Saturday, April 23, 2016

Earthday 2016 - A Better Planet

Earthday, 2016.  A few observations on the US in 2016, compared to the first Earthday in 1970.   I started engineering classes at university in 1972, and was required to read Limits to Growth, the fatalistic, gloomy book by the Club of Rome that predicted nothing but terrible starvation, riots, wars, and choking pollution for mankind.   This article takes a look back at a few things that actually occurred in the 46 years since 1970 and the first Earthday.   Limits to Growth got everything wrong. 

Life expectancy is longer, 70.8 years in 1970 versus 78 years today.  Infant mortality is lower, murder rate per capita is lower, obesity is now a problem because food is cheap and in excess, pollution is far less, and most important, we survived the "new ice age" scare of the brutally cold winters of 1977, 78, and 79.  

We know now that nuclear power is unsafe and too expensive, after witnessing 5 reactors in 3 countries blow up or meltdown, releasing dangerous amounts of radioactivity worldwide.  Now, we have figured out reliable and low-cost wind turbines and solar PV plants to make economic, grid-scale electricity. Coal is running out, with 20 years remaining in the US and only 50 years worldwide, so we must rapidly transition 35 percent of our power production from coal to renewables. We now have cheap and dependable grid-scale energy storage.  

Oil is still cheap, and more than abundant -- $40 today is roughly $6 or $7 in 1970 -- and cars get much better gas mileage today, with 13 mpg in 1970 but 33 mpg in 2015. Gasoline cost at the pump was $0.36 per gallon in 1970, and after inflation, is about the same at $2.50 per gallon today.  Pollution per car is far less, after the oil refining industry developed improved gasolines and car makers were required to install catalytic converters.   Traffic fatalities are far fewer today, with 52,000 deaths in 1970 compared to 32,000 in 2013, yet there are far more vehicles with more miles traveled today.   The fatalities per million miles driven has fallen from 5.2 to 1.1 (per  NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis).  

Natural gas is also cheap and more than abundant.  In 1970, natural gas was $0.59 per million Btu, the equivalent today of $3.60.   However, today's natural gas is much cheaper in inflation-adjusted terms, about half at $1.80 per million Btu.  

We have an entire industry devoted to recycling waste materials, including glass, aluminum, other metals, plastics, and paper.  Environmental laws and enforcement resulted in much cleaner air, waterways, and far less trash on public roadsides.  No-smoking laws now exist and are enforced in many states, with a complete ban on smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars, and many public venues such as sports stadiums. 

It's a much better world in a lot of ways, with personal computers, smart phones, cellular telephone service, the Internet, and Amazon delivers. 

Happy Earth Day.

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

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