Cleaner Earth: Less smog, More Eagles

Humanity has caused some major problems in the world with climate change, plastic pollution, and a sixth mass extinction.

Cleaner Earth: Less smog, More Eagles

People, nations, and political parties have come together to solve some of the human-caused environmental problems. This includes clearing the air that is constantly cloudy and healing the ozone hole. Many species have been saved from certain death.

Sheril Kirshenbaum, an environmental sustainability researcher at Michigan State University, said that "we can be good about cleaning up our messes. It's all about how we choose to prioritize it."

The Associated Press asked over 25 environmental scientists and policy specialists, including two former chiefs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the current director at the United Nations Environment Programme to share their top stories on environmental problems the world needs to fix.


Cleaner Earth: Less smog, More Eagles

By SETH BORENSTEINan hour ago

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The combination of July 1998 photos and April 2020 photos show a significant difference in the smog levels above Los Angeles' skyline. California Highway 110 is in the foreground. The world has seen some amazing calamities due to climate change, plastic pollution, and the possibility of a sixth mass extinction. However, when nations, political parties, and individuals come together, they can also address some of the human-caused environmental issues. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Humanity has caused some major problems in the world with climate change, plastic pollution, and a sixth mass extinction.

People, nations, and political parties have come together to solve some of the human-caused environmental problems. This includes clearing the ozone hole, saving many species and clearing the perpetually smoggy atmosphere.

Sheril Kirshenbaum, an environmental sustainability researcher at Michigan State University, said that "we can be good about cleaning up our messes. It's all about how we choose to prioritize it."

The Associated Press asked over 25 environmental scientists and policy specialists, including two former chiefs of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the current director at the United Nations Environment Programme to share their top stories on environmental problems the world needs to fix.

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Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford University, said that there are many amazing success stories. It's easy to become envious of all the problems, and there are many things that need to be done quickly. It's great to remember that others have succeeded in the past and that society has also succeeded, both here in the U.S. as well as internationally.

These are the top four ecological successes, and they share a key feature that many other wins have in common.

RESTORING OZONE HOLLEY

Scientists, officials, and experts in environmental policy chose to fix ozone depletion as their top priority.

Carol Browner, former chief of the EPA, stated in an email that "it was a moment when countries that normally compete with one another grasped and decided to implement a resolution."

In the 1970s, scientists discovered that certain chemicals were destroying the protective layer of ozone in Earth's atmosphere. This protects the planet against harmful ultraviolet radiation that can cause skin cancer.

According to Jason West, University of North Carolina atmospheric scientist, the ozone layer was thinning everywhere, creating an area above Antarctica that was vulnerable to increased cases of skin cancer and cataracts. This could also lead to widespread changes in ecosystems around world, West said.

Jackson from Stanford said, "It was the first time that we created a planet-killing issue and then turned around and solved."

The Montreal Protocol was a treaty that prohibited the use of ozone-munching chemical in 1987. It was the first such treaty of its kind. Inger Andersen, Director of United Nations Environment Programme, stated in an email that the treaty has been adopted by every country in the world. 99% of ozone-depleting chemical have been eliminated, saving "2 million people each year from skin cancer."

Over the past decades, the ozone hole in Antarctica has been getting worse. However, it has started to heal slowly over recent years. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the ozone " should be completely healed by 2030.

Although activists see the Montreal Protocol as a model and hope for fighting climate change it is not the same. The corporations that produced the banned ozone-sapping chemical made their replacements. Jackson stated that climate change is a more serious threat to oil and gas companies than ever.

CLEANER WATER AND AIR

The air in America and most of the industrialized countries is cleaner and more clear than it was fifty or sixty years ago, when major cities such as Los Angeles were clogged with smog and other dangerous microbes. Lakes and rivers used to be dumping grounds, especially in Ohio, Michigan, and Canada.

When I was young, my family would visit Lake Erie and play on the beaches. There would always be dead fish. Jackson from Stanford said that dead fish fights would be a regular occurrence.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 in the United States and its follow-up in 1990 with EPA regulations "effectively clean our air," UNC's West stated. Similar legislation was passed for water in 1972.

Sam Tuttle, a professor of environmental sciences at Syracuse University, stated that this has resulted in fewer diseases such as asthma and cancer, which has saved millions of lives and cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. This means that people are healthier, fisheries are more productive and the environment is more appealing for everyone.

West stated that the annual U.S. pollution deaths due to air pollution has been reduced by strict restrictions on small particles.

Los Angeles' smog levels reached 680 parts per million in 1955. They have been dropping to 185 parts per million in the past couple of years, but they are often much lower.

It's not only the air outside. Sacoby Wilson, University of Maryland environmental health scientist and former chief of the EPA, said that restricting indoor smoking has huge public health benefits.

J. Timmons Roberts, a Brown University environmental scientist and former Lake Erie resident, said that he too grew up there and had stopped going to the lake because of the dead fish. "Regulations have made a huge difference in the area and there is now genuine eco-tourism. Every summer thousands of walleyes and other fishers are out there.

SOLAR AND WIND POWER

Experts have been surprised by the steep decline in the price of solar or wind power. These products do not emit heat-trapping gasses and give them hope that the world will be able to move away from global warming-causing coal, oil, and natural gas.

According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, between 2010 and 2020, residential solar energy prices dropped 64%, while large-scale utility solar power production prices dropped 82%.

Jackson stated that solar "is rapidly becoming a dominant technology in energy generation and is becoming more affordable." It is more affordable than most other forms of electricity generation.

Jackson, Kirshenbaum, and other experts said that few people believed solar and wind prices would plummet so rapidly ten years ago.

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

ENDANGERED SPIES

Each environmental success story is the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, American alligator, humpback whales, Canada geese, American alligator, American alligator, American alligator, American alligator, American alligator.

They were all once at the edge of extinction and were placed on the endangered species protection list. They are now all on the endangered species list. In some cases, they can be considered a nuisance or a problem for other species.

Stuart Pimm, Duke University ecologist, said that conservation efforts are helping some endangered species to recover from the brink. "We are learning how to do this thing called conservation."

The U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed 96 species from the endangered species list. 65 species were taken off because they had recovered.

Experts credit laws around the globe with limiting the killing and trade of endangered species, and protecting the habitats of those animals.

Robert Howarth, Cornell University environmental biology professor, said that another important change was the banning of DDT pesticide. This caused thinning eggs in birds of prey such as eagles and peregrine falcons.

COOPERATION

Many of these important successes in the United States were fueled by legislation and actions taken by Republican administrations like Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush.

"All these major milestones including the creation the EPA were bipartisan but unfortunately today we can’t seem to get this stuff done," stated Christie Todd Whitman, a former EPA chief under a Republican presidency. "Sadly, Republicans don’t seem to care anymore about these issues -- everything is now so hyper-partisan that (the GOP) seem to be Neanderthals when it comes to the environment.

Kirshenbaum, a former staffer in Congress and director of Science Debate, stated that often when a Republican president is elected, the rest the country moves left and becomes more supportive of environmental action. Experts agree that it is important to have buy-in from all sides on big issues.

The Treaty to Heal the Ozone Hole is an example of what collaboration can achieve, Syracuse's Tuttle stated: "This agreement demonstrated that the international community could work together to create an enforceable framework for tackling an environmental problem with global significance."

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