Earth Day -- The Perfect Time to Celebrate Capitalism

By Phil KerpenPolicy Director, Americans for Prosperity

Today is Earth Day, and it has been since 1970, when the first Earth Day was proclaimed on Vladimir Lenin's 100 birthday (just a sheer coincidence, environmentalists assure us). For decades since we marked the first Earth Day, environmentalists have told us that economic growth is destroying the world. So I thought that this might be a good time to take stock of the remarkable success that capitalism has had in making the United States richer, healthier, happier, and much, much cleaner.

Let's start with what, throughout human history, were by far the most dangerous pollutants: infectious diseases. The great Julian Simon reminded usin his classic book "Ultimate Resource "that the word "pollutant" used to refer to the great scourges of mankind. As Simon said:

"Humanity's success in reducing these pollutions has been so great that young people today do not even know the names of the great killer pollutions of history -- such as typhoid fever, bubonic plague, and cholera."

This is an enormous triumph, perhaps the greatest in human history! In a little more than a century, we've raised the life expectancy in the United States from just 47.3 years in 1900 to 77.8 years in 2005 ---we now live more than 30 years longer!

Despite naysaying from environmentalists, all of the available evidence shows that as we get richer, we get cleaner and healthier.

As we have grown richer, we have been able to afford cleaner and better technologies that have eliminated not just the really nasty pollutants -- the infectious diseases -- but the more mild chemicals that once polluted our air, land, and water. The record is remarkable.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), since 1980, carbon monoxide levels are down 76 percent. Ozone levels are down 21 percent. Lead is down 91 percent. Nitrogen Dioxide is down 43 percent. Sulfur dioxide is down 68 percent. Since 1990, particulate matter has declined 28 percent. Air quality has never been better.

Neither has water quality, with the percentage of streams usable for fishing and swimming more than doubling since 1972. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the U.S. is now gainingwetlands. The U.S. Geological Survey has found that whitefish have returned to the Detroit River for the first time since 1916.

So despite the dire warnings from doomsayers that global economic growth, capitalism, and prosperity were unsustainable despoilers of the environment, all of the available evidence shows that as we get richer, we get cleaner and healthier.

Having conquered the great pollutants of human history (infectious disease), and much mild industrial pollutants, we turn our attention to a colorless, odorless gas that is essential for life: carbon dioxide. We breathe it out and plants use it for photosynthesis. It's one of the principal components of air. Despite its ubiquity and necessity for life, the EPA announced last week that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that endangers human health and welfare. It did this on the basis of computer models that predict -- with a huge factor of uncertainty -- that carbon dioxide emissions will contribute to an increase in global average temperatures that will in turn cause sea-level rise and other supposedly apocalyptic scenarios.

The EPA has proposed regulations so sweeping that even today's birthday boy, V. I. Lenin, couldn't have dreamed them up. In more than 18,000 pages of appendices to last year's draft version of their proposed regulations, the agency explained in detail how the 30 programs from the Clean Air Act of 1970 could be morphed to the task of regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It includes federal permit requirements for everything from commercial kitchens using natural gas as a cooking fuel, to commercial buildings with more than 100,000 square feet, to farms with 25 or more cows, to everything that moves: planes, trains, cards, buses, and even lawnmowers! The folks at EPA would mandate not just simple control technologies -- which don't exist -- but complete redesigns and behavioral changes. It amounts to a Soviet-style version of central-planning aimed squarely at the entire U.S. economy.

All this is for a plan that could -- if it meets its objectives -- trim a couple hundredths of a degree off of expected global warming temperatures 50 years from now. People concerned about global warming would be much better served to learn the lesson that solutions to environmental problems are only possible with rising wealth and economic growth and chuck these economically disastrous ideas.

We can worry about all that tomorrow. Today, let's celebrate our remarkably clean environment and the engine of wealth creation that made it possible: capitalism. Happy Earth Day!

Mr. Kerpen is director of policy at Americans for Prosperity, is on the Web at www.philkerpen.comand records a free daily podcast.

Phil Kerpen is the founder of American Commitment Action Fund, on the web at www.BookerFAIL.com.