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Environmental experts celebrate Earth Day 2022 success stories – WABE

With climate change, plastic pollution, and a possible sixth mass extinction, humanity has made some incredible disturbances to the world.

But when people, political factions and nations have pulled together, they have also cleared up some of the most human-caused environmental problems, including fixing the ozone hole, cleaning up forever hazy air, and killing many species. saving it from the brink of extinction.

“We can be good at cleaning up our mess, it’s whether or not we want to be and what we prioritize,” said Michigan State University environmental sustainability researcher Sherrill Kirshenbaum.

For Earth Day, observed annually on April 22, the Associated Press asked more than 25 environmental scientists and policy experts, including two former US Environmental Protection Agency chiefs and the current director of the United Nations Environment Program, to discuss environmental problems. Ask to share your top stories about that the world is fixed.

“There are some surprising success stories,” said Stanford University environmental scientist Rob Jackson. “It’s easy for us to get tunnel vision with everything going wrong, and there’s a lot that needs to change quickly. But it’s wonderful to remind ourselves that in the past other people have succeeded and society has succeeded too.” Both nationally here in the US and internationally.

Here are the four successes mentioned most often and one important aspect that so many ecological victories have in common.

ozone hole treatment

Fixing ozone depletion was by far the top choice of scientists, officials and environmental policy experts.

“This was a moment where countries that typically compete with each other, understood the collective threat and decided to implement solutions,” former EPA chief Carol Brower said in an email.

In the 1970s, scientists discovered that a certain class of chemicals, often used in aerosol sprays and refrigeration, were depleting the protective ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere that protects against harmful ultraviolet radiation linked to skin cancer. Protects the planet.

Jason West, an atmospheric scientist at the University of North Carolina, said the ozone layer was thinning everywhere, creating a hole over Antarctica that not only led to an increase in skin cancer cases, but cataracts and widespread changes in ecosystems. .

“It’s the first time we created a planet-killing problem and then we changed that and solved it,” said Stanford’s Jackson.

In 1987, the world’s countries signed the Montreal Protocol, the first treaty of its kind that banned ozone-depleting chemicals. At this point every country in the world that has adopted the treaty has phased out 99% of the ozone-depleting chemicals, Inger Andersen, director of the United Nations Environment Program, said in an email, “Each year two million people are exposed to the skin. Prevents cancer.”

The ozone hole over Antarctica worsened for a few decades, but it has slowly started to recover over the years. The United Nations Environment Program estimates that ozone will “fully recover” by 2030.

While activists point to the Montreal Protocol as a hope and example for the fight against climate change, it is not quite the same. In the case of banned ozone-sapping chemicals, the corporations that make them also made their replacements. But with climate change, “it’s an existential threat to oil and gas companies,” Jackson said.

clean air and water

In the United States and most of the industrialized world, the air is much cleaner and cleaner than it was 50 or 60 years ago, when major cities such as Los Angeles were choked with haze and even more dangerous fine particles in the air. And lakes and rivers were dumping grounds, especially around Ohio, Michigan and Canada.

“When I was little we used to go to Lake Erie … and play on the beach and there were dead fish everywhere. We’ll have dead fish fights,” Stanford’s Jackson said.

In the United States the Clean Air Act of 1970 and EPA regulations issued in 1990 “effectively clean our air,” said UNC’s West. One such law was passed in 1972 for water.

“This has led to fewer health conditions such as cancer and asthma, and has saved millions of lives and trillions of dollars in health care costs,” said Sam Tuttle, a professor of environmental science at Syracuse University. “It means healthier people, more productive fisheries and a healthier and more attractive environment for all of us to enjoy.”

Tighter restrictions on small particles alone reduced annual US air pollution deaths “from about 95,000 in 1990 to 48,000 in 2019,” West said.

In 1955 in Los Angeles, smog levels reached 680 parts per billion. Over the years, they hit 185 parts per billion, but are usually much smaller.

It’s not just the outside air. Former EPA chief William K. Reilly and Sacoby Wilson, an environmental health scientist at the University of Maryland, said that restricting smoking indoors has had a huge impact on public health.

On the water, Brown University environmental scientist J. Timmons Roberts also grew up on Lake Erie and stopped going into the water because of the dead fish: “Regulations and cooperation between the US and Canada really made a difference and now there is real eco-tourism out there and thousands of walleyes and volleys every summer. Other fishermen leave.”

solar and wind power

The steep fall in the prices of solar and wind power, which do not produce heat-trapping gases, has surprised experts and given them hope that the world could wean itself from coal, oil and natural gas that are globally ubiquitous. cause warming.

According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, from 2010 to 2020, the price of residential solar power declined by 64% and the price of large-scale utility solar power generation declined by 82%.

Solar “is becoming a major energy technology and it’s getting cheaper,” Jackson said. “It’s cheaper than almost all other forms of electricity generation.”

Few thought that just ten years ago solar and wind prices would drop so quickly, Jackson, Kirshenbaum and others said.

Experts credit renewable energy subsidies, especially in Germany and the United States, for pulling the world out of the Great Recession of 2008.

extinct species

The existence of the bald eagle, American alligator, peregrine falcon, Canadian goose and humpback whale are each environmental success stories.

All were once on the verge of extinction, having been placed on the endangered species list for conservation. Now they are all on the protected list and in some cases they are so abundant that people consider them a nuisance or they cause problems for other species.

“Conservation efforts are bringing some endangered species back from the brink,” said ecologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University. “We’re learning to do this thing called conservation.”

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has removed 96 species from the endangered species list, 65 of them recovered.

Experts credit regulations and laws around the world for restricting the killing and trade of endangered species and preventing the destruction of habitats important to those critters and plants.

Another important change was a ban on the pesticide DDT, which reverberates through the food chain, thinning the eggs of eagles, peregrine falcons and other birds of prey, said Robert Howarth, a professor of environmental biology at Cornell University.

help

In the United States, many of these major successes were inspired by laws and actions taken by the Republican administrations of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George HW Bush.

“All of these major milestones, including the creation of the EPA, were bipartisan, but unfortunately we are not able to accomplish that stuff today,” said Christy Todd Whitman, who was EPA chief during a Republican presidency. “Sadly, Republicans no longer care about these issues – everything is so ultra-partisan now that (the GOP) appears to be Neanderthal on the environment.”

Kirshenbaum, a former Congressional staffer and director of Science Debate, said that often when a Republican is president, the rest of the country moves to the left and becomes more conducive to environmental action, while they move to the right during Democratic administrations. and become more complacent from an environmental point of view. Experts said cooperation and procurement from all sides on larger issues is important.

The Treaty to Heal the Ozone Hole is an example of what can be achieved by working together, Syracuse Tuttle said: “This agreement proved that the international community is the only one to tackle an environmental problem of global importance.” can come together to create an implementable framework.”


https://apnews.com/hub/climate . Follow up on Associated Press’s climate coverage


Associated Press climate and environmental coverage is supported by a number of private foundations. See more about Associated Press’s climate initiative here. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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