Quality of Environment Improving Dramatically

Published July 1, 1997

The quality of the environment in the U.S. and Canada is getting better, not worse, according to a study released in late April by the Pacific Research Institute and Fraser Institute. “The Index of Leading Environmental Indicators” disputes popular perceptions about the environment.

“The facts contradict the notion that the U.S. is on the verge of environmental catastrophe,” notes Steve Haywood, coauthor of the index and vice president of the Pacific Research Institute. “I found sharp declines in water pollution, toxic chemicals in the environment, and declining residues of harmful chemicals in fish and fowl. The numbers also show a dramatic re-growth of parks and forests.”

The Index’s key findings include:

  • The threat posed by air pollution to public health and the environment has been greatly reduced. Air quality in the U.S. has improved over 40 percent since 1980.
  • Wetlands are not in danger of disappearing. Since 1980, the U.S. has suffered no net loss of wetlands. The same is true in Canada, where over 25 percent of the world’s wetlands are located.
  • The U.S. is not on the verge of an energy crisis. The U.S. consumes only 85 percent of the energy it produces.
  • The threat of acid rain is diminishing. Emissions of sulfur dioxide, the chief cause of acid rain, fell 33.2 percent between 1970 and 1994.
  • Smog is a substantially smaller problem than it used to be. The amount of ground-level ozone, smog’s primary component, fell in the U.S. by nearly 20 percent between 1979 and 1993.
  • Recycling efforts in the U.S. have risen dramatically. Between 1980 and 1993, paper and cardboard recycling increased from 22 percent of consumption to 34 percent. Over the same period, glass recycling climbed from 5 percent of consumption to 22 percent.
  • The threat of lead poisoning has been almost nullified; ambient lead concentrations fell 97.1 percent between 1975 and 1992.

While there serious environmental problems remain, the Index reveals that the direction of change in environmental quality is clear. “Things just keep getting better,” says Haywood. “Even emissions of air pollutants, which have historically been hard to measure, show dramatic improvements.”

PF: The Index of Leading Environmental Indicators for the U.S. and Canada, written by Boris DeWiel, Steven Hayward, Laura Jones, and M. Danielle Smith and published in April 1997 by the Pacific Research Institute and Fraser Institute, is available in six parts through PolicyFax. Call 847/202-4888 and request documents #2300508 (Part 1, 13 pages); #2300509 (Part 2, 15 pages); #2300510 (Part 3, 11 pages); #2300511 (Part 4, 14 pages); #2300512 (Part 5, 14 pages); and #2300513 (Part 6, 13 pages).