- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 26, 2009

President Obama used more than 9,100 gallons of fuel to fly and drive to Iowa to promote energy conservation for Earth Day on Wednesday. That’s a revealing example of tree-hugger logic. To mark the president’s acknowledgment of the wonders of modern transportation, we would like to honor a few environmental heroes who made Mr. Obama’s Earth Day travels possible - like Henry Ford.

Mr. Ford mastered the art of mass production with the assembly line, which made automobiles available to the masses. Introduced in 1908, Mr. Ford’s Model T sold more than 15 million units, opening the world to unimagined mobility. It’s likewise fitting to remember Etienne Lenoir, the inventor of the gas engine, and Nikolaus August Otto, who made the internal-combustion engine practical. Without these discoveries, pollution and disease would be rampant.

Environmentalists often paint a romantic picture of a cleaner existence in a past that never existed. With 6.7 billion people in the world, it is odious to imagine the mountains of manure that would pile up in city streets gridlocked with horses. Despite all the concern about carbon-dioxide these days, cars are remarkably efficient machines in terms of their emissions. Without cars, so much for the smell of clean, fresh air.

We have more than famous industrial barons to thank for the Earth being cleaner than it otherwise would have been. Untold anonymous engineers were constantly trying to make all sorts of engines more efficient before government-imposed miles-per-gallon regulations and other under-tested methods forced arbitrary standards.

The profit motive encourages innovation better than regulation. If a power-station operator could figure out some way of producing more electricity with less coal, he made more money. It also meant he would produce less pollution. Unlike today, when contraptions are forced on firms when the costs are greater than the benefits, past innovations improved the environment at the same time they made the country wealthier.

The Earth Day honor roll should also include Thomas Edison for coming up with the light bulb. When people had to light fires to see at night, they risked homes and other buildings burning down, and the blazes created indoor pollution which irritated lungs, produced emphysema, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

Kudos as well to American inventor Samuel Martin Kier, who in 1851 figured out how to make kerosene from crude oil and thus provided a relatively clean and cheap alternative to whale oil.

Long before there were any environmental regulations, back when the Environmental Protection Agency wasn’t even a glimmer in the eye of statists, the innovators on our Earth Day honor roll were working, however unintentionally, to make the environment cleaner by making the world more efficient. The trend of increased wealth producing less pollution was occurring before government bureaucrats even thought about pollution.

Earth Day, which on many college campuses has been lengthened into a whole week, is intended to spread awareness about responsible stewardship of the planet. Too often, it sounds like the goal is to reject progress and make us cavemen again. That’s why it’s important to call attention to those inventors responsible for making our air and streets cleaner. Thank you, Henry Ford.

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide