There was a telling juxtaposition of events in April 1970.
On the one hand, young people, infused with the Age of Aquarius, gathered in parks for the first Earth Day. They sang, danced, speechified, consumed illicit substances, and virtue-signaled they didn’t want a polluted planet.
On the other hand, the Apollo 13 spacecraft, crippled by an explosion, limped back to Earth, with the survival of three astronauts very much in doubt.
That April, a movement began to fight a perceived explosion of technologies and materialism that were polluting Earth, with the survival of humanity at stake. This worldview was as profoundly wrong then as it remains now.
We all want to live in a world conducive to human health and safety. The good news is things have been improving for years.
Starting with the big picture, some five decades ago, 45 percent of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty. Today, that number is less than 10 percent. Back then, global life expectancy was 60 years old. It is now around 72, in developed countries, it’s more than 80. Even in Africa, the most impoverished region of the world, average lifespan has climbed from 47 to 60. The annual death rate of children under five years old has dropped from about 15 percent to under 5 percent, with much of that progress coming in developing countries.
And what about the environment? At the time of the first Earth Day, more than one million individuals worldwide, mainly children, died each year because of pathogens in polluted water. Fortunately, over the past four decades, the portion of the global population with access to improved water sources has jumped from only about 50 percent to more than 90 percent.
In the 1970s, 24 oil spills occurred in oceans on average per year. Since 2000, the average has dipped to three per year, and the quantity of oil spilled has declined by 99 percent.
In the 1970s, environmentalists feared forests were disappearing at an alarming rate. Despite these dire predictions, there are more trees in Europe and the United States today. Whether you enjoy forests for hiking, camping, sheer beauty, or for the lumber and natural resources they supply, you can have both.
Freedom Leads the Way
Contrary to the erroneous beliefs of some, the drivers of progress were not Earth Day awareness or Hippie platitudes. Rather, they were freedom and capitalism—and the many benefits of these principles.
The facts speak for themselves: The reduction in extreme poverty worldwide is the result of free-market policies. In The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedomreports and the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World reports, the most free countries are the most prosperous countries.
Greater wealth means improvements on every indicator. There is an extremely strong correlation between declining child morality and per capita income. Wealthier countries have more resources to allocate for cleaner air and water, better education, improved housing and so much more.
Groundbreaking technologies and innovations come from entrepreneurs and inventors who are setting the path to greater prosperity and unimaginable improvements in human well-being. The information revolution has already redefined how we live and communicate, and technology will continue to transform and improve the human experience and how we interact with nature for decades to come.
All those young folks taking selfies on Earth Day might reflect that their cutting-edge devices in the hands of people in the poorest countries are opening the wider world to them. They can engage in commerce, seek information about better health, educate their children and, in general, climb from poverty to prosperity.
In the U.S., innovations in bionic limbs are allowing the lame to walk and amputees to again be able to use artificial fingers to do anything individuals with flesh-and-blood appendages can do. Artificial kidneys soon will replace dialysis. A supercomputer now can diagnose illnesses as well as teams of doctors. On the space front, private entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos are producing rockets for less money and with more safety built into them than most old NASA crafts ever had.
The future for humans really looks bright, but there is a catch.
Putting Humans First
Progress will only continue in a culture that explicitly puts humans’ well-being above all else. Earth Day has been hijacked by environmentalists who focus on the wrong causes and espouse counterproductive solutions to problems that don’t even exist.
Earth is, of course, of tremendous value to human beings. We want a clean planet because it benefits us, but we want personal prosperity, too. That means using our minds to turn the materials and energy in the natural world into resources for our own betterment and the betterment of those around us.
Let’s juxtapose the improvements to human well-being and prosperity that result from liberty and technology against the now-seen-as-silly Earth Day fetes. Let’s abandon Earth Day for a celebration of human achievement!