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  Earth Day RevisitedMonday, June 26th, 2017  
by William C. Dennis, Ph.D.

My children recently participated in Earth Day assignments at school. According to the curriculum, the environment is a mess; humans constitute environmental dangers; global warming is upon us; we face deteriorating water and air quality; our familiar way of life is threatened by resource depletion, urban sprawl, and growing mountains of trash; we are awash in human-generated carcinogens, and so on and so forth. While friends of liberty can be glad this Earth Day nonsense is over for another year, they can hardly be pleased with the state of environmental education in our schools. Perhaps it is time for parents to sit down with their kids to present an alternative view of the state of the planet. Here are some of the points I try to make in discussions with my children.
  • By most measures of environmental quality, things are getting better. We are living longer and healthier lives. Child mortality rates are down. Standards of living continue to improve, even for the poor. Educational and cultural opportunities abound. American enterprise remains creative and energetic. Social mobility is high. Per capita disposable income continues to increase. Available per capita living space continues to rise. Our water and air continue to become cleaner. Age-corrected cancer rates are falling.

  • Global warming, if it exists, is a manageable condition. The most recent computer models of possible human-induced global warming reduce the predicted amount of warming to much lower levels than earlier models. But computer models are only sophisticated guesses, and scientists are divided over the quality of the science behind them. Predicted changes are well within the range of known temperature fluctuations that have been recorded during human history.

  • Global warming, if it exists, is a manageable condition. The most recent computer models of possible human-induced global warming reduce the predicted amount of warming to much lower levels than earlier models. But computer models are only sophisticated guesses, and scientists are divided over the quality of the science behind them. Predicted changes are well within the range of known temperature fluctuations that have been recorded during human history.

  • Urban sprawl is a sign of prosperity and healthy growth. As population and wealth grow, Americans are going to use their newfound prosperity to purchase a healthier and higher quality life, which will include larger homes with the modern amenities associated with suburban living. However, zoning restrictions, urban planning, land use regulations, and high taxes force new developments farther out from the center of cities and increase the separation of neighborhoods from workplaces and shopping districts. These rules add to congestion, increase energy use, and encourage the very environmental changes they were meant to prohibit or control.

  • Liberty is the best environment for human beings. This is an environment that consists of the rule of law; well-defined and secure property rights; secure contracts; a market-based economy; and limited, democratic government. Over the ages this has been a rare and endangered environment and is still under threat throughout the world by intrusive central governments and socialists of all persuasions. An environment of liberty produces peace and prosperity; longer and better lives; and eventually, after lots of hard work, substantial wealth, much of which can be used to produce high-quality environmental amenities such as parks, nature preserves, clean air and water, and programs of species preservation. We should not let this environment be threatened by the political agenda of those environmental groups that do not support the institutions of liberty.

Parents will want to expand on these themes and guide their children to reading they can do on their own. We must remind our kids, and occasionally ourselves, that assertions made about environmental degradation are often not supported by facts or science. With practice and over time, our children will learn that it is silly to duck every time an "expert" in search of a federal research grant howls the sky is falling.

We celebrate the first green mouse-ear that sprouts on a maple tree. Green spears rising through last fall's leaf crop, or the remnants of the last snowfall, promise yellow daffodil trumpets, which herald another performance of the symphony of spring.

We get excited when the ground is warm enough to invest the first tomato plant; he who produces the first Early Girl or Better Boy is the year's champion in our neighborhood. (Earth day practitioners will have no idea what this means).

When the hum of tractors in the distance precedes the rooster crows, and the woods are filled with redbud and dogwood blossoms, and squirrels do battle with blue jays for the right to nature's bounty in a waking oak tree, now here is celebration.

Watching the corn tower to tassel, then turn to Halloween tan, just to make the pumpkins pop out; seeing the combines collect the cotton, and stack it into monstrous bales; feeling the nip in the air that accompanies foggy mornings and a lazy sunrise. These are my earth days.

As wonderful as they are, they are no better than those days when the snow falls, and wind howls, and I can smell the chocolate-chip cookies browning perfectly in the oven while I watch the Tennessee Titans kick butt in Jacksonville. These are the days of this earth. These are the days for living.

We don't need a single day to celebrate, nor an excuse to pretend that we have some special appreciation for God's creation. In fact, April 22, earth day, has become something of an embarrassment. There are always those would-be do-gooders who think chaining themselves to someone else's tree, or hanging a stupid banner from the top of a water tower is going to save the planet.

Those who need this kind of celebration actually need to be re-tested, or to get therapy, or both. Neither their words delivered from a podium, nor their antics delivered to the media, can help or hinder the planet. They are simply activities that provide the practitioners some temporary justification for their existence.

I invite those people who get hopped up over earth day to get a life. Invest a tomato plant in the land and it will yield dividends far beyond the fruit.

Listen for the hum of tractors on a distant hillside setting the table for future meals around the world. These are the champions of earth day every day.

William C. Dennis was a special assistant to the assistant secretary for policy, budget, and administration in the United States Department of the Interior during the first Reagan Administration, and is a member of the Board of Scholars of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, an education and research organization headquartered in Potomac Falls, Virginia. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.




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