Earth Day Notes

by Steven F. Hayward

This Friday is Earth Day . . . wait, what’s that? You don’t have it marked and circled on your calendar? You’re not planning to wear hemp-cloth and (recycled) ashes this Friday? You have this Friday marked down as Good Friday?

Well fine, then. But if you don’t go in for that Christian tradition/Western Civ stuff, check out my new Almanac of Environmental Trends, out today from my peeps at the Pacific Research Institute. The Almanac is a “reboot” of my old Index of Leading Environmental Indicators that I published every year on Earth Day starting way back in 1994. It was originally inspired by Bill Bennett’s fabulously successful Index of Leading Cultural Indicators he put out back in 1993, which consisted of simple time-series charts and graphs on the data about welfare dependency, crime rates, school test scores, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, etc. — in other words, a gallery of mostly bad news.

I thought the same exercise would be interesting to do for the environment in the United States, but for the opposite reason: Most environmental conditions in the U.S. were getting better, only no one knew because neither the media nor environmental activists want you to know this. I’ve kidded Bennett about how I never got quite as much press coverage as his report did, because while his report was about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, mine was about polychlorinated biphenyls (which are down sharply since the 1980s, by the way). I also told Bill on his radio show this morning that I tried to figure out a way to name the reboot something like The Environmental Book of Virtue, but couldn’t quite make it work.

Anyway, I decided to drop the old format as it was starting to get stale and repetitive, and go with a new format that allows for constant updates and changes in the data in our digital age.  The Almanac out today is something of a “greatest hits” collection from the last 15 years worth of Indexes, with the data updated and compiled into something that resembles a desk reference format (hard copy available if you want soon). But now we can update the project almost on a daily basis. That’s what the companion website,, will do.

The ultimate reason environmental conditions in the U.S. have improved so much is economic prosperity and technological innovation. Of course regulation has played a role, but the problem is that our style of environmental regulation relates to the improvements in real conditions in much the same way that police brutality pushes down the crime rate (in other words, the EPA is the environmental equivalent of rogue cops). If you drop back and look at the data for the whole world (as I do in the Introduction to the Almanac), you will see that the nations with the best environmental conditions are those with strong property rights, economic freedom, and prosperity — three things environmentalists hate or define so narrowly as to be meaningless. The nations with the worst environmental conditions are poor and without property rights and economic freedom.