Freedom makes for a cleaner, healthier planet

  • 22 April 2019
  • NormanL

Earth Day is upon us, and with it come the usual predictions that doom is upon the planet. But how good is the prediction track record of environmental doomsters? Over the last 50 years, they've been batting a 1.000 -- all wrong:

We should be thankful that the gloom-and-doom predictions made throughout the past several decades haven’t come true. Fear-mongering about explosive population growth, food crises and the imminent depletion of natural resources have been a staple of Earth Day events since 1970. And the common thread among them is that they’ve stirred up a lot more emotions than facts.

“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate … that there won’t be any more crude oil,” ecologist Kenneth Watt warned around the time of the first Earth Day event. “You’ll drive up to the pump and say, ‘Fill ’er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, ‘I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’” Watt also warned of global cooling and nitrogen buildup rendering all of the planet’s land unusable.

How did we manage to avoid the end of all we know? Because human beings, for all of our many failings, are also very innovative...particularly if we happen to live in places that embrace free enterprise and property rights:

In the United States, the common perception is that the country’s environmental state is deteriorating. On the contrary, through investment in new technologies, and through legislation, environmental trends have improved significantly in the United States. Pollutants known to cause harm to public health and the environment are declining. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest air quality trends report, the combined emissions of the six common air pollutants have decreased 73 percent between 1970 and 2017.

We should be thankful for economic liberties that provide people with the means to protect the environment. As a country grows economically, it increases the financial ability of its citizens and businesses to care for the environment and reduce pollutants emitted from industrial growth. Countries with greater economic freedoms have cleaner environments and greater environmental sustainability. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom and Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index show a highly positive correlation between a country’s environmental performance and its economic freedom.

Freer economies have access to more products and technologies that make our lives healthier and the environment cleaner. For instance, the availability of simple products such as soaps, cleaners and detergents makes our homes dramatically cleaner and healthier. The development of sanitation systems and availability of garbage collection greatly reduce many types of diseases and curb toxins in the air and water.

These products and services may not be what immediately come to mind on Earth Day, but they’ve have an enormous impact on cleaning up the planet.

And we should be thankful for clearly defined and protected private property rights. One of the first lessons I learned in economics is that nobody washes a rental car — because you don’t care for what you don’t own.

More freedom, and the innovation it fosters, leads to a cleaner, healthier environment. That ought to be the real message of Earth Day.

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