Guess which country is the world’s largest oil producer. No, it’s not Saudi Arabia or Russia. It’s the United States, which passed Saudi Arabia in November of 2012, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration and reported in Investors Business Daily.
In 2012 American domestic output rose by an astonishing 800,000 barrels a day. That’s more than total oil production in such middling oil producers as Argentina, and the greatest single-year increase in the United States since Edwin Drake drilled the first well in 1859.
That has consequences far beyond the oil patches of Texas, Alaska, and North Dakota. In 2006, the United States imported 60 percent of its oil. In 2013, that might well fall to 30 percent. That would mean roughly a $600 million turnaround in the balance of payments per day.
The Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970, a few months after Earth Day had demonstrated to even the most obtuse politician that the American population wanted the environment cleaned up. So what has happened to the American environment in the 42 years that the EPA has been leading the cleanup effort? The environment has improved markedly.
In 1970 31 million tons of sulphur dioxide, a prime contributor to smog, was emitted into the atmosphere. In 2008 it was 11 million tons. In 1970 34 million tons of volatile organic compounds were emitted. In 2008 it was 16 million. In 1970 204 million tons of carbon monoxide; in 2008 it was 72 million. The EPA recently declared carbon dioxide a pollutant (which means we pollute the atmosphere every time we exhale). And the only major country in the world where carbon dioxide emissions are declining? The United States. We emitted less CO2 in 2012 than in 1992. Water pollution has similarly abated. Unhealthy air days in major U.S. cities these days are a rarity. Even Los Angeles had only 18 in all of 2011. Manhattan had exactly none.
The leftist critique of capitalism and all the improvements in the quality of life that it has brought remains what it has always been: the desire of intellectuals to dictate to the rest of humanity how they may live. Or even more to the point, how many of them may live at all. Thus, the latest New York Times feature about the evils of air conditioning and how the increasing demand for it in the Third World is unsustainable tells us a lot more about the left and its mindset than it does about the future of society.
The piece in the Sunday Review by Elisabeth Rosenthal at least is honest about why more air conditioning is needed. It is a major factor in productivity around the world. The economic boom in places like Singapore and other warm-weather cities was made possible in no small measure by air conditioning. As population growth and economic activity rises in other Third World cities, more AC will be needed. But for the Times, this spells environmental doom since they tell us the energy used to run the units and the emissions from the coolants will create more global warming. The answer from the left to this conundrum is typical of the sort of eco-Luddite argument we’ve been hearing for decades. People will have to learn to live without air conditioning in the same way they are told to live without the freedom that automobiles give them. Sweat more and shut up about it seems to be the mantra. But the problem with this sort of thinking is not just the arrogance of western liberals telling people to do without modern conveniences; it is that it reflects a lack of understanding of human potential.