Back in 1970 when we celebrated the first Earth Day, what would we have thought if we had known what environmentalism would become by 2010? Back then I was in 7th grade, and an avid member of my Junior High School’s “ecology club.” We planted trees, collected litter, and painted all the garbage cans on campus green, among other things. And back then, as now, the teachers were enthusiastically encouraging the students to care about the planet.
The results ensuing in the 40-50 years since “Silent Spring” was written and the first Earth Day was celebrated are impressive. When I grew up in California’s Santa Clara Valley in the 1960’s, on a bad air day you couldn’t see the Santa Cruz Mountains five miles away. Then we got rid of unleaded gas and mandated catalytic converters and today, with ten times as many people living in what we now call the Silicon Valley, there is never more than a faint wisp of smoggy haze, even on the worst days. We cleaned up our rivers, got rid of acid rain, saved the Condor and countless other magnificent wildlife species, and on and on and on. And then we went too far.
Today environmentalism is run amok. It is the creator of artificial scarcity, the enabler of the very corporate greed its denizens naively decry, it is a faith and a religion, an ideological smokescreen for statism and socialism, and it has lost most of its connection to the original values we believed in. And the reason for this is clear – once the environmentalists accomplished important goals, their cause began to lose visibility and had to struggle for relevance among the American public. So instead of continuing to emphasize environmentalist goals that still mattered, environmentalists sold out, and embraced the absurdity of anthropogenic climate change.
In honor of Earth Day and everything it still represents that is good and still urgently valid, this post isn’t to debate, yet again, whether or not the earth’s climate is catastrophically tipping, whether or not humans have caused this, or whether or not humans can do anything about this. Read “The Climate Money Trail,” and the reports linked to in that post, and make up your own mind. It is beyond comprehension to me that anyone can follow the logic and facts in those posts with an open mind and fail to conclude what I have, that concerns about anthropogenic climate change are unfounded.
Instead of dwelling on that debate, in honor of Earth Day, here is a list of genuine environmental challenges that remain with us. Challenges we might be making more progress in addressing, were the trajectory of our responses not diverted by the great boogyman of climate change:
1 – Enforce sustainable fishing on the world’s oceans. Stop incinerating the world’s forests to grow subsidized biofuel. Revisit plans to carpet the world’s open spaces with wind generators and solar farms.
2 – Eliminate toxic metal and microscopic particulate emissions from coal powered generating plants. Complete the transition to clean fossil fuels (clean, not CO2-free). Develop clean coal, shale gas, and offshore oil.
3 – Clean up tainted aquifers in places like the Los Angeles basin and begin harvesting and storing storm runoff.
4 – Build nuclear-powered desalination plants to augment natural sources of fresh water. In general, accelerate construction of nuclear power stations.
5 – Eliminate particulate and other genuine pollutants from heavy diesel trucks and machinery.
6 – In order to stimulate economic growth, which will empower society to fund genuine environmental mitigation, repeal “decoupling” policies so public utilities will nurture competitive, cheap energy and water from all sources, instead of enabling utilities to make more money when they produce less.
7 – In addition to encouraging wealth creation, support female literacy around the world, so the combination of wealth and literacy leads to voluntary reductions in family sizes, accelerating humanity’s inevitable path towards population stabilization.
8 – Continue reasonable and realistic attempts to protect endangered species, including educational campaigns to reduce consumer demand for endangered animal parts.
9 – Restore balance to protection of open space and wilderness areas, recognizing that excessive curbs on private land development hinder economic growth which in-turn reduces the financial wherewithal to mitigate genuine environmental challenges.
10 – Reinvent environmentalism to embrace property rights, limited government, and reasonable environmental goals, in order to achieve a clean, sustainable civilization on an accelerated path to universal abundance and prosperity.
This set of objectives may seem like heresy today, now that the global environmental movement has been hijacked by the climate issue. But 40 years ago these objectives probably would probably have seemed reasonable. The message that should be carrying the day right now is that rational environmentalism prevailed. It is institutionalized and its accomplishments are dramatic. Fulfilling these objectives here would return environmentalism not only to a viable common ground that would benefit everyone, but would arguably return environmentalism to its roots.
Earth Day should be a celebration of the accomplishments the environmentalist movement has logged over the past 40 years. It should also be a celebration of the future – where technology will yield abundant energy and water, and voluntary urbanization combined with voluntary population stabilization will yield abundant open space. But to realize this promising destiny, environmentalists must embrace capitalism, the engine of prosperity, the enabler of progress, and abandon the climate-inspired litany of doom.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
To help support more content and policy analysis like this, please click here.