Coloring the Data

Pete du Pont

So many federal agencies have been exposed falsifying environmental data that you have to wonder how many other frauds remain undetected. First came the December revelation that employees of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service had planted fake wild lynx hair in states where there were no lynx, so that the areas could be labeled critical habitat, and thus off limits to human use.

Then came the National Academy of Sciences' findings that shut off water to 1,000 farms in the Klamath Lake Basin in Oregon and California—all to save the suckerfish. That turned out to be based on faulty science too. Farms disappeared and people suffered because the Endangered Species Act had been invoked based on junk—or maybe political—science.

In February the Forest Service admitted that it had erroneously reported 920 million national-forest visitors in 2000. The correct figure was 209 million, not exactly a rounding error.

By March it had to confess to another misrepresentation. Court documents showed the Forest Service had knowingly used false data on spotted-owl habitats to prevent logging in a California forest. "Arbitrary, capricious and without rational basis" was how the judge characterized the service's actions.

So why the lying? It seems deceit is the only way the greens can advance their Luddite agenda. They are ideologically inspired to try to limit, slow and if possible stop economic growth, for they believe that prosperity is harmful to the environment. But our nation's and the world's environments are getting better all the time, in fact so much better so much faster that it is hard to wave the green shirt based on honest data. Subterfuge and misrepresentation are thus left to energize the greens' antiprosperity cause.

Consider fossil fuel consumption and its resulting pollution. The Cato Institute recently reported that since the first Earth Day, in 1970, "energy consumption has risen 41 percent, most of it from fossil fuels. But during that same period sulfur-dioxide emissions . . . have dropped by 39 percent . . .; volatile organic compounds . . . by 42 percent; carbon monoxide emissions . . . have dropped by 28 percent; and large particulate-matter emissions . . . by 75 percent." Not much of an environmental crisis in these data.

And if the environmental alarmists are right, how come we're not running out of food, minerals or oil? Leading environmental groups preach that the globe's natural resources are being so depleted that the human race's very existence will soon become impossible, both economically and environmentally. The truth is just the opposite. Bjorn Lomborg's seminal book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, details the facts: Since 1960 world grain production has increased to 680 pounds per capita from 560, and grain prices have fallen. Per capita daily calorie intake in the developing world has grown to nearly 2,700 from 1,900, and we work fewer hours to buy the food we eat. Poverty is declining and life expectancy is increasing. Proven global oil reserves have increased by a factor of 20. Production of copper, to take one non-energy resource, has increased to over 12 million tons in 2000 from two million tons in 1950. Not much to worry about here either.

As for global warming, several things are agreed: The temperature on the surface of the earth rose in the 20th century, and man burned more fossil fuels during that time. And that's about it, for it is not at all clear that the two are linked. Most of the warming occurred early in the century, before the surge in man-made gasses, and as Canada's Fraser Institute's 2001 study concluded, "There is no clear evidence of the effect of CO2 on global climate, either in surface temperature records of the past 100 years, or . . . balloon radio-sondes over the last 40 years, or [from] satellite experiments over the last 20 years." In fact, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies now reports that global warming has slowed so much that temperature increases predicted for 2050 won't happen until 2100.

And the population explosion? Well, the threat is not of escalating birthrates but that in many countries—Italy, Russia and Germany, to name a few—they have fallen so far below the replacement rate that there soon won't be enough workers to support their economies and welfare programs. The U.N. reports that as of 2000, "44 percent of the world's population now lives in countries where the birth rate was below the death rate." It is below the replacement rate in others, so within a few decades the world's population will be in decline. In any case, the entire population of the world could fit in Texas, with each person enjoying 1,200 square feet of individual space.

So the rhetoric and proposals of the green organizations that make their living and raise their money through predictions of cataclysmic catastrophe are far divorced from reality.

The world is a different place than the environmentalists would have us believe. Prosperity is increasing and so pollution is decreasing, because it is prosperity, not increased regulation, that enables a society to support sound environmental policies. Poverty has been reduced more in the last 50 years than in the previous 500, according to the U.N. Yet with all the industrialization, energy generation, economic expansion and uncontrolled growth that made poverty reduction possible, the environment is still improving. Fewer cries of environmental catastrophe and more advocacy of growth and prosperity would encourage a cleaner world.

Meanwhile over at the Fish and Wildlife offices, it's ethics that's facing extinction.

Mr. du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, is policy chairman of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis