Forty years ago, the Club of Rome produced a best-selling report warning humanity that its escalating wants were on a collision course with the world’s finite resources and that the only way to avoid a crash was to stop chasing economic growth. The predictions proved spectacularly wrong. But the environmental alarmism they engendered persists, making it harder for policymakers to respond rationally to real problems today.
(v1ctory_1s_m1ne / flickr)
ENVIRONMENTALISTS DO NOT OPPOSE GROWTH
In 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law, launching one of the most successful public health and environmental programs in history. In the first decade that followed, in Los Angeles, the amount of pollution from ozone -- the main component of smog -- exceeded government health standards on 200 days each year. By 2004, that number had dropped to 28 days. In the 1970s, also as a result of polluted air, nearly 90 percent of American children had lead in their blood at levels higher than what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deemed safe, and parents were alarmed by studies showing that lead interfered with cognitive development. Today, only two percent of children have such high levels of lead in their bodies.
By controlling hazardous emissions, the Clean Air Act delivered these and many other health benefits. And it did so without curbing economic growth. The United States' GDP has risen by 207 percent since the law was passed over four decades ago. And because the law sparked innovation -- from catalytic converters, which convert toxic exhaust fumes from automobiles into less dangerous substances, to smokestack scrubbers -- pollution reductions have proved relatively inexpensive. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for every dollar the United States has spent on cutting pollution through the Clean Air Act, it has gained more than $40 in benefits.
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