February 20, 2003
If you care about the environment, your symbolic color should be not green but blue. First of all, over two-thirds of the planet's surface is blue, and represents a major environmental challenge: Even with all that water, over a billion people still lack clean water to drink. Second, blue has a political meaning. Where people are poor, environmental conditions tend to be abysmal; and if the 20th century proved anything, it was that the best way to end poverty isn't red--the color of socialism--but blue, the color of liberty, personal initiative, and enterprise.
"Blue Environmentalism" is the way we should build on the stunning success of the environmental movement of the past 30 years... Some of the most important changes in man's environment are in fact rarely discussed as "environmental issues." Among these are (1) the progress of hygiene, which led in the early 20th century to the sanitation movement for the removal of human wastes; (2) the replacement of the horse by the automobile, which removed the excrement of 3.4 million horses from urban streets; and (3) the advent of natural gas and electricity, which replaced age-old methods of burning wood and fossil fuels in thousands of stoves and open fireplaces in crowded urban dwellings.
These developments created a vastly cleaner America. Consider, for example, the saga of the American horse. In 1900, there were 20.4 million horses in the U.S.; these horses had a combined transport capacity that equaled three-quarters of the carrying capacity of all U.S. railroads. But there were problems: The average horse required about 39 pounds of food per day, or five tons per year; to grow that food removed some 25 percent of all U.S. farmland, or 93 million acres, from all other agricultural use; and each horse produced about 12,000 pounds of manure and 400 gallons of urine per year--with particularly toxic results in congested urban areas. The change in technology from horse to automobile was a great blessing for healthfulness and cleanliness, and it salvaged more than 90 million acres of good land for other productive uses.
In America over the past century, about 500 million acres have reverted to woodland...One New York State wildlife biologist has been quoted as saying: "Most Easterners don't realize it, but they live in a huge forest." Wildlife species once thought endangered have been prospering. Deer have increased to 20 million, more than in George Washington's day; black bears number 150,000, and elk over 700,000. In a word, the fauna are flourishing as seldom before, even in the parts of America usually thought to be the most urban and densely populated.
Michael Novak is the George Frederick Jewett Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Read the rest of this article on the American Enterprise Institute website.