ENVIRONMENTAL POLITICS and its coverage in the media focus on the negative, the controversial, and the adversarial. That is the way it is. I gave up trying to change that reality a long time ago.
There are, of course, many policy issues that are subject to intense disagreement due to disputes over the underlying science, policy, law, and the economic tradeoffs inevitably involved in these matters. Certainly, climate change is the biggest controversy implicating every conceivable aspect of the environment and the economy. In this policy debate, every day is the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Being of sunny disposition and gregarious temperament, I always take advantage of the annual Earth Day rites to focus on the progress Americans are making on the conservation and environmental protection fronts.
The most under-reported, positive story, since the last Earth Day, was the release of the report of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which concluded that the United States improved its environmental performance, i.e., reduced pollution, in the last 8 years even as its Gross Domestic Product increased 30% and its population expanded by 10%.
The report, based on more than 700 interviews and a peer review by representatives of Australia, Japan, Norway, and the United Kingdom, commended the U.S. for “decoupling” environmental pressures from economic growth. One might quibble that prosperity enables environmental cleanup, but it is surely correct that American industry is becoming more efficient and, therefore, less polluting every day.
The OECD also notes progress in several areas. Air emissions declined. Drinking water standards were strengthened. National conservation lands were expanded. And market-based solutions have been pioneered.
THE NEWS OF THE OECD report, at the beginning of January, was overshadowed by a more downbeat report later in the month. Yale and Columbia Universities released their Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which ranked the U.S. 28th behind such nations as New Zealand (#1), Portugal (#11), and Slovakia (#25). This report seemed to penalize the U.S. on greenhouse gas emissions, overuse of water, and unsustainable agricultural practices (e.g., subsidies).
But hold off on the Valium. First place New Zealand had a score of 88 while the U.S. came in at 78.5, for a total point differential of less than 10. There were 133 countries on the complete list with Niger coming in dead last at 25.7.
These kinds of exercises yield some pretty bizarre results. Slovakia (#25) beat out the Netherlands (#27). And Malaysia (#9) trumped Ireland (#10). Of course, the usual suspects did very well in the EPI. Sweden came in second, Finland third, Denmark seventh, and Iceland thirteenth.
But even in the realm of greenhouse gas emissions, a matter for which the U.S. receives untold amounts of criticism from so many quarters, at home and abroad, the record is not without some remarkable achievements. On April 17 EPA released its latest report on greenhouse gas emissions prepared for the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. The report shows that, while the U.S. economy expanded by 51% from 1990 to 2004, emissions have grown by only 15.8% over the same period.
Some countries, like Russia, reduce their emissions, in absolute terms, but only by running their economies into the ditch. Others tolerate flat growth, high unemployment, and declining populations. Some just let emissions rip in the face of hard-charging economic growth. But the U.S. seems to be decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions — with only a small portion of its economy relying on nuclear energy. There is no telling how far this kind of progress can take us, but it is an impressive accomplishment nonetheless.
Indeed, the U.S. has made outstanding progress in reducing air pollution, generally, without inhibiting economic growth. Over the last 30 years, total emissions of the six principal air pollutants have decreased by more than 50% while Gross Domestic Product increased by more than 185%. Air toxics are expected to decrease by approximately 1.7 million tons from 1990 levels when all current regulations are fully implemented. Richer is greener, as the free-market environmentalists always remind us.
Ninety percent of the 272 million people served by 53,000 community water systems across the country received drinking water that met health-based standards as of the end of fiscal year 2004. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a goal of 95% by 2008.
Not only can you drink the water, you can splash in it. EPA tracks beach closings and advisories. In 2004, the latest year for which there is complete data, only 4% of beach days were lost due to advisories or closures caused by monitoring for bacteria. These closures were usually quite short. Over 2,700 closings were two days or less, and only 59 closings lasted more than 30 days.
The number of beaches monitored has more than tripled from 1,021 in 1997 to 3,574 in 2004, which means better protection for swimmers and more incentive for local water authorities to clean up their waters.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online