My son, Thomas (a sixth grader), has a homework assignment today: write an essay entitled “What Earth Day Means to Me.” I will help him out with my own essay.
Earth Day, to me, means an opportunity to express thanks for all the ways that capitalism makes our lives and environment cleaner and healthier.
I’m thankful for the automobile, which has cleaned our streets and highways of animal feces, which is both foul and filthy itself, and that attracts flies that spread it into our homes and workplaces.
I’m thankful for the automobile also because it allows us to travel in a cleaner environment than we had when we traveled on horseback or in buggies. Modern automobiles cool or heat the air immediately surrounding their passengers, making these passengers comfortable and, in summer, less sweaty and stinky.
I’m thankful for air-conditioning that keeps our interior environments not only comfortable but more healthy, as it allows us to better keep insects out of our homes, shops, factories, and offices — and also, in humid places, to dramatically reduce the growth of mold and mildew in our homes.
I’m thankful for indoor plumbing. (The anti-polluting properties here are too obvious to spell out. Ditto for disposable diapers — yet another product for which I’m most grateful.)
I’m thankful for the inexpensive soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, dental floss, toilet tissue, and plastic bandages and other first-aid items that make it possible for us to de-pollute our persons regularly.
I’m thankful for electronic appliances, such as those that (along with modern detergents – for which I’m also thankful) allow us to clean our used clothing and dirty dishes — clean these more deeply and more thoroughly than was possible in the past without spending multiples of the time on such tasks that we spend on these tasks today. These appliances enable us to recycle our clothing and our dishes for many reuses.
I’m thankful for electricity for making these appliances possible – and for enabling us to light our home without dirty candles, and for enabling us to heat our homes without coal, wood, peat, or other filthy substances.
I’m thankful for plastics, which very effectively and at very low costs allow us to keep bacteria confined. A plastic storage bag, for example, keeps food bacteria confined to the interior of the bag.
I’m thankful for refrigeration for retarding the growth of bacteria and, hence, keeping our foods cleaner and healthier.
I’m thankful for chemical fertilizers that increase the productivity of the earth’s soil, and thereby helps to prevent malnutrition — which, in turn, better enables each of our bodies to succeed at fighting off diseases that are more likely to sicken, or even kill, malnourished persons.
I’m thankful for factories (and the fuels that power them) that make possible things such as modern textiles — modern textiles that enable even poor people in market societies to own many changes of clean clothing.
I’m thankful for modern insecticides and cleansers that help to protect us from bugs and bacteria that would otherwise pollute our environments.
I am, in short, thankful for private-property markets that are the main driving force behind these (and many other) anti-pollutants — a force so powerful that we today enjoy the incredible luxury of being able to worry, should we so choose, about very distant and very speculative forms of environmental problems such as species loss and global warming.