April 13, 2004
One more time the calendar rolled around and it is time to celebrate "Earth Day". We do have a lot to celebrate. Of course, there are some people that will whine around about urban spread, and dirty air. Fortunately for us when we examine the facts, they don't really have a case.
The overriding fact is that developed countries such as the U.S. are making steady improvement in the environment. You see, cost is the main reason why the developing world is heavily polluted. When it is a choice between food and clean air, food will win every time. With economic growth people can afford to invest in environmental quality. And contrary to what many people believe, we are making dramatic progress.
Did you realize that we have more trees, more forest land than we had a hundred years ago? Go back 200 years and we cut down the trees and plowed up all the hills in the eastern U.S. to raise food.
But today, many of these acres have reverted back to trees. Reverting at the rate of 2M acres per year. It is simply more economical to farm the plains of the Mid West. Another little appreciated fact is that only 4.8% of our land mass is covered by urban and suburban development or roads. All the while our farms are producing more food than ever before.
Air quality has improved by 25% over the last 30 years. Ethanol has helped clean up the air in many cities.
We are fishing lakes and streams today that 50 years ago were so polluted that you couldn't find any fish. I am proud to say that the Conservation Reserve program was passed when I was Secretary of Agriculture. That program sets aside more than 30 million acres of fragile, erosive land for wildlife and grasses.
As I gaze across the field on my farm and watch the com planter in the distance, as I pick up the rich soil in my hand and sift the dirt between my fingers, I'm confident that we can be very proud of our commitment to the environment on Earth Day 2004.
Until next week. I am John Block from Washington.