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The Ecology

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Are There Any Answers? But What Can I Do About It? So what can one person do? LOTS! Water Quality Page Table of Contents . . . The Problem. Point Source Pollution. Non-Point Source Pollution

Agregado: 08 de OCTUBRE de 2001 (Por Carlo Mosse) | Palabras: 2577 | Votar! |
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    The Ecology

    Are There Any Answers?

    Does the fact that environmental protection and economic productivity are often conflicting goals mean that we must chose EITHER complete environmental protection OR material goods and services? Of course not. No reasonable person would suggest entirely abandoning either goal in favor of the other. So we must decide as a society--and in many cases as a global society--how far we want to go to protect the environment that sustains us, and how we want to go about doing so. These are not easy decisions. And they affect all of us. It is my goal to present in this site some of the tough and complex choices we face as a nation and as society of nations...not just the usual "pro" and "con" sound bites we get from TV news.

    There ARE workable solutions and compromises out there in the arena of environmental protection. Such positive outcomes have been acheived in recent years when cooler heads have prevailed over radical extremists, and when all the parties affected by some particular dilemma have gotten together to negotiate an acceptable solution. Success stories like these have domonstrated that we CAN fashion solutions that are more acceptable to everyone involved than the old approach of federal rule-making and subsequent court fights.

    The Environmental Debate

    Back to Wendy's Conservation Homepage

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    Few issues get Americans as worked up as the environment.

    On one hand are the folks who look around at the vast paved expanses of surburbia and lament the transformation of our landscape. They are concerned that current industrial and waste-disosal practices are degrading our land, air, and water, and that we are depleting our fixed supply of natural resources- minerals, fossil fuels, forests. They read reports from scientists that we are losing unprecedented numbers of species and huge areas of rain forest and coral reefs in the tropics. Most respected scientific authorities agree that human beings as a species are even altering global-scale processes and conditions like the atmosphere and climate. And then, of course, are the claims that the human population is simply too big and growing too fast for the planet's finite resources--and that some catastrophe is imminent. The people on this side of the debate are worried about pollution...about the disappearance of the last wild places on earth...about destroying our unique natural heritage of biodiversity...about tinkering with global processes that we do not understand, but that sustain our economies, our minds, our spirits.

    On the other side of the fence are those people who view environmental laws and regulations as an unnecessary and often unfair burden on the economy and on individuals. These folks bear witness to workers laid-off and economic developments stymied by environmental laws. They are moved by tales of the third generation farmer or shop owner or fisherman forced out of his trade because he can't afford to comply with all the environmental rules. This group is aggravated when arcane environmental regulations seem arbitrary and unfair...making a company foot the whole bill to clean up a toxic landfill that many parties helped to pollute...making a landower pay the price to protect a species she's never even heard of...or making a whole industry implement expensive new practices and equipment so that the level of some multi-syllabic pollutant can be lowered by .001 in the air or water. Environmental nay-sayers point out that several respected scientists do not agree that the atmosphere or climate are in trouble. The people on this side of the environmental debate doubt the validity of the environmental doomsday scenarios that have proliferated over the last 30 years--the world hasn't stopped turning yet, so how much truth can there be in all these dire predictions? Even if some of these environmental tragedies do come to pass, these folks retort, "so what?" Scientists have not been able to clearly articulate to the public the significance of their predictions. For example, most people could not say what the importance is of losing 1 species versus 10,000...of heating up the climate by 1 degree versus 10...of cutting 50 acres of rainforest versus 5,000,000. The people on this side of the environmental debate are tired of paying more for environmentally-friendly products...tired of holding up huge development projects for some obscure little endangered critter...tired of being told to recycle and not use the HOV lane...tired of a befuddling tangle of environmental red-tape that is expensive, frustrating, and ties up the courts with litigation.

    The truth is that most of us can see merit in both of these arguements. We want clean water, fresh air, and attractive, green landscapes...we want remote open spaces for recreation and spiritual rejuvination...we want pandas, whales, elephants, wolves, and eagles...we want rainforests, deserts, wetlands, coral reefs, rolling plains, and Arctic tundras...we want a life free of worry about getting sick from pesticides on food, radiation from power lines, asbestosis in schools, toxic waste in the soils, and smog overhead.

    On the other hand we also want plastics, miracle drugs, fast-food hamburgers, and dry-cleaners...we want the independance embodied in the automobile and the open road...we want disposable diapers, contact lenses, cameras, and styrofoam cups...we want strip malls with ample parking...we want cheap food, electicity, gasoline, and home heating oil...we want manicured lawns, climate control, and golf courses. As with many debates currently raging in American politics and livingrooms, the problem lies in the fact that we want it all, but reality offers us only a set of trade-offs and difficult choices.

    But What Can I Do About It?

    By educating ourselves about the reality of the issues behind the headlines; by forming educated opinions; by making careful choices when shopping and voting; and by speaking up about environmental matters in our communities, WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

    By fostering debate, extremists on both sides of these issues help us to define the problems. But an informed, level-headed, and involved public is essential in solving them.


    So what can one person do? LOTS!

    Recycle! Even if recycling isn't required where you live, you can still keep a ton of trash out of land fills by recycling! Recycling also reduces the amount of new materiels that have to be created from natural resources like trees and minerals. And, in many cases, processing recyled materials uses less energy than making things from scratch. In most communities, you can recycle: aluminum (soda cans), tin (soup cans), cardboard, newspaper, white paper, glass, and plastics numbers 1 and 2.

    Reduce your trash. Try to select products with minimal and/or recyclable packaging. Fix broken things instead of throwing them out, and re-use durable goods several times before tossing them. Choose re-usable products over disposable ones. Compost biodegradable trash. And avoid "high-trash" activities like eating fast food.

    Drive less. When going a short distance, walk or ride a bike. For the commute, opt for carpooling or public transportation. When selecting that next car, look for one with high gas mileage.

    Conserve energy and water. Turn off the TV, the faucets, and the lights when not in use. Choose energy and water efficient appliances. And DON'T do things like opening the window when it's too warm inside- turn down the heat! (Same goes for putting on a sweater when the AC is set too high!)

    Be careful with those household chemicals! Home chemicals are actually a significant souce of pollution in many communities. Dispose of old motor oil, pesticides, cleaning agents, and pool chemicals properly. DON'T dump them down the drain! And avoid putting too much fertilizer and and too many pesticides on your lawn. Your lawn will thank you, and all the extra would have washed into your local stream with the first good rain. Plus, you'll save money!

    Learn more about the environment. Read and think about environmental issues. Don't just accept the opinion of a politician or a bureaucrat or an activist. Make up your own mind about what is important, and about how we can best acheive real progress in protecting the natural world. Educate yourself about which companies are enviromentally friendly, and support their efforts. Find out how your representatives in Washington (and in your state capital) are voting on environmental issues, and let them know YOUR opinion.

    Get involved with something that matters to you. Join a conservation organization. There are many types of environment-related groups involved in everything from protesting to conserving sharks. And there are many was to become involved besides just sending a check. You can volunteer your time to pick up trash on the highways or in a park, write letters to congressmen, or teach children about nature. Explore all the ways to get involved, and pick something that excites you.

    Go outside!! This is the most important thing you can do to save the world. Learn to love it. Go for a walk in a city park. Rent a canoe or a paddle boat. Visit a national park. Take up bird watching or camping or nature photography. And bring your children. The diversity of life and the beauty of nature are truly wonders. Enjoy them.


    Water Quality


    Water Quality Page Table of Contents . . .

    The Problem

    Point Source Pollution

    Non-Point Source Pollution


    The Problem

    People have always dumped wastes into lakes, rivers, and estuaries. Why? It is easier than land-based waste disposal. The large volumes of water dilute fowl or dangerous substances. And, in rivers, currents carry away garbage, chemicals, sewage, eroded soil-- everything just washes downstream.

    This was not really a problem when the number of people in the U.S. was small. The waste generated by just a few settlers could be quickly diluted by a large river. However, like many environmental dilemmas, problems with water quality started to mount when the nation's population started to take off, an event that also coincided with a period of rapid industrialization.

    Water quality problems came as a result of exceeding the capacity of lakes and rivers to absorb and dilute pollutants. A body of water can take only so much pollution before reaching ecological melt-down. And we can no longer rely on currents to wash away the problem. There are cities, towns, wetlands, estuaries, and oceans downstream which are all affected by what is put in a river up-stream.

    By the late 1960s, America's waterways were in a terrible state. The Great Lakes lay dieing. The Cuyahoga River actually caught on fire from pollution. The Hudson, the Potomac, and countless other rivers were simply filthy. People demanded change. The Clean Water Act rode in on a tide of environmental legislation in the early 1970s.

    To a large degree, the Clean Water Act has been successful in cleaning up U.S. water bodies. Many rivers and lakes are recovering. But in some ways, water quality protection still has a long way to go. In order to understand the strenghts and weaknesses of the Clean Water Act, it is important to understand where water pollution comes from in the first place.


    Point Source Pollution

    Point sources of water pollution are institutions- industries and municipalities- that release pollutants into a body of water at a fixed location, or point. Types of point-source pollution include chemicals, toxics, heavy metals, and sewage.

    Before rushing to point a finger at "greedy industrialists," remember that a major source of point-source pollution is municipal waste water treatment facilities-- the folks on the receiveing end every time you flush the toilet. (Unless you are on a septic system, which is associated with a whole different set of environmental consequences!)

    When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, point sources were a serious threat to the health of America's water bodies. They are much more obvious than the other kind of water pollution, non-point source. In addition, point-source pollution is much easier to monitor and regulate than non-point sources are.

    For all these reasons, point-sources of water pollution were the focus of almost all the provisions of the origional Clean Water Act. Under the act, all point-source dischargers of pollution are required to get a permit from the federal government. They must follow specific rules governing the kinds and amounts pollution they may release into the water. And point-source dischargers must also make use of technologies to clean up waste water before putting it back into a river, lake, or estuary.

    Although pollution from point sources has not entirely disappeared, it has been reduced significantly as a result of the Clean Water Act. And federal regulations have evolved over the years to help towns and industries meet water quality standards at lower costs.

    A backslide in federal and state efforts to protect water quality could erode many of the gains made over the last 25 years. Without regulation, point-source dischargers would almost certainly increase the amount of pollution in our water bodies. However, at present levels of regulation, we have probably wrung just about all the water quality improvements out of point-source dischargers that we possibly can. To continue down the road of improving water quality and recovering water bodies, we must turn our efforts to non-point sources of pollution.


    Non-Point Source Pollution

    Non-point source pollution is all of the stuff that washes into the water from lawns, farms, streets, and parking lots. Types of non-point source pollution include fertilizers, pesticides, sediments from the erosion of soil, paints, oil, toxics, floatable debris (a.k.a. litter), and chemicals. No one deliberately puts these substances into the water. They just wash in with the rain.

    In many areas, water quality is still rather poor despite thorough regulation of point-source dischargers. In such cases, non-point source pollution is the culprit. Non-point sources were largely ignored by the origional Clean Water Act. But government and environmentalists are paying more and more attention to this subtle yet significant source of water pollution.

    Monitoring and regulating non-point sources of pollution are tricky. The polluting substances that wash in to the water are usually spread over a large area of land. So the first task is to find out where the pollution is coming from. It may be coming from just one or two farms. On the other hand, it may be coming from three dozen farms, a whole suburban community of lawns, or the storm runoff of a whole city!

    Although controlling non-point source water pollution is difficult, some newer efforts are meeting with some success. Some of these are:

    Working with farmers to reduce their application of fertilizers and pesticides, and helping them use technologies and practices to prevent the erosion of their top soil.

    Encouraging homeowners to reduce their use of fertilizer and pesticides on their lawns and gardens.

    Working to get urban storm overflow directed into water treatment facilities before it gets released into a river, lake, or estuary.

    Only time will tell if such efforts to control non-point sources of pollution will result in better water quality. But even if these particular methods are not enough, it is encouraging that government, environmentalists, homeowners, and farmers are increasingly aware of the problem, and are starting to do something about it.

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