Prior to regulations such as the Clean Air Act enacted in 1970 (and then amended in 1977 and 1990), air pollution was a source of a wide variety of health problems across the country. Environmental protections enacted by Congress have set air quality standards for pollutants like ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and more. These standards have improved the health of both people and the environment. We still have progress to make, particularly with carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution and other common air pollutants. We must also protect current laws that that appear to be at risk under America’s new administration. It is essential that we be active, letting our legislators know how vital it is to keep these important protections in place.
As the Native American Water Protectors teach us, “Water is Life!” We seek to protect the safety and health of our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Our water and aquatic ecosystems are under a variety of threats, including (just to name a few) industrial pollutants, pipeline failures, invasive species, eutrophication, ocean acidification, and overfishing. Not only does the average person rely heavily on both the availability of affordable, clean drinking water and the health of surrounding ecosystems, so does the American economy as a whole. We must also support a rigorous EPA effort to test and address problems in our drinking water, especially in light of the conditions in Flint, Michigan and many other cities across the country.
The indisputable convergence of scientific evidence showing the impact CO2 and other pollutants have on the planet makes clear the need to drastically reduce our use of carbon fuels. Already, human activity has brought about significant climate change, and we are seeing its effects. If we don’t take action as a nation and as a planet, negative impacts are sure to worsen, including accelerating extinction rates, sea level rise and loss of waterfront property, drought and food uncertainty, propagation of disease, more climate refugees, political instability, more frequent and severe wildfires and tropical storms, and so much more. There is no person or aspect of human society that will not somehow be affected by climate change.
Please read this article in Scientific American Magazine about the undeniable reality of climate change:
We are currently living through what many call the sixth mass extinction, with only five others taking place since the dawn of life on this planet. There has not been this rate of die-outs since the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, or when the dinosaurs disappeared from earth. It is natural for some species to go extinct and ecosystems are often able to adapt if a single species dies out. The problem is that human activity is causing extinctions at a rate thousands of times greater than what is natural. Like a jenga tower, the loss of a few pieces is fine, but too many brings about complete and rapid collapse. So long as humans need food on our plates, ground under our feet, and air in our lungs, we are dependant on the earth’s natural systems. This means that if the loss of earth’s biodiversity is too great, we will be just as threatened as anything else on this planet.
Our Wild Places and our National Parks & National Monuments
America’s first national parks were established by Republican president Theodore Roosevelt to help preserve this nation’s most awe-inspiring natural spaces. Today, there are 392 places under the National Park Service’s care, including both nature preserves and historical sites. The parks are overwhelmingly popular with the public. In addition to protecting iconic species and immeasurably valuable areas, our parks give people a chance to connect with nature and history. Unfortunately, numerous forces threaten these important national parks. Problems arise from both unintentionally propagated forces, such as invasive species and climate change, and political decisions, like lack of funding and the increased pressure to mine, drill, and develop in and around national parks. The fact that some members of Congress have taken actions to weaken the National Park Service’s protections has not helped. Once a natural space or priceless historical site is severely damaged, it is nearly impossible to completely restore it. We may soon find that what is lost due to short-sightedness is then gone forever.
Carbon Fuel Pipelines
Pipelines are used to transport crude oil and other hazardous substances all across the continental U.S. There are two main concerns with pipelines, the first being the possibility of leaks or explosions, which can result in polluted drinking water and injuries (some fatal). These events happen surprisingly often (see articles linked below) , and the results can be catastrophic when they do. Leaks can potentially release hundreds of thousands of gallons of fuel into the surrounding land and water. This threatens the health and safety of both the environment and the people. The second problem is that we should not be using this oil in the first place. Given the effects climate change will have on Americans, it would be much better to focus our resources on developing clean energy rather than building infrastructure to harvest more oil.
Learn more in these articles about:
- List of pipeline accidents since 2000
- 5 year map of pipeline leaks (2010 – 2015)
- Aging pipeline infrastructure
Hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) is used to better access oil and natural gas by pumping a high-pressure water mixture into the ground in order to break up the rocks and release the fuel. There are many issues with fracking, one of which being the immense amount of water that is required. This water is a problem even when the drillers are done with it. The wastewater is dealt with by injecting it deep into the earth, which can cause an increase in earthquakes (though this can be avoided if certain precautions are taken). There have also been instances of leaks releasing toxic chemicals such as methanol, diesel, and carcinogens into drinking water supplies. Proponents of fracking often argue that using natural gas emits far less carbon than coal. This is true, but fracking increases emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas much more powerful than CO2. The idea that fracking reduces our greenhouse gas emissions is a myth.
Nobody can deny that the use of fossil fuels has greatly helped western society to advance and drastically improve the lives of everyone living in wealthy countries. However, to advocate for coal and oil is to desperately cling to a flawed and dirty past. Not only is the continued use of these energy sources enormously dangerous, given their creation of global climate change, but it is also bad economic policy. As governments, businesses, and consumers have increasingly come to understand that renewables are the way of the future, the clean energy industry has grown remarkably. Other nations such as China, India, and Europe have already begun investing heavily in their renewable energy economies. When the United States fails to do the same, it risks being left behind. Embracing renewable energy is one of the best ways to ensure we have a healthy global ecosystem and a powerful, stable economy.
To learn more about the jobs created by renewable energy, please read this article.