by Melanie Hart and Jeffrey Cavanagh
This Earth Day is a great opportunity to take stock of the progress we are making around the world on environmental protection. Here in the United States, much can be learned by comparing our environmental progress to China, where they are just now starting down a path we took back in 1970.
Taking stock of our environmental progress is particularly important in an election year, when some politicians and political hopefuls are pointing to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as an example of wasteful government spending and overregulation. The reality is that our regulatory system is what separates us from the citizens in China, where air pollution and lead poising are the norm and environmental problems corrode the quality of life in ways that we have not faced in decades.
We certainly hope China manages to address its environmental problems, not only for the sake of the Chinese people but also because China’s problems harm us as well. China is now the largest contributor to global carbon dioxide pollution, and jet streams are bringing some Chinese pollution to the United States. Mercury emissions from China’s coal-fired power plants are building up in U.S. watersheds, for example, and particulate pollution from China appears to be inhibiting rain and snow production and reducing water supplies in some California cities.
At the moment, however, our environmental protection regime is far superior to China’s, which gives us a competitive edge. Our children are growing up healthier and arguably smarter (since lead and mercury poisoning impairs brain development), and we will probably live longer and face lower cancer risks. Our environmental regulations give U.S. businesses more incentives to innovate and develop cleaner, more efficient production processes that will be fueling our economy long after China’s current high-polluting factories close their doors. We fought hard to build up the system that is now bringing these benefits, and it is not something we want to give up.