The Current State of the Environment

The Current State of the Environment


It is beyond question that as world population grows and countries modernize, global environmental systems come under greater pressure. It is also incontestable that the radical environmental movement has used these developments to justify a near hysterical, doomsday worldview to justify draconian action against producers and consumers. This movement claims that the world’s air, land, and water are under constant assault from the ever-growing ravages of man-made pollution generated chiefly by industrialized societies, and that radical action — in the form of measures like de-industrialization, the imposition of carbon taxes, and a trans-national redistribution of wealth — is required to insure our basic survival as a species. By claiming to be “scientific consensus” and refusing to allow other viewpoints into the discussion, this ideologically driven exaggeration actually impedes rather encourages a sober and productive discussion of our global future.

From 1996 to 2009, the Pacific Research Institute and American Enterprise Institute co-published an annual report titled the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators. The 2009 edition of this report indicated that the state of the world’s environment — and of the environment of the U.S. and other Western nations in particular — was not nearly bad enough to justify the extreme actions demanded by radical environmentalists. For example, the 2009 report said:

  • “[T]ropical rainforests may now be expanding faster than they are being cut down, though more data are needed to determine the nature and extent of reforestation trends.”
  • “The world’s most severe environmental problems are overwhelmingly problems of poverty in developing nations.”
  • “No American or Western European city ranks among the top 50 cities in the world for air pollution.”
  • “Air pollution levels are falling in the 10 most polluted cities in the United States, by as much as 27 percent over the last decade in the case of fine particulates in Los Angeles.”
  • “Recent ice-core studies have found that levels of heavy metals in the atmosphere declined substantially during the 20th century, although heavy metal levels could rise again with increasing use of coal in Asia.”
  • “Stratospheric ozone, the ‘good’ kind of ozone—akin to ‘good’ cholesterol in blood—appears to have reversed its long-term decline and is now increasing over the United States. The level of ozone-destroying chemical compounds in the atmosphere declined by 12 percent from 1995 through 2006.”
  • “Water-quality monitoring efforts are gaining momentum. The U.S. Geological Survey sampling of drinking water drawn from surface waters in 17 areas around the continental United States found very low (nonhazardous) or no presence of 258 different man-made chemicals.”
  • “The health of U.S. ocean fisheries has improved substantially over the last few years, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service’s ‘Fish Stock Sustainability Index’.”
  • “Flat or declining global average temperatures in 2008 ignited new controversy over climate change. The data show that 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, and there has been no discernible warming for the last decade, after two decades of steady warming between 1978 and 1998.”
  • “Arctic sea ice levels rebounded from the all-time modern low observed in 2007.”
  • “The global ambient level of carbon dioxide rose by 0.5 percent in 2008, a slight increase over the average annual rate of the last 25 years, to 385 parts per million.”
  •  “U.S. carbon dioxide emissions rose 76 million tons in 2007, after having fallen 81 million tons in 2006. Most of this increase was attributable to colder weather in the winter of 2007.”

More recent data indicates that America’s environment continues to become cleaner, even as the nation’s population and industrial activity continue to grow. A 2015 report by the Heritage Foundation, for instance, said:

“[America’s] Air and water is cleaner than ever. Since the late 1970s, pollutants in the air have plunged. Lead pollution plunged by more than 90 percent, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide by more than 50 percent, with ozone and nitrogen dioxide declining as well. By nearly every standard measure it is much, much, much cleaner today in the United States than 50 and 100 years ago. The air is so clean now that the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] worries about carbon dioxide, which isn’t even a pollutant. (And, by the way, carbon emissions are falling too, thanks to fracking). One hundred years ago, about one in four deaths in America was due to contaminants in drinking water. But from 1971-2002, fewer than three people per year in the United States were documented to have died from water contamination.”

A 2018 report by the EPA likewise showed that concentrations of air pollutants in the U.S. had dropped significantly since 1990:

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) 8-Hour, declined by 77%
  • Lead (Pb) 3-Month Average, declined by 80%
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Annual, declined by 56%
  • Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) 1-Hour, declined by 50%
  • Ozone (O3) 8-Hour, declined by 22%
  • Particulate Matter 10 microns (PM10) 24-Hour, declined by 34%
  • Particulate Matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) Annual, declined by 41%
  • Particulate Matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) 24-Hour, declined by 40%
  • Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) 1-Hour, declined by 88%

“During this same period,” said the report, “the U.S. economy continued to grow, Americans drove more miles and population and energy use increased.”

Additional Resources:

Our Nation’s Air
By The Environmental Protection Agency

American Air Is Clean And Getting Cleaner
By the American Council on Science and Health
August 14, 2018

Our Air Is Cleaner Than Ever, So Why Do People Think It’s Getting Worse?
By Michael Bastasch
April 22, 2017

Sorry, Pope Francis, the State of the Planet Is Getting Better
By Christopher S. Carson
June 26, 2015

America Already a Green Exemplar
By Trzupek
April 22, 2010

State of the Planet: Better Than Ever
By Stephen Moore (Heritage Foundation)
May 7, 2015

EPA: Key Air Pollutants Drop 73 Percent Since 1970
By The Daily Signal
July 31, 2018

Index of Leading Environmental Indicators
By Steven Hayward and Amy Kaleita

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