What would Earth Day be without handwringing over the supposedly dire state of the planet?
Concern over climate change seems to have reached a fever pitch. And the American economy has been fingered as the culprit.
President Obama's recent budget proposal pours a whopping $150 billion into clean energy technologies and another $75 billion into tax incentives for "alternative" energy research. It also includes a national "cap-and-trade" program for greenhouse-gas emissions that would demand an estimated $79 billion from American industry.
Before we commit hundreds of billions of dollars to cleaning up the planet to fight global warming, it's important check the facts. The United States -- and indeed the rest of the world -- has made remarkable environmental progress over the last few years.
Take climate change. The climate-induced catastrophes we've been conditioned to fear appear to be founded on little more than hype.
According to a recent report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, there is "no evidence" of a change "in the severity of tornadoes and severe thunderstorms" over the past few decades. The Program's report also found that over the last 150 years, the rate of U.S. hurricane landfalls has actually been declining.
Indeed, many in the scientific community have begun to speak out against climate-change hysteria. Noted physicist Freeman Dyson, for example, blames "lousy science" on global warming for "distracting public attention" from "more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet."
Among those other dangers is pollution. But America has achieved remarkable success in curbing pollutants, particularly airborne ones. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that the nation's total emissions of six common air pollutants -- including carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and lead -- dropped 41 percent from 1990 and 2007. And the atmospheric level of chemicals harmful to the ozone fell 12 percent from 1995 through 2006.
Even Los Angeles -- the most polluted city in America -- has cleaner air. According to the American Lung Association, Los Angeles has experienced a 27 percent drop in particle pollution over the last decade.
There's good news on the ground, too.
Rainforests are regenerating on previously cleared land throughout the world. Scientists in Central America recently estimated that for every acre of rainforest cut down annually, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in once-barren tropical areas.
In the United States, water quality is improving. Last year, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey sampled 17 major water sources and tested for 258 different man-made chemicals, including pesticides and herbicides. The annual mean concentration of chemicals in all samples was less than the human-health benchmark. Roughly half the chemicals were not present at all in the samples tested.
Cleaner air and water have contributed to the recovery of many marginalized animal communities.
The Northern Rockies' grey wolf population has jumped from 66 to nearly 1,500 over the last 13 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service describes the repopulation as "a remarkable conservation success story" and is in the process of removing the animal from the Endangered Species List.
The Lake Erie water snake -- currently classified as a "threatened" species -- has also staged a comeback. Since 1988, the snake's population has jumped tenfold, from 1,200 to 12,000.
In many ways, environmental alarmism is beginning to backfire. Recent polls revealed that 58 percent of respondents declined to identify themselves as environmentalists. By contrast, 78 percent of those interviewed identified themselves as environmentalists as recently as 1991.
This Earth Day ought to be a day of celebration -- not consternation. America has made tremendous strides in making the planet cleaner and safer -- and is set to continue to do so.
(Sally C. Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, which publishes the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators each year on Earth Day.)