Posts Tagged ‘Earth Day’


The Polluters: the Making of Our chemically Altered Environment by Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter. Oxford University Press 2010.

The Polluters is a history of industrial pollution in America from the early days of industry in the 18th century to the changing times of the 1960s and 70s. On page 3 of the book, the authors write:

Wastes were a problem from the earliest days of chemical manufacturing. But the American chemical industry of the nineteenth century lagged far behind its European competitors, and the emissions from its factories drew little notice beyond their immediate surroundings. …As pollution worsened and new problems emerged in the course of the 1920s and 1930s, scientists and the public increasingly saw the need for control and demanded action.

Leaders of the industry recognized the need for cleanup, but they were allergic to government oversight. Chemical companies insisted on doing things themselves, at their own pace, with their own means, and they gathered their forces for the fight to keep the government out. An armament of methods was developed to fend off outside pressure. One of the industry’s common tactics can be summed up as “spill, study, and stall.” When outside pressure to do something about pollution became strong, a study of the problem would be launched as an alternative to expensive action. The study would be carried out by the polluters themselves or, if it was feared that a blatantly self-serving study would lack credibility, under their influence.

…When study could not be avoided, friendly researchers would offer a predetermined conclusion. They would cherry-pick data, design experiments to give a desired answer, or sometimes offer reassurances backed by nothing more than the sheer force of assertion. The exercise of political, financial, and public relations muscle would turn this into “authoritative science,” often in the face of criticism from scientists of much greater attainment.

That, in a few paragraphs, sums up the contents of the following 170 pages. The authors go on to examine various examples and follow the seesawing attempts of assorted individuals to bring industry to heal and curb the unfettered polluting of the nation’s air, water and groundwater resources. Across the years, thousands of new synthetic compounds were developed and released into the environment without testing. Chemicals were treated as safe until proven otherwise, often by some catastrophic event. It was deemed that industry had a right to use available air and water as simple conduits for waste disposal unless there were prior claims for their use. The natural world itself, on the other hand, had no rights whatsoever.

It seemed to me that few stories can be more readily divided into “good guys” and “bad guys”. Not that the authors attempt anything but a balanced report, but the facts speak for themselves. For most of the period under study, industrial leaders found friends in high places, men who were happy to do their bidding. These men condemned to death countless unknown workers and citizens who they failed to protect, often turning a blind eye to clear and readily available scientific evidence showing the dangers of pollutants.

Public concern and awareness rose after the 1962 release of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the first Earth Day in April 1970, and highly visible incidents such as the Love Canal scandal. The Clean Air Amendments of 1970 were signed into law. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972. The Environmental Protection Agency was created. And a Superfund was established to identify and clean up America’s most polluted hot spots in 1980.

However, those hopeful steps of the 1970s have not been sustained. In fact, there have been giant steps backwards. In 2005 Congress, at the behest of then Vice President Dick Cheney, a former CEO of gas driller Halliburton, exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Here in Canada, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives have been making giant strides backwards, undoing years of small victories in environmental protection so that corporations may once again pollute unfettered. Even when regulations are in place, polluters are not prosecuted. A recent report showed that Alberta is enforcing fewer than one per cent of potential environmental violations in its open-pit mines.

Even more depressing is the fact that climate change was under discussion in the 1950s. Evidence of rising temperatures had begun to accumulate and by the 60s, prediction of increasing temperatures again appeared in leading scientific publications. Here we are, half a century on, and we have chosen to saddle ourselves, through apathy and fraudulent election practices, with an ineffectual, backwards government that fails to look to the future and refuses to address the inconvenient truth of climate change. The authors note:

The emission of greenhouse gases goes on, protected with the time-honored techniques of toothless laws and twisted science. The tactic of spill, study, and stall, now approaching its centenary, is still in use. Well-funded institutes continue to paste a veneer of scientific research onto political propaganda. Hard truths are countered with convenient but unlikely hopes.

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Be the Change

Connect with the Earth Day Network here.

Visit Earth Day Canada here.

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By Joel Petts

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Happy 40th Earth Day!

In recognition of the day, here are 10 ways to be green. Ten was an arbitrary number. There are many more ways to practise low-impact living. Join in! The planet needs your help.

1. Drink Shade-grown Coffee! There’s no easier way to help save rainforest. See Shade the Coffee, Shelter the Birds for more information.

2. Garden Organically. Whether you grow your own food or prefer flowers, or just plain grass, avoid using pesticides in your yard. Sprays that kill insects and weeds become part of your backyard environment and are bad for other wildlife as well (not to mention you!). If possible, plant a variety of native species to provide food and shelter for birds and bugs.

3. Make Every Cat an Indoor Cat. When it comes to birds, cats are killers. Birds face enough challenges without having domestic pets to contend with. Read more at Natural Born Killers.

4. Choose Seafood Wisely. The days when the bounty of the ocean was limitless are gone. Many fish species are threatened by overfishing. See The End of the Line for more information.

5. Buy Locally-grown Produce. Buying local produce supports local farmers, helps to maintain greenspace, and provides local jobs. Imported foods are transported thousands of miles, contributing to carbon emissions and pollution. Fruits and vegetables from other countries may have been sprayed with pesticides banned in North America or harvested by an exploited workforce. Choose organic food when possible. For more information, see Organic Food is For the Birds.

6. Avoid Bottled Water. All those bottles waste resources and add to landfills. Although recyclable, most water bottles are thrown in the garbage. Bottled water is no safer than tap water in the Toronto area. Sometimes it is tap water. Visit The Polaris Institute for more information about water issues.

7. Eat Less Meat. It takes about 2500 gallons of water and 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. Over 60% of U.S. grain is fed to livestock. Meat is an inefficient source of protein. “Factory farming” practices that crowd many animals into a small space promote the use of hormones and antibiotics that make their way into the food chain. A vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet is associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension.

8. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Take your own reusable shopping bags or bins with you when you go grocery shopping. The first defense against garbage and waste is not to accept unnecessary articles in the first place. Reduce your use of single-use items such as lighters, razors and other disposable items. Choose reusable items and look for recyclable materials. Recycle your newspapers and other items accepted by community recycling programs.

9. Buy Certified Forest Products. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit organization that supports the environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests. Forests are certified against a strict set of environmental and social standards. Producers and manufacturers along the supply chain are certified to ensure that the final product bearing the FSC logo actually originated from a certified forest. For more information, see www.fsccanada.org.

10. Get involved. Become informed about environmental issues. There are many great organizations, from large ones like the World Wildlife Fund to grassroots local causes in your own community. Donate funds to your favorites. Volunteer. Change won’t happen without you.

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