There is no time in the history of mankind that would be a better time to be alive than today. Nearly every objective measure of the state of the planet and the state of human progress shows vast improvement over time. You can find proof of this in about 30 seconds on your iPhone, a computing powerhouse that places the world at your fingertips.
Why is there so much pessimism about the state of our planet? Last week I watched the Earth Day speeches on the National Mall in Washington, and they were drenched with Chicken Little tales of a coming apocalypse. Here is the way CNN explained what we have to look forward to: “Think super-droughts, rising seas, mass extinctions and acidifying oceans.” Then it warned: “Bye-bye, animals.”
President Obama sounded the alarm about climate change: “This is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore. This is a problem now … . Stronger storms. Deeper droughts. Longer wildfire seasons.” It reminds me of those campy 1970s buttons: “Stop the world, I want to get off.”
Forty-five years ago when the first Earth Day was held, the catastrophe that awaited us was mass starvation, overpopulation, our supplies of oil and gas running on empty, and even a coming second ice age.
Every single one of those predictions was spectacularly wrong. The opposite occurred. But the doomsday machine rolls on. The declinism on the state of our planet and the well-being of our species permeates our schools, our churches, our malls, radio, TV, the Internet and our whole culture.
This is one of the greatest misinformation campaigns in world history. The state of our planet has never been stronger. Nature has never been more bountiful.
Consider the following six statistics, which go a long way to proving how well we are doing:
First, natural resources are more abundant and affordable today than ever before in history. Short-term volatility aside, the price of almost all natural resources — from cocoa to cotton to coal — is cheaper today in real terms than 50, 100 or 500 years ago. This has happened even as the world’s population has nearly tripled. Technology has far outpaced depletion of the earth’s resources.
Second, energy resources are growing. Energy is the master resource, and it is super-abundant. Remember when people such as Paul Ehrlich nearly 50 years ago, and Mr. Obama just three years ago, warned that we were running out of oil and gas. Today, in the new age of oil and gas thanks to fracking, the United States has hundreds of years of petroleum and an estimated 300 years of coal. We’re not running out of energy, we are running into it.
Third, air and water are cleaner than ever. Since the late 1970s, pollutants in the air have plunged. Lead pollution plunged by more than 90 percent, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide by more than 50 percent, with ozone and nitrogen dioxide declining as well. By nearly every standard measure, it is much, much, much cleaner today in the United States than 50 and 100 years ago.
Fourth, there is no Malthusian nightmare of overpopulation. Birth rates have fallen by about one-half around the world over the last 50 years. Developed countries are having fewer kids, not too many. The number of people in abject poverty fell by 1 billion between 1981 and 2011, even as global population increased by more than 1.5 billion. That’s just short of a miracle.
Fifth, global per capita food production is 40 percent higher today than as recently as 1950. In most nations the nutrition problem today is obesity — too many calories consumed — not hunger. The number of famines and related deaths over the last 100 years has fallen by half. More than 12 million lives on average were lost each decade from the 1920s and 1960s to famine. Since then, fewer than 4 million lives on average per decade were lost.
Sixth, the rate of death and physical destruction from natural disasters or severe weather changes has plummeted over the last century. Loss of life from hurricanes, floods, heat, droughts and so on is at or near record lows. This is because we have much better advance-warning systems, our infrastructure is much more durable and we have things like air conditioning, to adapt to weather changes.
The environmentalists have declared free-market capitalism a near-treasonous pursuit. In reality, free markets with reasonable and sane regulation, will save the planet from extinction. Meanwhile, the socialists, the communists, the Sandinistas and the Stalinists are the ones who did the greatest damage to the planet — with such avoidable catastrophes as the Chernobyl nuclear accident.
The environmentalists still believe that command-and-control rules and regulations — on how much water can be flushed from out toilets, what kind of light bulbs we can use, the temperature setting of our thermostats, the amount of solar and wind energy we must use, the type of energy efficiency we get from our household appliances, the amount of water we can use to water our lawns (as in California), even limits on how many kids we can have (as in China) — will save the planet.
• Steve Moore is an economist at the Heritage Foundation and a Fox News contributor.