Earth Day

An Earth Day lesson

Today is Earth Day, and each year April 22 brings a heightened emphasis on environmental issues.

What might surprise many is that we’re making significant progress in our collective effort to protect the environment.

The following chart comes courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency, and says a lot about where we are today in our society’s goal for promoting clean air while also allowing for technological innovation and economic growth to flourish.

EPA_CleanAir_4-2014

A couple observations:

  • Our economy is much bigger today than it was in 1970. We have a larger overall population, but economic gains far exceed population growth.
  • Our modern lifestyle – complete with smart phones, smart TVs and the Internet of Things – uses a lot more energy than we did in 1970. But we’re using it more efficiently than ever. Our GDP growth far exceeds our growth of energy consumption.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions have actually fallen in recent years. These facts point to the increasingly efficient nature of our economy as well as to the ability of technology to address society’s environmental concerns.
  • Our economy today is more than three times the size it was in 1970, and domestic energy use is up by nearly half since 1970. Yet our air contains 72 percent fewer pollutants today.

Another EPA chart (below) spells this out, noting a 99 percent drop in the amount of lead and a 79 percent in sulfur dioxide since 1980.

PercentChange_Emissions_4-2014

These numbers don’t just mean cleaner skies. They also represent a major triumph for Americans’ health.

Worth thinking about on Earth Day 2014.