Between the pandemic, divisive politics, and a media culture obsessed with rare but headline-grabbing shootings, it’s been a heavy year and a half for many Americans. This Earth Day, environmentalists will only perpetuate the doom-and-gloom zeitgeist by fixating on minuscule, insignificant changes in air pollution and overblown fears of apocalyptic climate change.
But we can rest easy, because there’s plenty of good news to celebrate this Earth Day. Contrary to the entrenched narrative that we’re killing the planet, our nation is leading the world in environmental protection — and the future is looking brighter than ever.
America has cut air pollution by a healthy 77% in the last 50 years, and there’s no sign of this progress slowing. In fact, our air is so clean that it’s almost impossible to distinguish from natural levels. During the COVID-19 shutdowns, removing 40% or more of vehicle traffic from the road and pausing significant industrial activity didn’t improve air quality — and in some cities, particulate matter levels actually went up.
In the United States, dust and pollen have a far greater effect on our air quality than any human activity. That’s not the case in other countries, like India and China, where mask-wearing was common practice long before the pandemic because of toxic smog so thick you can taste it.
Contrary to the narrative that our environment is getting worse — and that our existence is to blame for it — America’s air and water are cleaner than ever. This improvement coincides with our nation’s dramatic growth in population, economic activity, and, surprisingly (to some), fossil fuel use. Prosperity and environmental quality go hand-in-hand, and prosperity depends on access to affordable, reliable energy.
But what about climate change? Again, the news here is good. Sound bites about a burning planet and cataclysmic sea rise usually misinterpret worst-case-scenario data models (which are suspect to begin with) as a surefire glimpse into the future, instead of a wide range of conceivable but unlikely possibilities.
Even former President Obama’s chief energy scientist described the mainstream media’s interpretation of climate science as “drifting so far out of touch with the actual science as to be absurdly, demonstrably false.”
What all these stories leave out is the incredible improvement in human resilience that invalidates the climate alarmist narrative. Global climate-related deaths have fallen an astounding 99% since 1920 — declining at a far faster rate than deaths from non-climate-related disasters like earthquakes and volcanoes. Improved technology and reduced poverty (both of which stem in part from access to energy) mean that we’re more adaptable than ever to our natural surroundings.
More important than the state of the planet — though it’s a blessing we should steward with care — is the well-being of the people who live on it. In this category, the news is better than ever.
There are many ways to measure the health of the human race. I’ve written many times about global improvements in life expectancy, poverty, and more around the globe. But the good news goes beyond having our immediate physical needs met. In much of the world, people are more comfortable, better educated, wealthier, and freer than ever before.
Human flourishing is no longer just a someday dream of philosophers and social scientists. For most of the world, it’s here. We need only open our eyes and appreciate the blessings we take for granted.
A small but real faction of environmentalists is arguing with straight faces that COVID-19 shutdowns should be extended indefinitely for the sake of the environment. But humans aren’t the scourge on the planet they think we are. America’s environmental successes prove we can have our cake and eat it too — that prosperity and environmental quality can and should coexist.
This commentary originally appeared in The Cannon Online on April 21, 2021.