit renewable energy threaten to erode much of the progress that has been made.
This morning, Todd Wynn writes in the American Legislator just how much cleaner our environment is becoming, thanks in part to the very technological advances that far left environmentalists deplore. Wynn writes about the “technological improvements, increases in wealth that have enabled greater consumer demand for cleaner products and services, and sensible regulations that protect property rights have helped lead the United States to have some of the cleanest air and water in the world.” Among these improvements Wynn cites:
• From 1980 to 2011, U.S. gross domestic product has increased 128%, vehicle miles traveled increased 94%, population grew by 37%, and energy consumption increased by 26%. Despite these trends, the six common air pollutants declined by 63% over this time period.
• The EPA’s Air Quality Index (AQI), a metric used for declaring days on which the air is “unhealthy” for sensitive people (children, the elderly, and people with respiratory ailments) in metropolitan areas, also reveals a similar success story. From 1999 to 2008, the AQI declined almost 63%, meaning that there are 63% fewer days that air quality is unhealthy for sensitive populations.
• Vehicles in the late 1960s emitted over 75 grams of carbon monoxide per mile. New vehicles today emit less than 0.4 grams per mile which represents a 99.5% reduction in emission intensity.
• U.S. forestland has been expanding rapidly over the last two decades. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 20 million acres have been added since the late 1980s.
• Since 1980, U.S. energy efficiency has increased over 43%.
We should expect these positive trends to continue.
It is because of these technological advancements and the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing to access natural gas that carbon dioxide emissions are at their lowest levels in 20 years. Why? Because as natural gas becomes more plentiful, it also becomes cheaper. Natural gas, which emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal, is quickly replacing coal in electricity production. Since carbon dioxide makes up 84 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, this should be the green energy lover’s dream.
Too bad that liberal environmentalist groups are lobbying against hydraulic fracturing’s use. Groups in New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and now California seek fracking’s ban, using misinformation to claim environmental hazards. Ironically, such efforts would cause the U.S. to fall back on coal as a source of electricity production and greatly increase domestic carbon emissions.
Americans all want our environment to continue to improve, but they should be warned that often the environment is used to push policies that have nothing to do with the environment at all and can even backfire in terms of their environmental impact (see ethanol). As I recently wrote, too often green energy programs are often used to transfer taxpayer money to politically connected companies and seem to have little to do with the environmental at all.
This Earth Day, take a deep breath of clean air and a large sip of clean water. Appreciate how far we’ve come, and remember that a growing economy along with sensible energy policies are the foundation of continued environmental progress.