Pope Frances’ encyclical, Laudato Si’, refers vaguely to ‚??the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life,‚?Ě which he blames on ‚??consumerism‚?Ě and ‚??globalization,‚?Ě which, he says, are harming the poor.
Is that true?
Regarding soil and water, in the U.S., the National Centers for Environmental Information maintains a series of environmental indicators for various risks. The environmental indicator for runoff risk for drinking water has not increased, but decreased sharply — by 60 percent from 1973-74 to 1996-97, the latest period for which data is posted. Likewise, soil erosion on cropland is not increasing, but decreasing, having declined 41 percent between the first (1982) and most recent (2010) Natural Resources Inventory.
Likewise, according to the EPA, US air quality has improved dramatically. In 1980-2013, ground-level ozone was down 33 percent, nitrogen dioxide 54-60 percent, sulfur dioxide 81 percent, carbon monoxide 84 percent, and lead 92 percent. Particulate matter was down 34 percent in just 2000-2013. In Air Quality in America, Joel M. Schwartz and Steven F. Hayward show that available data going back to 1900 document that air quality was improving at the same rates even before passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. (No wonder environmentalists have switched to calling carbon dioxide ‚?? the breath of life for plants ‚?? a ‚??pollutant.‚?Ě)
Globally, the United Nations’ 2014 Millenium Development Goals Report documents similar news:
¬∑ The WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation reports that from 1990 to 2010, the share of the world’s people without sustainable access to safe drinking water was cut in half, meeting its goal five years ahead of schedule. In 1990-2012, the share of the world‚??s population with access to an improved water source increased from 76 to 89 percent, meaning that more than 2.3 billion people gained access to an improved source of drinking water.
¬∑ Meanwhile in developing regions, the proportion of undernourished people decreased from 24 percent in 1990‚??1992 to 14 percent in 2011‚??2013. From 1990 to 2012, the proportion of the world’s children under the age of five who were estimated to be stunted ‚?? having inadequate height for their age ‚?? declined from 40 to 25 percent.
¬∑ Perhaps most important, in 1990-2013, the global adult mortality rate declined from 198 to 152 per 1000 population. The mortality rate for children under age five dropped almost 50 per cent, from 90 to 48 per 1,000 live births in 1990-2012. The maternal mortality ratio dropped by 45 percent between 1990 and 2013, from 380 to 210 deaths per 100,000 live births. Globally, life expectancy in 1990-2013 increased by 6 years, to age 71. In Africa, it increased more than twice as fast, by 8 years in 2000-2013.
The Pope’s encyclical emphasized traditional Christian concern for the poor, but attacked globalization, which is responsible for the unprecidented improvement in the condition of the world’s poor in recent decades. Capitalism has done more for the poor in the past ten years than charity has done throughout all of history.
The liberal Fareed Zakaria, writing in the Washington Post, praised the Pope’s embrace of global warming hysteria, yet even he admitted, ‚??The encyclical is gloomy. But in fact, remarkable changes are taking place that could put the planet on a much more sustainable path.‚?Ě
Mark LaRochelle is a science journalist in Washington, DC, and former director of publications for the Science & Environmental Policy Project, where he assisted Dr. S. Fred Singer, emeritus professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Virginia. Mr. LaRochelle has reported on environmental science for a number of publications over 20 years.