Earth Day Reality Check

Published April 21, 2003

Forty years ago, native Pennsylvanian Rachel Carson and author of Silent Spring wrote “We stand now where two roads diverge.” Carson’s statement accurately reflects the current state of Pennsylvania’s regulatory affairs–but which fork in this road will today’s state policymakers decide to take?

Will they embrace the evidence that economic prosperity and real environmental progress are not mutually exclusive? Or will they travel down the tax-laden, over-regulated highway that will continue to stall Pennsylvania’s economy?

Despite the claims of hand-wringing environmentalists and a few of their friends on Capitol Hill, Pennsylvanians have real environmental improvements to celebrate this Earth Day 2003. In fact, a recent headline in Environment & Climate News declared that “Pennsylvania Offers a Blueprint for Environmental Protection.”

The article states that in the Commonwealth: “Solid waste, air pollution, and water pollution have been permanently reduced by hundreds of millions of tons and billions of gallons; millions of pounds of toxic emissions have been eliminated. More than 33,300 acres of abandoned mines have been reclaimed, 967 miles of streams cleaned up, and 5,000 acres of wetlands restored. The state even exceeded its goal of recycling 35 percent of household waste.”

Fortunately, the good news doesn’t end in Pennsylvania. All over America there are plenty of environmental milestones to celebrate any time during the year.

Beginning with the quality of the air we breathe, the United States continues to enjoy a clean air renaissance. A September 2002 report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that air quality has dramatically improved since 1970, while during the same timeframe gross domestic product grew by 161 percent, vehicle-miles traveled increased by 150 percent, and energy consumption rose 42 percent.

What about the supposed destruction of our forests? Well, instead of boycotting the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum this Earth Day, consider this fact about the logging industry: Each year more trees are planted in the United States than are harvested–as has been the case for more than a half-century.

Today, America’s forests contain 28 percent more standing timber than in 1952. More amazingly, 70 percent of the forests that existed in 1600 before the Pilgrims arrived are still here. Why? The answer is twofold. First, mankind now has the technology to effectively battle forest fires–the majority of which are ignited by Mother Nature’s lightning in the first place–and second, wood is a completely renewable and recyclable natural resource.

As for the world’s “shrinking” oil supplies, we are also far from running on empty. Even with ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, proven reserves of oil and gas have climbed more than 700 percent since the 1950s. A U.S. Geological survey places the world’s currently known oil reserves at nearly one trillion barrels, enough to satisfy petroleum needs for at least another 45 years.

Furthermore, the sky isn’t falling–or even raining acid–in Pennsylvania or anywhere else in America. After more than a decade of study, with a taxpayer price tag estimated between $400 and $500 million, the U.S. National Acid Rain Assessment Program concluded that this so-called “rain of terror” has had no significant effects on wildlife, forests, or human health.

As for the food we eat and the water we drink, these essential resources have never been safer. Americans consume over 110 millions gallons of water every day, all of which is routinely tested by utility companies thousands of times annually to ensure the safest drinking quality.

Believe it or not, our food is exposed to a higher amount of “toxic substances” due to Mother Nature than through man-made chemical additives and pesticides. For example, the majority of pesticides consumed in the human diet are naturally present in plants to ward off insects and other predators. Keep in mind, the word pesticide is usually only a dirty word in the radical environmentalist vernacular, and most food-related illnesses are entirely avoidable.

Finally, be of good cheer! Even though we can never avoid risk completely, most of the 21st Century’s so-called environmental crises have been or are in the process of being solved. As Cato Institute economists Stephen Moore and the late Julian L. Simon summed it up in their best seller It’s Getting Better All The Time, “The essential point is Americans are not resource destroyers but resource creators, who will leave future generations with a greater abundance of nature’s bounty.”

Ty McCauslin is communications manager at The Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He can be reached at 717/671-1901. For more information visit and This essay is available in Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format at