The Good News About the Environment is That the Bad News Was Always Wrong

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The Good News About the Environment is That the Bad News Was Always Wrong
The Good News About the Environment is That the Bad News Was Always Wrong

Ever since the Cuyahoga River caught fire on June 22, 1969, the media have exposed Americans to a lot of environmental news—the majority of it bad. Even when the reports are speculative—as in the case of “climate change”—the assumption is that the real story is bad and destined to get worse.

An Atmosphere of Pessimism

Those expectations make a recent symposium at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) especially remarkable. The title was 30 Years of Environmental Progress: Is It Time at Last to Be Optimistic?

Wait a minute! Optimistic about the environment? Wasn’t the AEI listening in 2019 when that paragon of leftist virtue, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, announced the nation had only twelve years to pass her “Green New Deal” before the planet rebels against all humanity? How can anyone possibly be optimistic?

The AEI’s optimism does construct a sunny scenario. After all, there is evidence that Earth’s atmosphere is getting warmer. The optimism results from two assumptions: First, this warming is not particularly harmful. Second, there are ways to deal with whatever harm the warming trend might cause.

Optimists with Credentials

The contributors to the AEI symposium are experts in their fields.

Dr. Roger Pielke, Jr., is one of those rare academics who is comfortable in both the sciences and the humanities. His Ph.D. is in political science, but he served as a professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado (Boulder) from 2004-2023. Before that, he was a scientist for the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Dr. Steven F. Hayward also lives on the fault line between politics and the environment. His current academic home is the famously liberal University of California at Berkeley. Most of his writings are political, including a biography of Ronald Reagan. However, after completing his work on Reagan, Dr. Hayward wrote the controversial 2011 Almanac of Environmental Trends.

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On April 22, 2024, the two men met at AEI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss their guarded optimism about the environment.

The Disaster that Never Occurred

The first point of optimism is that the long-foreseen environmental catastrophes never happened. In 1998, for example, 57 percent of Americans agreed, “The next ten years will be the last decade when humans have a chance to save the earth from environmental catastrophe.” Despite the prevailing pessimism, that ten-year point passed sixteen years ago, and the environment is improving.

Another convenient truth is that all conventional air quality measures (including the dreaded CO2) are lower now than in 1990. During those thirty-four years, there have been significant economic gains, population growth and increased vehicle miles traveled. Everything that the environmentalists said caused air pollution went up while the actual pollution went down.

In 2007, environmentalist Seymour Garte wrote, “Most things that concern us as humans on the planet Earth have been improving. The air and water are getting cleaner; we have more and better food to eat; life spans are increasing and infant mortality is decreasing; diseases are being conquered; endangered species are being rescued; the forests are doing well.”

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Certain areas of environmental policy have still been unsuccessful. Wetlands are diminishing, but at a vastly lower rate than during the three decades from 1950 to 1980. Additionally, the oxygen levels in the waters of parts of the Gulf of Mexico remain low because of nitrate runoffs coming down the Mississippi River. On the other hand, similar measures in the Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound are significantly better.

Retracting the Predictions of Disaster

Even among “climate change” activists, the predictions of actual change have decreased. In Sept 2021, U.S. “Climate Envoy” John Kerry voiced dire predictions for the rest of the century. “Currently, as we are talking today, we are regrettably on course to his somewhere between 3 [or] 4 degrees [Celcius] at the current rate.” By September 2023, his prediction was between 2.4 to 2.5 degrees of warming over the same period. A degree and a half may not sound like much to the average person. However, Mr. Kerry’s current predictions are twenty to forty percent below his figures, which were only two years earlier. In this arena, that is significant.

Dr. Pielke calls the science behind the reduction “the best-kept secret in climate science.” The simple fact is that the actual increase in temperatures to date has not confirmed the predictions on which Mr. Kerry relied in 2021. Nonetheless, most of the “climate scientists” in the Biden Administration and much of the media are still using outdated computer models.

“Climate change is real and a problem. In recent years, understandings of likely future emissions and, thus, change have become much less extreme. And that is good news!”

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The simple fact is that the accepted scenario was flawed. The assumptions of twenty years ago overstated the case. The alarmists’ numbers suited the bureaucrats’ political ambitions and ideological agenda, so they used those numbers.

Economic Realities Intrude on Nightmare Fantasies

Basic economics also works against climate change advocates. First, experiments in harnessing wind and solar power have failed miserably. The technology has not developed much, despite the billions pumped into it. Second, the anti-growth agenda in places like California has resulted in skyrocketing housing and other prices. Even the liberals are beginning to notice.

Perhaps the most important element is that the entire world economy depends on the price of energy. Therefore, everyone is harmed—often in several ways—when the cost of energy increases. Such conditions rapidly become the death knell of any politician the public blames for them. As Dr. Pielke pointed out, “People are not going to sit by and let their economies go bankrupt—it’s just not going to happen…if there are consequences, you will see a backlash.” When that backlash occurs, he posits, the madness over climate will diminish as the need for energy grows.

Unfortunately, politics moves more slowly than science. Once committed to extreme policies, any retreat, however justified, can prove politically disastrous. The scientific consensus appears to be changing—or at least adapting to changing circumstances. Meanwhile, the administration is “very quickly painting itself into a corner on climate.” Consider, for instance, the vehicle pollution standards that the EPA released in March 2024. The administration brags that they are the “strongest-ever pollution standards for cars and trucks.”

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However, those regulations are based on unduly pessimistic predictions. Americans face difficult alternatives. Citizens may reject the new standards at the ballot box. They may be forced to pay a high and unnecessary economic price. The final possibility is they may be forced to give up private vehicles. Voters will punish those who forced them into such a situation.

Impossible Commitments

Indeed, President Biden’s EPA is increasingly committed to limiting carbon, regardless of the changing scenario. The most likely course is that the administration will cling to the extreme targets set by the misnamed “Inflation Reduction Act.” As those targets appear increasingly unnecessary, the nation will reject the social and economic costs of the stringent regulations.

Nor will the administration be able to claim success. Based on figures from the Energy Information Administration, a government agency populated by environmentalists, the Biden administration’s emissions reduction records are likely to average 0.7% per year, a far cry from their target annual reduction of eight to nine percent or more. That failure will make Progressives howl.

However, the cries of the Woke will be nothing compared to the wrath of those who pay the bills.

Photo Credit:  © Piotr Krzeslak –

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