AEI Touts the Pollution Puppy as the World Warms

Some kids believe in Santa Claus, others believe in the Easter Bunny. And some people believe in the Pollution Puppy.

The WHAT? The Pollution Puppy.

Surely you’ve heard of it.

The Pollution Puppy is a wonderful, magical, cuddly critter that bounds around the country, gobbling up air pollution and slobbering on industry leaders until they agree (laughing all the while) to reduce pollution.

When it isn’t busy cleaning up our air and water, the Pollution Puppy lives over at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where Mark Perry recently pointed to U.S. air pollution reductions as evidence that left unto themselves (and the Pollution Puppy), polluters will as a matter of course clean up the environment. Uh-huh. I LOVE the Pollution Puppy. Isn’t he wonderful?  

Except that, as several others have already pointed out, the Pollution Puppy isn’t real (and, full disclosure: Mark Perry doesn't mention him.) The most obvious flaw in Perry’s argument is that the force he credits with improving air quality - “significant improvements in overall energy efficiency of the U.S. economy” – didn’t happen in a vacuum, or because of puppy slobber.

Business responds to pressures such as cost, market opportunity and so on, and tailors strategies and investments accordingly. But if there’s no real pressure to reduce pollution – for instance, if you can dump as much as you want into the atmosphere for free – there’s not much incentive to focus on reducing it.

Which is why levels of the major pollutants in the US didn’t start falling until after the Congress passed the Clean Air Act, its several amendments, and a bunch of additional environmental legislation.

Speaking of such legislation, Perry's post is a stunning example of the pot calling the kettle black. He complains that statements enviros made in 1970 about the damage air pollution would do didn't come true. Duh. Because the point was what would happen if Congress didn't act. In these cases, Congress did.

The fact is that when it comes to outlandish claims that are actually proven false, well, the polluter posse definitely has us enviros beat. As I’ve mentioned in blog posts before.

Fact is, whenever Congress or the EPA considers measures to protect public health from pollution of one kind or another, you can expect to hear hysterical claims about how the proposed regulations cause severe damage to the US economy (not to mention objections based on the technical impossibilities of cleaning up.) We heard it when the EPA moved to remove lead from gasoline; when Congress proposed strengthening our clean air laws in the 1970s and 1990s and when Congress tightened up laws to prevent oil spills. There are more examples, but you get the idea.  And time and again, predictions of economic devastation turn out to be way overblown.

But Perry is also proven wrong by the case of carbon dioxide. Scientists began voicing concerns about it well before the first Earth Day. In fact, in a special message to Congress in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson warned that “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

However, Congress hasn’t taken action on it. So global warming pollution from the US is on a steady upward trend (notwithstanding 2008 when high gas prices and the crumbling economy contributed to a momentary decline).

Without US leadership, there’s little hope of reversing course on global emissions either.

So it doesn’t come as a surprise that the New York Times is reporting today that

The last decade was the warmest on record, the World Meteorological Organization said in a report on Thursday. The finding by the association, a United Nations agency, corroborates research by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which has already said that its measurements show that the period from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest since modern instrumental recording of temperatures began in the 1850s.

Well, maybe the Pollution Puppy is getting too hot to do any more bounding around. Which means its time to get serious about realistic solutions.