All the environmental doomsayers might have you worried about the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat, but the official record is decidedly different.
- The U.S. has improved water use efficiency by about 30% over the last 30 years.
- U.S. wetlands are increasing after more than two centuries of decline.
- Virtually the entire nation has achieved clean air standards for four of the six main pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act.
- Fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal) are becoming more abundant.
- Growth in fossil-fuel use in the U.S. is modest; the increase in consumption of energy is overwhelmingly occurring in the developing world.
- The rate of soil erosion on U.S. farmlands has been steadily declining for the last 25 years, the result of improved farming and conservation practices.
Those points are based on government agency data mined by Steven Hayward, PhD, and presented in "The Almanac of Environmental Trends," which was released this week, just in time for Earth Day. Released by the Pacific Research Institute, a California-based free market think tank, you can read and/or download the report at www.environmentaltrends.org. Hayward explains that the almanac is a "reboot" of his "Index of Leading Environmental Indicators," and brings his role of "tracking environmental progress fully into the digital age of real-time analysis and commentary."
The project covers the seven major indicators of environmental progress – air quality, energy, climate change, water quality, toxic chemicals, forests and land, and biodiversity. It's intended to be something of a desk reference, but the heart of the new format is the website that will be updated with new data and analysis on an almost daily basis.
The intent is to "explore the nature and sources of environmental progress, affirming the central role of markets, technology and human creativity in solving the environmental challenges of our time," he says.
"The chief drivers of environmental improvement are economic growth, constantly increasing resource efficiency, technological innovation in pollution control, and the deepening of environmental values among the American public that have translated to changed behavior and consumer preferences. Government regulation has played a vital role, to be sure, but in the grand scheme of things regulation can be understood as a lagging indicator, often achieving results at needlessly high cost, and sometimes failing completely," Hayward says.
Other features of the project include e-mail updates, a Facebook page, Twitter feeds and discussion threads. On the drawing board is a smartphone app, so that "the next time you are at a cocktail party and someone makes an assertion about the ozone layer, or rainforests, or some other hot-button issue, you will be able to check the data on the spot." Check out the website at www.environmentaltrends.org and sign up for the newsletter.
Another thing you might find interesting on this Earth Day is to take a few minutes to listen to a reason.tv video entitled, "The Top Five Environmental Disasters That Didn't Happen."
All may not be totally right with the environment but a lot of progress has been made and the indicators are going in the right direction. As Thomas Babington Macaulay, the 19th century English essayist, historian and politician, said almost 200 years ago, “On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”
Earth Day is a good time to rededicate ourselves to our environment, but also take some time to appreciate the tremendous progress that we've been made and continue to make.