Celebrate Earth Day by Taking Environmental Issues Seriously, by Christopher Burger

“Between 1980 and 1989, some four billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish [from starvation].”1

“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind.”2

Prophesies foretelling the end of the world? No, predictions by environmentalists celebrating the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.

They were wrong. 65 million Americans haven’t starved to death. Food production has handily outpaced population growth. Food today is cheaper and more abundant than ever before.3

As readers may suspect, civilization has not ended.

Undaunted, the environmental left continues to sound the alarm. The supposed threat now is dirty air, the extinction of plants and animals and, to put it bluntly, President Bush, who is vilified for opposing U.S. ratification of the Kyoto global warming treaty, among other supposed sins.

Like the aforementioned environmentalist claims of 1970, many modern day environ-mental scare stories are flawed.

Sierra Club officials, for instance, claim millions of Americans breathe dirty air4 and that smog and other pollutants cause six million asthma attacks each summer.5

Incidences of asthma have risen, but as air pollution levels have gone down. Scientists have found that asthma is largely related to genetics.6

Since 1970, the six principal air pollutants tracked nationally have been cut by 25 percent. During that time, our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – the total market value of all the goods and services produced within the United States – has increased 161 percent while energy consumption increased 42 percent.7 Energy consumption per dollar GDP has declined at an average rate of 1.7 percent during the last 25 years.8

This means that America’s success in combating air pollution since the first Earth Day is far, far greater than it seems at first glance.

Environmentalists tout the necessity of protecting plants and animals through vigorous enforcement of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Preserving species is a noble goal, but the ESA isn’t doing the job. Of the 1,254 species listed as endangered since the ESA enacted in 1973, only 33 have been taken off the list. Twelve of the 33 were removed due to erroneous population counts or data entry errors,9 so less than one percent were recovered over the last 30 years. Meanwhile, ESA enforcement costs consumers and taxpayers an estimated more than $1 billion a year in litigation, lost profits, lost jobs and rising business and governmental operational costs.10

The environmental left fervently supports the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions to slow the global warming most environmentalists say is taking place.

If the environmentalists are right about the existence and cause of global warming, they have much to answer for, as there is more air than substance to be found in Kyoto. The treaty would have little real impact on climate change. If it is implemented and works exactly as the environmentalists predict, it would avert only 0.06 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2050.11

Kyoto would, however, have a devastating effect on the American economy. The federal Energy Information Administration has estimated that, if implemented, the Kyoto Protocol would raise gas prices 14 to 66 cents a gallon by 2010, electricity prices by 20 to 86 percent12 and cost the United States economy $400 billion per year.13 Independent studies say it also would force many into unemployment, with minorities being particularly hard-hit: 864,000 blacks and 511,000 Hispanics would lose their jobs.14

As in 1970, today’s environmental movement relies on wild-eyed doom-and-gloom predictions to shock people into supporting what too often is a radical agenda unsupported by sound science. The movement fails to recognize accomplishments that have been made and supports programs that cost billions – yet don’t perform as advertised when it comes to solving environmental problems.

Those of us who truly believe the environment is important owe it to the cause to review the hard science behind environmentalist claims and to consider if the environ-mentalists’ proposed solutions would actually work.

We also owe it to our countrymen – particularly those who are economically disadvantaged – to take into the account the often multi-billion dollar price tags of environmental programs, and make certain that the poorest among us are not bearing a disproportionate share of the costs.

We do neither our environment nor our country a service if we celebrate Earth Day by believing every outrageous claim peddled by environmentalist advocacy groups.


Christopher Burger is the program coordinator for The National Center’s John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs of The National Center for Public Policy Research. 

1 Paul Ehrlich, in the Earth Day edition of The Progressive, as cited by Ronald Bailey, “Earth Day, Then and Now,” Reason magazine, May 2000, available at http://reason.com/0005/fe.rb.earth.shtml as of March 31, 2003.

2 Harvard biologist George Wald, in a speech at Swarthmore College on April 19, 1970, as quoted by Ronald Bailey, “Earth Day, Then and Now,” Reason magazine, May 2000, available at http://reason.com/0005/fe.rb.earth.shtml as of March 31, 2003.

3 Ronald Bailey, “Earth Day, Then and Now,” Reason magazine, May 2000, available at http://reason.com/0005/fe.rb.earth.shtml as of March 31, 2003.

4 “The Sierra Club Clean Air Program,” Sierra Club, San Francisco, California, available at http://www.sierraclub.org/cleanair as of March 31, 2003.

5 “The Sierra Club – More Environmental Issues,” Sierra Club, San Francisco, California, available at http://www.sierraclub.org/environment/more_issues.asp as of March 31, 2003.

6 Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist (Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 187.

7 “Latest Findings on National Air Quality: 2001 Status and Trends,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air Quality, Washington, D.C., available at http://www.epa.gov/air/aqtrnd01/index.html as of March 4, 2003.

8 Steven Hayward, “Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2001,” Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, San Francisco, California, 2001, p. 42.

9 “Delisted Species Report as of 3/27/02,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C., available at http://ecos.fws.gov/webpage/webpage_delisted.html?%listings=0 as of March 18, 2003.

10 “Hansen Files Landmark Bill to Restore Original Intent of ESA,” press release, Office of Congressman James Hansen (R-UT), Washington, D.C., November 12, 2002, available at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/press/2002/2002_1112ESA.htm as of March 25, 2003.

11 “EPW: Climate Change,” e-mail communication, Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., March 27, 2003.

12 Jay E. Hakes, Administrator, Energy Information Administration, Testimony before the Committee on Science, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., October 9, 1998.

13 John Carlisle, “President Bush Must Kill the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty and Oppose Efforts to Regulate Carbon Dioxide,” National Policy Analysis #328, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C., February 2001, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA328.html.

14 “Study Says Global Warming Treaty Will Hurt U.S. Minorities,” Associated Press, July 6, 2000, cited by John Carlisle, “Treaty to Combat Unproven Global Warming Threat Would Hurt Americans’ Standard of Living,” National Policy Analysis #309, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C., September 2000, available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA309.html.

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