It’s getting better all the time

Stealing time from the completion of the second volume of his monumental Age of Reagan, my friend Steven Hayward has completed the thirteenth edition of his Index of Leading Environmental Indicators. According to Steve’s 2008 report, the environmental apocalypse has receded even further into the future than when he started his series thirteen years ago; the United States remains the world’s environmental leader and is likely to continue as such. I asked Steve if he would preview his report for our readers. He has graciously responded:

I was originally inspired back in 1993 by William Bennett’s famous Index of Leading Cultural Indicators to do a succinct report on environmental trends, because, unlike the cultural trends Bennett looked at, I knew that most environmental trends in the U.S. are positive, though the media and the activist groups — and the EPA — never tell you this.

Environmental conditions in the U.S. have improved mostly because of economic growth and technological innovation, with regulation often speeding things along in the most costly and inefficient way. (I like to say that the EPA specializes in billion dollar solutions to million dollar problems.) Over the years I’ve kept after the subject, and expanded the annual report to note improving trends around the world that correlate chiefly with economic growth. For example, the latest UN report on global forest trends shows that Asia has reversed deforestation over the last decade and is now experiencing net forest growth — even in China. A few highlights from this year’s 13th edition include:

Air pollution is on its way to being eliminated entirely in the U.S. in about another 20 years. Levels of air pollution have fallen between 25 and 99 percent (depending on which pollutant you examine), with the nation’s worst areas showing the most progress. For example, Los Angeles has gone from having nearly 200 high ozone days in the 1970s to less than 25 days a year today. Many areas of the Los Angeles basin are now smog-free year round.

Water pollution is more stubborn and harder to measure (and is being made worse in the Mississippi River basin by the government’s crazy ethanol mandate), but here too there have been major improvements since the first Earth Day in 1970. The Great Lakes have been cleaned up, with many previously endangered species of birds now thriving. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland doesn’t catch fire any more. The amount of toxic chemicals used in American industry has fallen by 61 percent over the last 20 years, even as industrial output has grown. Forestland in the U.S. has been expanding at a rate of nearly 1 million acres a year over the last generation.

Steve keeps the report under 100 pages so that journalists and interested citizens can actually get through it without being overwhelmed with data. And that’s all well and good, you might say, but what about global warming? Steve has also posted a seven-minute video update of his 2007 video critique of Al Gore — “An Inconvenient Truth–or Convenient Fiction?.”


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