NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmental Gains Go Unnoticed

April 21, 2000

Polls show that most Americans think air and water pollution have gotten worse since 1970. But, in fact, dramatic improvements have been made in restoring both water and air quality.

  • Even though the U.S. population has increased by 65 million, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions have dropped sharply since 1970 -- while smog is down by one-third and lead contamination has been all but eradicated.
  • Ohio's Cuyahoga River -- which caught fire in 1969 -- has been cleaned up, along with most other bodies of water in the U.S.
  • The amount of U.S. forest land has increased from about 600 million acres in 1920 to more than 700 million acres today.
  • Experts report that the amount of energy needed to produce $1 worth of goods has fallen steadily over the years.

Critics of the environmental movement charge that it is built on a theory that production means environmental degradation; if we only demanded fewer goods, we could have purer water and air. But that ignores the evidence that poorer nations are the scene of today's environmental horror stories.

Only wealthy, productive economies have the means and the technologies necessary to attack pollution.

Source: Editorial, "Hidden Environmental Gains," USA Today, April 21, 2000.


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