Tuesday, September 8, 2009

News That Doesn't Depress You: Index of Leading Environmental Indicators

If pressed, would you say that pollution levels have increased or decreased since the 1970s? I bet most people would say things have gotten worse.

Well, things haven't gotten worse. The environment is a lot cleaner according to Steven Hayward's Index of Leading Environmental Indicators 2009.

The following is from the executive summary...

The year 2009 marks the anniversary of several key moments in environmental history, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker disaster, the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, and, perhaps most notoriously, the Cuyahoga River fire of June 1969. As this edition of the Index of Leading Environmental Indicators reports, the recovery of the ecosystems of both the Cuyahoga River and Prince William Sound has been nothing short of remarkable, though it seldom gets much attention in the media or from environmentalists.

Hayward reports on the Cuyahoga...

Meanwhile, how is the Cuyahoga River doing 40 years later? The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that when the Ohio State EPA began assessing fish populations in the Akron-to-Cleveland stretch of the Cuyahoga in the 1980s, the field biologists would often come back with a count of 10 fish or less. Not 10 species, but 10 actual fish. But when biologists visited the same stretch last summer, they found 40 different species now thriving in the Cuyahoga, including steelhead trout and northern pike. Steve Tuckerman of the Ohio EPA told the Plain Dealer: “It’s been an absolutely amazing recovery. I wouldn’t have believed that this section of the river would have this dramatic of a turnaround in my career, but it has.” Indeed, the Cuyahoga is expected this year to meet the federal Clean Water Act’s stringent standard for healthy habitat for aquatic life. Quite a contrast from the early years after the 1969 fire, when a federal report found that “The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes.”

And Prince William Sound...

A recent edition of the Marine Pollution Bulletin summarized the long-term monitoring efforts of the aftermath of Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound; the data suggest that the sound has returned almost completely to its pre-spill condition.

Here are a few other tidbits from the executive summary...

  • Rainforest expansion exceeds rainforest deforestation (the rainforests are no longer shrinking; they're growing).

  • According to a World Bank ranking, no American or Western European city is among the 50 cities with the worst air pollution (i.e., pollution is related to poverty; only wealthy countries can afford the clean up and protect the environment).

  • In the past decade, air pollution has fallen for the ten most polluted U.S. cities.

  • Atmospheric heavy metals have dropped dramatically during the last century.

  • Stratospheric ozone levels have increased.

  • Water quality in the U.S. is good.

  • Domestic ocean fisheries are getting healthier.

  • 2008 was the coolest year since 2000 and we've seen no warming for ten years.

  • Arctic sea ice increased in 2008 (and though it's not in the report, it further increased in 2009).

If you worry about the state of the environment, this is a good report to read. While we've still got problems to solve, the environment is much cleaner than it was when I was a kid.

If you wonder how things could be improving when all of the news about the environment is grim, it's the money. Environmental groups run on donations and grants. The quickest way to dry up the flow of money would be to admit that things are pretty good and getting better. Thus, the need to get all worked up about one crisis after another.

Download the report (PDF, 61 pages)

No comments:

Post a Comment