It's Gettin' Better All the Time


The United States has made dramatic progress in reducing air pollution over the last few decades, and most American cities now enjoy relatively good air quality. But polls show that most Americans believe air pollution has grown worse or will become worse in the future, and that most people face serious risks from air pollution.

So begins a crunchy, numbers-filled environmental report by Joel Schwartz of the Reason Public Policy Institute. (Warning: PDF file.)

NEXT: Well, This Is Fairly Terrifying

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  1. What bothers me even more than public perception that the environmental problems are getting worse is the perception that current pollution is mostly the fault of developed nations. In fact, richer nations are far more likely to use clean burning fuels and pollution-lowering technologies, meaning that we produce less pollution per unit of production than developing nations. In other words, we should be concentrating our efforts on bringing clean technology to the third world, not demonizing the US.

  2. Matt, since you’re in LA, how’s this jive with the article in today’s LA Times about smog being worse? At least when counting Ozone Action Days.

  3. Is Paul gonna sue over that headline?

    Oh yeah, I mean Michael….

  4. Amy Phillips,

    Have you been reading Ronald Bailey again?!? 🙂

    Of course there’s no good to be gained from demonizing the US. But it seems like wealth can work either way, since of course burning nothing is even better than burning clean. What about the fear of greater pollution from more Chinese owning cars? Just lefty-enviro fear mongering?

  5. Yeah, fyodor, except that “burning nothing” isn’t much of an option if you want to keep your family warm at night. Nuclear, gas, oil, coal, wood, peat, cow chips, we’ve been burning something at least since the basic housing unit was the cave. And it’s the newer high-technology fires that have fewer side effects, like cutting down all the trees.

  6. Yes, fyodor, it IS lefty-enviro fear mongering. It’s along the same vein of belief that if we just introduce sex-ed classes at the K and Pre-k level then we’re going to solve the skyrocketing overpopulation “epidemic.” As if the western 1.8% birth rate has anything to do with overpopulation. It’s done with air/water/food/traffic/everything saftey. If people continue to be told that everything is getting worse, then despite all reality, intuition and sense, they will believe things are getting worse.

  7. Larry,

    Okay, good point. Still, one burns nothing but calories when one rides a bike! Until you address that, you haven’t convinced me that it can’t work both ways!

  8. Citizen,

    You answered my question, but you didn’t support your answer! Again, will the increase of car ownership in China cause more pollution, and does this reflect that increases in wealth can often be environmentally harmful? I don’t doubt that environmentalists have said some dumb things. But that doesn’t prove to me that they’re wrong about everything!

  9. Try the Skeptical Environmentalist by Lomborg. Pollution tends to do an inverted U with per capita income levels. Furthermore the curve flattens for developing countries over time (as better, cleaner technology becomes available in developed places that allow them to leapfrog).

  10. Robert speirs-
    I don’t think you can place the public’s fear of nuclear power ENTIRELEY on enviromentalists; I would argue its a result of our goverment’s legacy of misinformation and lies (see the Plutonium Files), which bred a culture of distrust that culminated in 3 mile island, etc.

    In France, where the government was transparent about the dangers and possibilities of the technology, uses nuclear technology for almost 80% of its power. go figure.

  11. “In France, where the government was transparent..”
    please look into the transparency of French govt before saying such silliness.

  12. Great article. One thing about the kind of games played by the American Lung Association and PIRG detailed in the article – If the number of monitoring stations increases, the “air quality” gets worse!

    Guess what – the last Clean Air Act Ammendments approved under Bush the Elder provided funding for additional ambient air monitoring by the agencies. I know, I was selling ambient air analyzers in California in the mid 90s when the funding arrived at the local air districts.

  13. Begin satire:

    When you bike – you burn calories.

    Those calories came from food.
    beef – cows release methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
    other meats – grown in massive factories. All are fed:

    Grains – grown on plowed over prairie – grasslands are the most reduced habitat, grassland bird species, for example, have dropped in population by 80% or so in the last 20 years.

    Vegetables – grown with massive application of pesticide and other chemicals, which pollute the water, the air, and cause cancer among migrant farm workers.

    Not to mention the massive release of greenhouse gasses caused by energy used to process the grains into granola, stuff it into boxes made out of ex-trees, and ship it to the store to which you bicycled to purchase said food.


    End satire

  14. Anybody heard of the Asian Brown Cloud?

  15. Cars have great positive social effects by speeding up commerce, increasing wealth and therefore making high technology possible, which then can mediate the effects of low tech pollution. And nuclear is the answer, if it were politically possible. Think about that. The lefties and Gaia-types oppose the only technology we have today that is almost entirely environmentally benign. Shows you where their real priorities are.

  16. “Anybody heard of the Asian Brown Cloud?”

    Yeah, it is some really potent shit, dude! It takes a clear mind to make it(?)

  17. As I recall, the Asian Brown Cloud was a big slug of air pollution generated by sub-industrial Asian economies that are still burning wood, cow dung, who knows what.

  18. The Asian Brown Cloud covers up to half of Asia, depending on time of year, and causes untold thousands of deaths. It is visible from space.

    Kyoto doesn’t apply to the folks who generate it.

    It does apply to the U.S. if we are so foolish as to ratify it.

  19. fyodor, I was talking about keeping warm. I suppose you could hook a generator to your bicycle and pedal all night. The exercise would keep you comfy, but the spouse and kids are going to be chilly. And the primary side effect is that you won’t be good for much the next day.
    As for transport, wouldn’t walking be greener? No messy factories, etc. Of course you end up making almost daily trips to the market, because you can’t carry more than two bags of groceries. But that won’t be a problem, since bicycles can’t move any appreciable amount of food to the market anyway. (If you think modern autos are dirty, you ought to see the amount of pollution a team of draft animals produces.)
    There’s a reason why, in countries without the technology level necessary to support widespread automotive transport, people only live an average of 35 years.

  20. Jim Antly, you’re right. There’s no combustion taking place in a nuclear power plant, in the same way the sun isn’t “burning.” 🙂 But I agree it’s the cleanest alternative we have right now. That’s why I listed it first in my somewhat descending order of efficiency.

    BTW, I was living in Lebanon, PA, about thirty miles from Three Mile Island, when that NATIONAL ATOMIC DISASTER “proved” nuclear power was too dangerous to develop. I note that no one was killed, no one was injured, and no private property was damaged. Shucks, I don’t even glow in the dark.

  21. Apis and Citizen hit upon the interesting point that we in the western world are assuming the guilt of the world on our shoulders. Western population and pollution both are non-problematic compared to the proverbial 800 lb. gorilla of what happens in the ‘developing’ world. I think it’s tied to the fact that we’ve been bombarded with the knowledge of how rich we are compared to the rest of the world, with the not-so-subtle implication that we caused the poverty by taking up all the resources, so the guilt transfer seems plausible. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about economics and politics realizes this line of reasoning is BS, but apparently the world is relatively devoid of folks that have even that level of understanding.

    Kyoto was ratified by all the other developed nations, in spite of the fact that it will do little to help pollution/global warming and cost them all dearly economically (except of course for those in government and those industries that make a living enforcing it). Apparently we have more people with economic sense than they do. (Although I’ll admit that the EU pulled off a pretty good stunt with that by getting ‘credit’ for renewable fuels they already use, such as buring chicken shit, that means effectively they don’t have to do anything about fossil fuel use they already aren’t doing by punishingly high taxes. True environmentalists have seen through this ruse, and are upset about it. Although I don’t agree with their policy prescriptions in general, they’ve got a point about this).

  22. In the alternative, RV Man, we could all do our bit if we’d just stop farting. After zero emissions vehicles are mandatory, I’m sure the enviro weenies have a plan for that, too.

  23. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 08:03:10
    ‘May you live all the days of your life.’ – Swift

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