Myths, Lies and Straight Talk

And today, we complain about work, forgetting that in the old days most Americans worked on farms.

We romanticize the farm, but life on the farm 75 to 100 years ago wasn't so wonderful. "One of the reasons people left the farms," according to Moore, "was because their lives were so tough and it was back-breaking toil."

Mines were worse, and life in the factories was hardly any better.

And we still have poverty, but in recent years, what Americans call poverty has changed. Some people living at the poverty line have apartments with cable television and microwave ovens. So, we are making progress for every segment of our society.

And finally we worry a lot about pollution. But the air is actually getting cleaner.

"Fifty years ago," Moore noted, "many American cities had permanent black fogs over them." All emissions have been cut 48 percent since 1970. Every major air pollutant is down dramatically. And lakes and rivers are cleaner too.

People still joke about the rivers that surround my home in New York City. The East and Hudson Rivers were once disgusting. After all, millions of people live here and when they flushed, all of it went directly, untreated, to the rivers.

But now treatment plants clean the sewage, so the rivers around Manhattan are 98 percent cleaner than 30 years ago. Even within sight of the Empire State Building, within a short distance of millions of people flushing, I'm willing to jump into the Hudson River.

It's cold. And officials do fish, on average, two bodies out of the river every year. But it is clean enough that it's now legal to swim here.

Moore sums it up nicely, "Every generation has always felt like things are getting worse rather than getting better, when in fact every objective standard of life on Earth and safety and health is showing much improvement. We should feel so lucky to be alive today."

This report originally aired on "20/20" Jan. 23, 2004.

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