The 50th anniversary of Earth Day has come and gone. But doom and gloom predictions from green groups — about pollution, climate, overpopulation, and overconsumption — linger on even though science and statistics demonstrate there is a great deal for people to be optimistic about.
Our first blog post on this theme began with a list of five technological and environmental improvements that are bettering human lives and allowing us to reduce a great deal of environmental damage. But since 2020 was the 50th anniversary of Earth Day theme, we promised 50 points, so here are the next 10 reasons that people have to be excited about our future.
Green groups often quote academics like Thomas Malthus and Paul Ehrlich to warn that human populations will outstrip the Earth’s ability to produce food, leaving billions to starve. In the real world, however, we’re producing more food and feeding more people than ever before. Human populations increased from 5.588 billion in 1993 to 7.476 billion in 2016. However, worldwide global hunger, depicted by the Global Hunger Index (which tracks hunger on a global scale and ranks it from zero — no hunger — to 100 — extreme hunger) dropped from a “serious” value of 31.5 in 1994 to a “moderate” value of 17.2 in 2016.
Despite growing human populations, the number of people living in extreme poverty has decreased dramatically. The U.N.’s 2015 Millennium Development Goals Report notes that, “In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day; that proportion dropped to 14 per cent in 2015.” World Bank numbers mirror this report. The World Bank explains that, in 2015, only 10% of the world’s population experienced “extreme poverty,” which they define as living on less than $1.90/day. This means that 1.1 billion fewer people — a 36% reduction — live in extreme poverty than did in 1990.
Human life expectancy has also gone up significantly over the past several decades, primarily due to advances in medical science and agriculture, especially in the developing world. CDC statistics indicate that life expectancy in OECD countries have risen markedly from 1980 to 2015. In the United States, average life expectancy at birth was 70.0 years for men and 77.4 for women in 1980. But by 2015, those numbers had increased to 76.3 and 81.1 years, respectively.
Improving medical technologies include the production and use of vaccines, which have eliminated or radically decreased the prevalence of many deadly diseases. The CDC estimates that, for children born between 1994 and 2013, vaccines will help to avoid more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths. Vaccines have already brought about a 79% reduction in measles-related deaths, essentially eradicated small pox, and ensured the US has been polio free since 1979. CDC predicts that widespread vaccine use will save $1.38 trillion in total costs to society.
One of the reasons we have the ability to clean our environment and produce better medicines and food is the easy availability of affordable, reliable and increasingly clean energy. The advent of improved exploration and fracking technologies means that, even though we’re using more, we actually have far greater accessible reserves of natural gas and oil than we’ve ever had. EIA data indicates that proved crude oil reserves increased by 11.9% from 2017 to 2018 and natural gas reserves increased by 8.7%.
In the U.S., and around the world, we’ve been making good use of these fuels. Worldwide consumption of natural gas, the cleanest burning fossil fuel, has increased by more than 600% since 1965. Despite the increased use, prices for this essential fuel are at all-time lows. Current natural gas prices are around $1.90 - $2.00/million btu, compared to $13.33 in June 2008. A clean burning fuel at rock bottom prices leads us to our next point.
While some may argue that increased use of fossil fuels entails more air pollution, our air is much cleaner today than it has been in the past several decades. EPA data shows that national levels of the six “criteria air pollutants” tracked by federal regulators have decreased by an average of 74% from 1970 to 2018. Today all six of these pollutant levels are below the EPA’s national standards.
We’re using more energy to move ourselves around, but improved technologies in automobiles — air bags, stronger and lighter metal alloys, the addition of crumple zones, etc. – mean that the number of vehicle traffic fatalities has dropped dramatically: from a rate of 3.35 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 1975 to 1.13 in 2018.
At the same time as we are using more energy, our use of that energy is becoming far more efficient. In just one example, the Department of Energy reports that switching to LED lighting is expected to save the U.S. as much as $30 billion and 348 TWh (compared with traditional incandescent lights). Those savings come (in part) from the fact that LEDs consume 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
We have repeatedlyquestioned the so-called consensus narrative on climate change. But for those who remain concerned that human-caused climate change presents a potentially catastrophic challenge to our continued survival, one new technology should provide you some comfort. This new technology is much like a large battery that absorbs carbon dioxide from the air as it is being charged and then discharges by releasing it. The captured gas can be used in medical or industrial processes and food production.
If you haven’t read our first 50th Anniversary of Earth Day post, be sure to check it out. Then remember that we still have plenty more examples of markets and innovation improving human lives and our environment. Watch the blog for post number 3!
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