Oaklahoman (Oklahoma City, OK), April 21, 2008
THE popular image of the United States as one of the globe’s leading polluters gets a debunking in a report produced by the Pacific Research Institute and the American Enterprise Institute.
In the “2008 Index of Leading Environmental Indicators,” author Steven F. Hayward asserts that not only do we not trail Europe and other countries in environmental performance, we’re the world’s environmental leader. That’s right, the leader.
Hayward writes the United States’ economic growth, increased resource efficiency, technological innovation in fighting pollution and deepening public sense of environmental values are chiefly responsible for gains we’ve made in protecting the environment.
“Government regulation has played a central role, to be sure, but in the grand scheme of things it is a lagging indicator of change and often achieves results at needlessly high cost,” Hayward writes. Pretty strong words, striking at the heart of conventional wisdom that without government riding herd, the U.S. would still be choking along with circa-1950 pollution.
Among developments Hayward cites is improved air quality in the eastern United States — which he writes has seen a 60 percent decrease in sulfur-dioxide levels since 2000 — a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report showing the country is gaining wetlands and a 1.5 percent decline in greenhouse gas emissions in 2006.
Hayward also offers sober analysis of what it would take to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2050, as many are urging. We last emitted CO2 at that level in 1910, when the population was only 92 million. By 2050 the United States will have more than 400 million, requiring per capita emissions not seen since 1875. Included in that, he writes, would be an 80 percent decrease in automobile fuel consumption.
It’s valuable contextual analysis that accompanies an important, if sometimes differing, view of environmental efforts in this country.