Earth Day - Why so Glum?

Printer-friendly version
Appeared in the Vancouver Sun, 22 April 2006
Earth Day should be a celebration of the improvements in environmental quality that have been achieved since the first Earth Day in 1970. Sadly, event organizers at the Earth Day Network remain intent on using the day to advance incorrect information in order to scare concerned citizens into supporting their brand of alarmist style environmentalism. This year is no different.

The focus on climate change this year has resulted in the Earth Day Network publishing a veritable laundry list of ways in which climate change will reportedly harm humans and the environment. In previous years, stories of deteriorating air and water quality have been advanced. This unfortunate focus on death, doom and destruction makes a rather gloomy, and incorrect, premise for a celebration. Thankfully, some reported myths are easily dispelled, which should help return some rightful cheer to Earth Day.

The common claim that the earth is experiencing the warmest temperatures on record has been based on an improperly calculated reconstruction of historical temperatures. Often referred to as the “Hockey Stick”, the incorrect temperature record shows a long flat line of temperatures followed by a sharp upward curve in recent times, producing a hockey stick shape. Work by Professor Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph, and colleague Stephen McIntyre, has shown that after needed corrections, temperatures some 600 years ago were higher than today.

Another often repeated claim is that climate change will bring increasingly severe weather events. In their book, Taken by Storm, Professors Chris Essex and Ross McKitrick explain how severe weather events are not increasing beyond natural variability. Furthermore, MIT Professor of Atmospheric Science, Richard Lindzen, has recently explained in the Wall Street Journal how climate change models should predict fewer severe weather events and less storminess in the future.

Claims of worsening air and water quality in Canada are also not well supported by the data. In contrast, a recent Fraser Institute report on environmental indicators using data from Environment Canada and other Canadian government sources shows the opposite; that trends in Canadian environmental quality are largely positive.

One of the greatest success stories is the increasing quality of the air Canadians breathe. Ambient levels of sulphur dioxide, a pollutant produced by burning coal and oil which can cause breathing problems and aggravation of respiratory disease, decreased over 73 percent between 1974 and 2001. Ambient levels of particulate matter, which can irritate lung tissue and reduce visibility in the air, decreased 54 percent between 1974 and 2001. Poisonous carbon monoxide levels decreased by 83 percent from 1974 to 2001, despite the fact that there has been a 30 percent increase in total vehicle registrations over the same period. The decline in ambient lead levels is another spectacular success story in the efforts to reduce air pollution. Ambient lead levels fell 94 percent in Canada from 1974 and 1998.

Though the quality of the nation’s surface water is more difficult to assess, Canada’s water quality has also improved. For example, in British Columbia, which monitors 33 water bodies, 50 percent of the water bodies evaluated are in Good or Excellent condition, and 94 percent of the water bodies are rated to be at least Fair. Only 2 water bodies are considered Borderline, and none are rated to be Poor.

Since the 1960s, levels of toxic contaminants such as PCBs decreased dramatically in each of the Great Lakes. Levels of DDE (a breakdown product of DDT) decreased between 85 and 93 percent from 1974 to 2002. PCB levels showed similar trends, decreasing between 80 and 92 percent in the Great Lakes relative to their levels in the mid 1970s.

It is true that there are still areas for improvement. But to tackle the remaining challenges we must continue to rely of fact, rather than fiction. This Earth Day, don’t frown. Celebrate the environmental improvements we’ve achieved, and look forward to continuing improvements as people demand and devote efforts to securing higher levels of environmental quality. But most importantly, celebrate the environment, not the sky-is-falling environmental alarmism.

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.