NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 3, 2010

Twenty years ago the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) commissioned Lynn Scarlett of the Reason Foundation to write a policy report, "A Consumer's Guide to Environmental Myths and Realities."  It began with the observation that Americans are besieged with admonitions and advice on being good environmentalists.  The focus was on what to buy and how to act. 

The study demonstrated that much of this counsel was flawed and driven by special interest.  Yet, even today, this well researched and crafted 40-page study is worth reading for several reasons, says Opposing Views. 

First, it demonstrates pervasive and substantial progress: 

  • Nine of the 10 concerns that preoccupied Greens two decades ago have eroded if not fully evaporated.
  • When did you last hear "America is running out of landfill space" listed as an environmental problem? Twenty years ago it was myth No. 1. 

Nine of the ten myths focused on the consequences of consumer behavior.  They included: Americans are especially wasteful (We weren't.); packaging, plastics, and disposables are inherently bad (They weren't.); recycling is unambiguously good (It isn't.); and biodegradable is best, while solid waste is necessarily dangerous (Not necessarily.). 

These simple rules, even when they are myths, economize on information.  However, they are sometimes inappropriate, even dangerous, in a complex world.  Essentially, over time we've moved up the learning curve in dealing with the physical consequences of consumption in a more responsible manner.  Practice may not make perfect, but it has surely led to substantial improvements.  Hence, the vexing problems of 1990 have not disappeared but they have dissipated, says Opposing Views. 

At 20 years removed, the Green naiveté underlying these myths seems really quite remarkable.  It may also give rise to optimism; if nine of the 10 problems have been discounted to near irrelevance in a mere two decades, might today's problems likewise diminish with time, asks Opposing Views? 

Source: Editorial, "Old and New Environmental Myths," Opposing Views, February 3, 2010; based upon: Lynn Scarlett, "A Consumer's Guide to Environmental Myths and Realities," National Center for Policy Analysis, Study No. 165, September 1, 1991. 

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