Our friend Steve Hayward has just released his 2011 Almanac of Environmental Trends. It brings together in one place a record of environmental achievement that is quite at odds with the claims of environmentalist doom-sayers. We have to protect the environment of course, and regulations have an important role to play in that. But the devil is in the details. As I reported in a recent Weekly Standard article, many of the rules EPA has adopted and is in the process of adopting over the last two years will have devastating economic consequences, with little environmental benefit to show for it. The greenhouse gas regulations alone will be an economic disaster:
According to some estimates, just in the next two years the new regulations could cost 1.4 million jobs and decrease U.S. business investment by 15 percent. One study estimates that GDP will be half a trillion dollars less by 2030. Another concluded the cost of gasoline will rise by 50 percent, electricity by 50 percent, and natural gas by 75 percent over the next 20 years. Transportation costs are the primary variable in food prices – so food prices will be affected. Low income Americans, who are particularly vulnerable to spikes in energy and food prices, will be hardest hit.
Contrary to what many environmentalists believe, sacrificing prosperity on the altar of environmentalism will do the environment no good at all. Economic prosperity is actually indispensable to environmental improvement — partly because environmental regulations are expensive, and only a rich society can afford them, and partly because economic activity leads to innovation which leads to greater efficiency in energy use. As Steven Hayward explains:
The ultimate reason environmental conditions in the U.S. have improved so much is economic prosperity and technological innovation. Or course regulation has played a role, but the problem is that our style of environmental regulation relates to the improvements in real conditions in much the same way that police brutality pushes down the crime rate (in other words, the EPA is the environmental equivalent of rogue cops). If you drop back and look at the data for the whole world (as I do in the Introduction to the Almanac), you will see that the nations with the best environmental conditions are those with strong property rights, economic freedom, and prosperity – three things environmentalists hate or define so narrowly as to be meaningless.