Monday, March 08, 2010

40 Years Later: Air Quality Has Never Been Better

Earth Day (April 22) is only six weeks away, and I just noticed that the EPA recently updated air quality data for 2008 and thought it was worth featuring now in anticipation of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day:

Predictions made around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970:

“Air pollution is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone,” Paul Ehrlich in an interview in Mademoiselle magazine, April 1970.

Ehrlich also predicted that in 1973, 200,000 Americans would die from air pollution, and that by 1980 the life expectancy of Americans would be 42 years.

“By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half...” Life magazine, January 1970.

“Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from the intolerable deteriorations and possible extinction,” The New York Times editorial, April 20, 1970.

The world will be “...eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age,” Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970.

“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation,” biologist Barry Commoner, University of Washington, writing in the journal Environment, April 1970.

MP: Here we are 40 years later, the U.S. population has increased by more than 50%, traffic volume (miles driven) in the U.S. has increased 160%, and real GDP has increased 204%; and yet air quality in the U.S. is better than ever - nitrous dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and lead have all decreased between 46% and 92% between 1980 and 2008 (see chart).

28 Comments:

At 3/08/2010 5:22 PM, Anonymous Cooper said...

The world will be “...eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age,” Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970.


Made me lol,
ice age? poor al gore.

In a strange way air polution controls are market based. The Feds set a goal and cities, states, and countys do whatever they want to meet that goal. Ideas are tested in NYC, prolifereated to NC, some fail in Atlanta, but there is steady progress towards the goal.

Now it's not a "free" market, because the cost of non-compliance is set and not negotiable etc, and there's no telling if the goal is anything but a hoax. But a one sided market is better then no market at all. And I prefer this method for internalizing externalities. I just wish the govrnment would use it more often then just mandating policies to be implemented. (picking winners and loosers)

 
At 3/08/2010 5:49 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Wow amazing progress in 30 years. It gives you a good feeling at what will ACTUALLY happen if we reduce CO2 emissions. Apparently doomsday predictions are generally dreadfully overblown.

 
At 3/08/2010 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looser is a verb. You can't actually pick one.

 
At 3/08/2010 6:22 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"Apparently doomsday predictions are generally dreadfully overblown"...

Yeah, just ask Paul Ehrlich...

 
At 3/08/2010 6:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Al Gore: "But, but, but..."

 
At 3/08/2010 6:37 PM, Anonymous Clayton in Mississippi said...

Regarding the chart headline:
"Air Quality: NO, SO2, CO, Lead"

I'm no chemist, but shouldn't the symbol for Nitrous Dioxide be NO2 instead of just "NO"?

Oh -- wait -- I see -- NO is Nitrous Oxide -- what my dentist calls "Laughing Gas"! Considering what's happened to "environmental science" in the past few months, maybe "Laughter" is appropriate.

 
At 3/08/2010 7:02 PM, Blogger rjs said...

over 40 years, we exported all our air quality to china..

 
At 3/08/2010 8:22 PM, Anonymous Cooper said...

"I'm no chemist, but shouldn't the symbol for Nitrous Dioxide be NO2 instead of just "NO"?"

Its actually NOx or any Nitrogen Oxygen compound, though predominately NO and NO2 when dealing with air quality. N2O is sometimes included. When in the presence of sunlight, NO converts to NO2 then at night NO2 decays into NO.

 
At 3/08/2010 9:23 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Looser is a verb. You can't actually pick one."

That's one usage, another is a noun meaning "someone who makes things loose" I often pick one, as in the following:

"Tom me lad, would you mind untying my shoes? I've eaten so much, I can no longer reach my feet."

 
At 3/08/2010 10:11 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

Actually proved the point that if the government plays with incentives the market reacts to minimize that which is incentivized against. One we get a set of incentives for reducing CO2 the market will react. (As indeed it already has in many cases). There exist many good ideas to do things better that fall on the demand for a business case to make money assuming business as usual. When society gets richer it can decide to spend goods on things like clean air and the like. Recall that the Union Pacific took a lot of incentives to get built as any business man in 1864 would have laughed the business case out to the street.

 
At 3/08/2010 11:22 PM, Anonymous Clayton in Mississippi said...

for COOPER: thank you for posting the added explanation of nitrogen/oxygen compounds. I notice the chart title has been changed.

 
At 3/08/2010 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've noticed you've posted some material on shale gas. Well, the Alaskans don't appear to like it. Since we have so much shale gas here, it looks as if the proposed Alaska Gas Pipeline may get put into limbo (http://community.adn.com/adn/node/150241).

 
At 3/08/2010 11:47 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Lyle, you said:

"Actually proved the point that if the government plays with incentives the market reacts to minimize that which is incentivized against. One we get a set of incentives for reducing CO2 the market will react. (As indeed it already has in many cases)"

You are absolutely right. One of the ways the Market may react is that businesses will move operations out of the US to escape onerous regulations

 
At 3/09/2010 12:52 AM, Anonymous DrTorch said...

It's inappropriate, even dishonest, to leave out any mention of the Clean Air Act in such a post.

Yes, gov't enacted a law, companies reacted, and the world didn't end.

Too bad both sides keep pushing their agenda to irrational extremes.

 
At 3/09/2010 2:52 AM, Blogger Sumeet KD said...

As long as we are killing third world population good stuff....

 
At 3/09/2010 4:55 AM, Anonymous niknaknoo said...

You're forgetting the rest of the planet!!!! The USA has exported most of its pollution to China, India etc.

There's a whole world out there!

 
At 3/09/2010 9:39 AM, Anonymous Cooper said...

"You're forgetting the rest of the planet!!!!"

That's right, China freely chose to import our polution. Air polution in China was so bad that prior to the Olympics the government made some factories shut down for months to let the air clear out before the games started.

Also point out that China's country side has horrible air, because of the cheep coal fire stoves.

While in America not all that much polution has been exported. Much of the improvment comes from technology like catalitic converters on cars and scrubbers on smoke stacks. Also things like outlawing Leaded Gasoline, truck idling laws, and congestion reduction methods(admitfuly minor on the last) have been used to target individual polutants.

 
At 3/09/2010 9:43 AM, Anonymous Cooper said...

Sorry to double post, but i'd like to point out one more thing.

For years the air coming into California was very clean, providing a stable base measurment, then picked up polution as it rolled Eastward accross America, then cleaning out over the atlanta before going to Europe.

This as started to change lately, where polution from China is starting to make its way all the way to California, potentially making air quality worse Nationwide. Now for now it's not much, but it's started and will continue to get worse.

 
At 3/09/2010 12:46 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Cooper

"This as started to change lately, where polution from China is starting to make its way all the way to California"

References please.

 
At 3/09/2010 1:17 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"This as started to change lately, where polution from China is starting to make its way all the way to California"...

Actually what's coming to California is more of the same politics that has driven the state into bankruptcy: California watchdog sees climate policy job losses

 
At 3/09/2010 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Earth Day founder murdered his girlfriend

Maybe long-time Earth Day advocate Ira Einhorn took the whole “recycling” thing a little too far when he “composted” his girlfriend’s remains in a trunk in his closet...

Washington Examiner

I'm surprised that the Democrats haven't yet erected a statue of him on the Washington Mall.

 
At 3/09/2010 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sumeet KD,

Is that your thumb in your mouth? Figures.

 
At 3/09/2010 2:08 PM, Anonymous Cooper said...

http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB118470650996069354-buQPf_FL_nKirvopk__GzCmNOq8_20070818.html?mod=tff_main_tff_top

http://www.nrdc.org/international/cleanbydesign/default.asp

http://www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/files/glo_09030501a.pdf

http://www.chinauseealliance.org/news_ap072806.asp

http://acmg.seas.harvard.edu/geos/meetings/2009/ppt/Wednesday/Wed_Posters_boersma_1_pc.pdf

http://acmg.seas.harvard.edu/publications/hudman2004.pdf

http://acmg.seas.harvard.edu/publications/goldstein2004.PDF

Sorry to use the web so much, don't have anything off hand. They who harvard papers are the best, but difficult to get through.

Other Good read
http://www.rcec.sinica.edu.tw/Seminar%20files/Presentation%20files/090522(John%20G.%20Watson%20&%20Judith%20C.Chow)Presentation%20files%202.pdf

 
At 3/10/2010 1:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Consider trying to find data going back to 1960. I believe you will find the percent decreases are even deeper, maybe 98%+ across the board. Remember the Cuyahoga river catching fire? I arrived into the Houston ship channel in 1966, by cargo ship, and vomited at my first breath. The city and buildings were invisible because of the ocher haze...

 
At 3/10/2010 12:07 PM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

anonymous: "Consider trying to find data going back to 1960"

I don't think such data exists at the national level. It was not until the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 that the federal government began regular reporting of air and water pollution. I believe that federal legislation in 1955 and 1963 authorized research into air pollution, but not regular reporting.

 
At 3/10/2010 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Air quality is better because of government regulation of course. Thanks for pointing out.

 
At 3/10/2010 1:16 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

Cooper, thanks for the links. Interesting reading.

 
At 3/12/2010 3:04 AM, Anonymous Wadard said...

Your graph simply shows what happens when you do something about the problem.

 

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