Environmental False Alarms

Article excerpt

In his new book, Collapse, Jared Diamond begins with a chapter on my home state of Montana. Although painting a romantic picture of "Big Sky Country," he decries environmental tragedies including toxic mining waste, forest fires, soil exhaustion, water shortages, and invasive species.

Diamond blames these environmental perils on miners, loggers, and farmers who "behaved as they did because the government required almost nothing of them" and because they were businesspeople maximizing profits.

Reading his gloom and doom chapter, one wonders why Ted Turner, Charles Schwab, and friends are buying land in Montana. The reason is that Montana's environment is not as trashed as alarmist Diamond would have us believe.

Here are the facts about Montana. You can drink from almost any stream without concern for toxic wastes, though you might worry about giardia from burgeoning elk herds. You can view millions of acres of spectacular forests--many on private lands. Farms remain productive, and lands mined at the turn of the century are being reclaimed. In short, Montana's environment is getting better, not worse.

The same holds generally in the developed world. From 1970 to 2000, for example, concentrations of carbon monoxide fell by 75 percent in the United States and by 95 percent in the United Kingdom. From 1975 to 2000, nitrogen oxides declined by 35 percent in the United States and by 40 percent in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, we in the United States are actually sequestering as much carbon through improved agricultural techniques, healthy forests, and sealed landfills as we are adding to the atmosphere's greenhouse gases. …