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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Saving the Environment

Saving the Environment

Most ''green'' issues are presented as choices between protecting the environment and growing the economy: You can have a logging industry or save the spotted owl. You can reduce greenhouse gases or have industrial growth. You can have clean oceans or offshore oil drilling.

Most people, however, seem to be seeking a choice that includes and rather than just or. They tell pollsters they care about the environment and fear it will get worse, yet seem torn on how to respond and unready to accept the sacrifices that some environmentalists believe are necessary.

Progress and problems
Twenty-five years ago, environmentalists could target ''point sources'' -- pollution that could be tied to a specific source, such as smokestack industries, toxic waste dumping, and ocean discharge pipes. It was a war against pollution that people could see (and frequently smell). It was also a war with significant victories. Between 1975 and 1985, for example, lead emissions in the air were reduced by 90 percent. Substantial progress has also been made on other aspects of air quality. Water quality in many lakes and streams improved.

That struggle, difficult as it was, at least had the advantage of clarity, both in the causes and the solutions. Now much environmental effort has shifted to more diffuse ''non-point'' pollution, caused by problems on a regional or even global scale. and lawns.

A recent study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned that the nation's coastlines are deteriorating to the point where they can no longer fully support marine life or human activity. It cited as an example the Gulf of Mexico's ''dead zone'' -- an area that is uninhabitable by marine life during the summer because of a lack of oxygen; in the last decade, it has doubled in size to 7,000 square miles. .

A Changing Climate
The big argument overn climate change used to be whether we really needed to worry about it –whether global warming was real, and whether "greenhouse gases" produced by fossil fuels were to blame. There are a few doubters still, but the vast majority – scientists, elected officials, even the companies that produce oil, coal, and gas – now accepts the reality of global warming. Most governments and leaders around the world have accepted this as well, including the United Nations, the European Union and, after some initial doubts, President Bush.

The scientific consensus is that the Earth is getting warmer. Global temperatures have risen a full degree Fahrenheit in the last century. The warming trend is speeding up, with seven of the eight hottest years recorded occurring since 2001. And most scientists say the warming is because of “greenhouse gases” like that come from the kinds of fuel we use most – primarily oil, (which is mostly used for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel) and coal (almost all of which is used to produce electricity). Since people in the U.S. and around the world are burning more of these so-called fossil fuels, greenhouse emissions have also increased .

Scientists say that unless we curb global warming emissions, average temperatures could be 3.2 to 7.2 degrees higher by the end of the century. We can at least slow down this warming trend by cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions, by using less fossil fuel or switching to cleaner alternatives. The impact of climate change could include coastal flooding, extreme weather, drought and social instability in many countries. The world's richest nations, the so-called G-8, have pledged to seek to cut greenhouse emissions worldwide in half by 2050, but many environmentalists argue the world has to act more quickly than that.


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