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10.20.2006

300 Million and the Environment

By Joseph A. D’Agostino

Opponents of population growth almost always cite environmental concerns, and this week’s media coverage of America hitting 300 million in population was not an exception. I have written recently about other myths connected to population growth, from suburban sprawl to immigration, and this week it’s time to talk about the environment.

Environmentalists’ big problem is that by almost every measure, the environment of the United States has gotten cleaner in recent decades as her population increased by 50%. Our population hit 200 million in 1967 and 300 million last Tuesday. In those 40 years, America cleaned herself up quite well. At the same time, the supply of natural resources has expanded, not contracted, as new discoveries and new technologies outpace resource consumption.

Keep in mind that ever since Protestant clergyman Thomas Malthus in the late 18th Century, doomsaying prophets have predicted that, due to the increasing human population, the world would soon run out of some resource, causing mass deaths and social collapse. When Malthus launched his jeremiads, the world’s population was approximately 1 billion. Today, it is over 6.5 billion, and we are still waiting for the extinction of any crucial natural resource.

Consider the following evidence for an ever-cleaner environment and more abundant natural resources:

* In 1982, half of our nation’s ozone monitoring stations detected levels exceeding the federal health standard. Twenty years later, only 13% did.

* Wrote Joel Schwartz in the Summer 2003 issue of Regulation, “Between 1981 and 2000, carbon monoxide (CO) declined 61%, sulfur dioxide (SO2) 50%, and nitrogen oxides (NOx)14%. Only two among hundreds of the nation’s monitoring locations still exceed the CO and SO2 standards. All areas of the country meet the NOx standard. For all three pollutants, pollution levels are well below the EPA standards in almost all cases.”
Indications are that our air has continued to get cleaner in the last three years. Emissions from cars and SUVs less than ten years old have dropped to a fraction of older cars’ levels. As older cars get junked and government-mandated clean technologies are implemented, car and SUV emissions are expected to drop by a further 90% over the next 20 years.
Breathe deep.

* Water has become similarly cleaner, and the United States’ drinking water is generally considered the best in the world. (I am not claiming that our water supply is free of pollution, just that it is cleaner than it was 30 years ago.) Reports the EPA, “The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 has helped our citizens enjoy one of the safest and cleanest water supplies in the world. . . . In the last 30 years, we have significantly increased the number of individuals and communities receiving water that meets public health standards. More than 273 million people receive water from 53,000 community water systems. There has been a three-fold increase in the number of contaminants regulated under the Act since it was passed in 1974. Close to 92% of the nation’s water systems provide drinking water that meets all public health standards, and state and federal regulators are working to ensure that all systems meet standards.”

* Worrywarts now emphasize that America’s Western states could run out of water if population growth continues. It’s true that Western water, currently cheap even in most desert regions, could become modestly more expensive over time as demand increases. But running out is highly unlikely. California can prepare for growth in demand from 8.8 million acre-feet annually today to the expected 11.4 million acre-feet in 2020.
For example: “It is anticipated that another 162 [water] recycling plants will come on line this decade. These projects, which are mostly in southern California , are expected to produce up to 1 million acre-feet of recycled water annually by 2020,” says the Water Education Foundation.
Desalination plants, though expensive, could always provide more water for California and other Western states near the coast.

* Proven oil reserves are at an all-time high of 1 trillion barrels. Far from running out, we keep finding more of it. And in North America alone, there are an additional 2.3 trillion barrels of oil in shale and other forms currently too expensive to use. Technology may soon make them economically viable. Plenty of alternatives to petroleum currently exist, from liquefied coal to diesel from agricultural waste. And nuclear power is still there, ready to provide an almost inexhaustible supply of power for any purpose if people ever get over their hang-ups about it.

* World food production is so efficient that many governments, including our own, spend billions of dollars a year to pay farmers not to grow food in order to prevent a food price collapse. Barring some unforeseen blight on world agriculture, there is no chance of the world’s being unable to feed itself. Famines today are caused by distribution problems, usually produced by war or deliberately inflicted by corrupt governments to enhance their own power.

What of that massive political movement known as global warming, today’s fashionable secular substitute for the Biblical apocalypse? Bored of combating everyday environmental problems such as mercury in seafood and hormones in drinking water, environmentalists invented something much
sexier: The imminent destruction of Earth unless you do what we say! Why trudge to local land-use meetings to lobby for preserving open space when you can preach the salvation of the world like an Old Testament prophet?
One gains so much more social importance if people think you have the answer to averting Armageddon.

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but global warming theology produces the same practical results as the socialism Western leftists have been forced to abandon: An immense increase in the power of the political/regulatory class and an immense reduction in the standard of living of ordinary people. Why have so many scientists jumped on the bandwagon? Contrary to popular myth, scientists are just as venal and fallible as anyone else, and he who pays the piper calls the tune.

As Patrick J. Michaels of the Cato Institute wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 9, 2004, “Politics distorts science, particularly environmental science, because 99.99% of those sciences' financial support comes from the federal government. Scientists distort science because their careers depend on the money they bring to their university or their laboratory. Both the employees of the academy, and the academy itself, must support a political process that results in the exaggeration of threats. In competition for a finite federal outlay, scientists present their particular issues (global warming, cancer, AIDS) in the most urgent light possible, threatening societal ruin if their work isn't funded.”
And why wouldn’t federal bureaucrats want to hear evidence of a massive crisis that massively enhances their own power and budgets?

I’ve written about global warming hysteria before, so I will restrict myself today to noting the following:

* The Earth’s climate is always trending warmer or cooler at any given moment. There is no genuine evidence that any current warming trend (if one even exists) falls outside the range of natural climatic variation.
* According to global warming hysterics’ own studies, there is no correlation between when the bulk of man-made greenhouse gases were put into the atmosphere and warming. In fact, temperatures declined for decades during at least one of the most intense periods of industrialization.
* Proponents of the Kyoto protocol, which would decimate the standards of living of the common peoples of America and Western Europe, themselves admit that it would have no significant effect on stopping warming. They want something far more radical and which would have to apply to the whole world to work.
* The Western world continues to transfer its industrial capacity to the Third World. China and India, which together have over one-third of the world’s people, are rapidly industrializing and aren’t going to stay mired in poverty no matter what Western political hacks and their bought-and-paid-for pointy-headed experts say. Reducing the world’s overall greenhouse gas emissions is impossible. Instead, it is as certain as such a thing can be that greenhouse gas emissions will continue to rise for decades to come, even if Al Gore becomes President of the United States—-unless affordable technologies that allow unfettered industrial development but prevent greenhouse gas emissions are invented and then adopted by the Third World.
* In the 1970s, it was fashionable to worry about “global cooling,” supposedly caused by man-made pollution in the atmosphere blocking out the sun’s energy. Fifteen years later, media-favored experts starting talking about global warming supposedly caused by man-made pollution trapping in the sun’s energy.

There is no correlation between population growth or population density and environmental degradation. Instead, wealth correlates to environmental degradation and then improvement. When a country begins to develop, her environment suffers. But when she has reached a certain level, between $3,500 and $15,000 in per capita income, her environment begins to improve as people can afford (and demand) cleaner technologies.
And then the wealthier they get, the cleaner their environment becomes.
That’s why ultra-poor subsistence-level areas, Western Europe, Canada, and the United States all have the cleanest environments. Getting China, India, and other developing countries over the wealth hump is the surest way to improve the world’s environment. Preserving America’s economic and per capita wealth growth is the best way of continuing to improve ours.


Joseph A. D'Agostino is Vice President for Communications at the Population Research Institute.

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Phone: (540) 622-5240 Fax: (540) 622-2728
Email: jad@pop.org
Media Contact: Joseph A. D'Agostino
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Website: www.pop.org

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