State of the Planet: Better Than Ever

COMMENTARY Environment

State of the Planet: Better Than Ever

May 7, 2015 5 min read
Stephen Moore

Senior Visiting Fellow, Economics

Stephen Moore is a Senior Visiting Fellow in Economics at The Heritage Foundation.

Think about this: There is no time in the history of mankind that would be a better time to be alive than today.

Although most people resist this message, and perhaps it is natural to have a yearning for the simpler times of yesteryear, nearly every objective measure of the state of the planet and the state of human progress shows vast improvement over time. You can find proof of this in about 30 seconds on your iPhone, which has about as much computing power than every computer used by all the nations of World War II.

Why is there so much pessimism about the state of our planet? I recently watched the Earth Day speeches on the Washington Mall and they were drenched with Chicken Little tales of a coming apocalypse.

Here is the way CNN explained what we have to look forward to: "Think super droughts, rising seas, mass extinctions, and acidifying oceans." Then it warned: "Disappearing coasts," and "bye bye, animals."

President Barack Obama sounded the alarm when he warned of climate change: "This is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore. This is a problem now. It has serious implications for the way we live right now. Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons."

He claims it is already happening. It reminds me of those campy 1970s buttons: "Stop the planet, I want to get off."

Forty five years ago when the first Earth Day was held, the catastrophe that awaited us was mass starvation, lost farmland, overpopulation, our supplies of oil and gas running on empty, early death, nuclear winter, and believe it or not, a coming second ice age.

Every single one of those predictions was not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong. The opposite occurred. But the doomsday machine rolls on. The declinism on the state of our planet and the well-being of our species, permeates our schools, our churches, our malls, radio, TV, the Internet and our whole culture.

In sum, our planet is in a miserable state, we're told over and over.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the single greatest misinformation campaign in world history. The state of our planet and the state of humanity has never been stronger. Nature has never been more bountiful.

I recently wrote of the following six statistics which go a long way to proving how well we are doing. The response from the greens was vitriol and even threats to my physical safety for writing these truths. But no one refuted the facts, because, well facts are facts.

Here they are:

1. Natural resources are more abundant and affordable today than ever before in history. Short term volatility aside, the price of almost all natural resources - from cocoa to cotton to coal - is cheaper today in real terms than 50, 100, or 500 years ago. This has happened even as the world's population has nearly tripled. Technology has far outpaced depletion of the earth's resources.

2. Energy resources are growing. Energy is the master resource; and it is super abundant. Remember when people like Paul Ehrlich nearly 50 years ago and Barack Obama just three years ago warned that we were running out of oil and gas? Today, in the new age of oil and gas thanks to fracking, the United States has hundreds of years of petroleum and an estimated 300 years of coal. We're not running out of energy, we are running into it.

3. Air and water is cleaner than ever. Since the late 1970s, pollutants in the air have plunged. Lead pollution plunged by more than 90 percent, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide by more than 50 percent, with ozone and nitrogen dioxide declining as well. By nearly every standard measure it is much, much, much cleaner today in the United States than 50 and 100 years ago. The air is so clean now that the EPA worries about carbon dioxide, which isn't even a pollutant. (And, by the way, carbon emissions are falling too, thanks to fracking). One hundred years ago, about one in four deaths in America was due to contaminants in drinking water. But from 1971-2002, fewer than three people per year in the United States were documented to have died from water contamination.

4. There is no Malthusian nightmare of overpopulation. Birth rates have fallen by about one-half around the world over the last 50 years. Developed countries are having fewer kids, not too many. Even with a population of 7.3 billion people, average incomes, especially in poor countries, have surged over the last 40 years. The number of people in abject poverty fell by 1 billion between 1981 and 2011, even as global population increased by more than 1.5 billion. That's just short of a miracle.

5. Global per capita food production is 40 percent higher today than as recently as 1950. In most nations the nutrition problem today is obesity - too many calories consumed - not hunger. The number of famines and related deaths over the last 100 years has fallen in half. More than 12 million lives on average were lost each decade from the 1920s-1960s to famine. Since then, fewer than 4 million lives on average per decade were lost. When famine does happen, it's primarily a result of political corruption or malice, not nature growing too little food. Furthermore, the price of food has fallen steadily in the United States - and most other nations steadily for 200 years.

6. The rate of death and physical destruction from natural disasters or severe weather changes has plummeted over the last century. Loss of life from hurricanes, floods, hurricanes, heat, droughts, and so on is at or near record lows. This is because we have much better advance warning systems, our infrastructure is much more durable, and we have things like air conditioning to adapt to weather changes. We are constantly discovering new ways to harness and even tame nature.

Again, these are just standard facts - though not very well known. But you could look them up. The point is that human advance and growth of the economy leads to a steadily improving and bountiful planet.

And the growth comes as a result of free enterprise. The environmentalists have declared free-market capitalism a near-treasonous pursuit. In reality, free markets with reasonable and sane regulation, will save the planet from extinction. Meanwhile, the socialists, the communists, the Sandinistas, the Stalinists, are the ones who did the greatest damage to the planet - with such avoidable catastrophes as the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

The environmentalists still believe that command and control rules and regulations - on how much water can be flushed from our toilets, what kind of light bulbs we can use, the temperature setting of our thermostats, the amount of solar and wind energy we must use, the type of energy efficiency we get from our household appliances, the amount of water we can use to water our lawns (as in California), even limits on how many kids we can have (as in China) - will save the planet.

They won't.

Freedom will.

This is very good news for those who believe that one of our primary missions as human beings is to make life better over time and to leave our planet better off for future generations. That's just what we are doing.

 - Stephen Moore is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Originally appeared in CBN Finance