Happy Earth Day (PT. 2): The Almanac of Environmental Trends

For the last 15 years or so on every Earth Day I have put out the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, a project I conceived at the Pacific Research Institute. It was inspired by Bill Bennett’s fabulously successful Index of Leading Cultural Indicators he put out back in 1993, which consisted of simple time-series charts on the data about welfare dependency, crime rates, school test scores, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, etc.–in other words, a gallery of charts showing mostly bad news.
I thought the same exercise would be interesting to do for the environment in the United States, but for the opposite reason: most environmental conditions in the U.S. were getting better, only no one knew because neither the media nor environmental activists want you to know this. I’ve kidded Bennett about how I never got quite as much press coverage as his report did, because while his report was about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, mine was about polychlorinated biphenyls (which are down sharply since the 1980s, by the way).
Last year I decided to retire the old format of the report, which was getting a little tired and repetitive, and, to borrow the term from filmmaking, we decided to “reboot” the franchise in a different form: the Almanac of Environmental Trends, which is being released today. The Almanac is a print publication that is intended to be something of a desk reference, but the heart of the new format is a website, www.environmentaltrends.org, that will be updated with new data and analysis on an almost daily basis, the better to keep up with fast-moving news and data in the digital age. Back in the early 1990s when I started tracking data trends, I had to go about it the old fashioned way–looking up data in tables in dusty printed EPA reports in a library somewhere.
Like the Old Farmers Almanac, the print publication contains not merely data but lots of sidebars on interesting aspects of the environmental story (such as my picks for the 12 best books on the environment–they aren’t the usual ones like Silent Spring, that’s for sure–or the top five environmental issues we don’t know enough about, etc). The website will have all of this material, but also will update the Almanac almost in real time, as there is new data or new analysis released almost every week that we’ll track. We’ve also got an interactive feature that we’re still working on to make more user-friendly that will show how different factors relate to each other (for example, it will have a motion graphic showing how our coal use has more than tripled since 1970, while sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants have declined 55 percent).
Because of their perverse outlook on the world, environmentalists absolutely hate hate hate good news about the environment, and typically change the subject as fast as they can to global warming or some other new threat to the planet.
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