(MintPress) – Despite all the volunteering to clean up parks and 5K races to promote environmental awareness, America’s attitude toward the 42nd Earth Day may be falling as a priority for some. A recent Gallup poll concluded that a majority of Americans do not see water or air pollution as an important issue or concern. The findings […]
(MintPress) – Despite all the volunteering to clean up parks and 5K races to promote environmental awareness, America’s attitude toward the 42nd Earth Day may be falling as a priority for some. A recent Gallup poll concluded that a majority of Americans do not see water or air pollution as an important issue or concern. The findings are a stark contrast to how citizens felt at the turn of the century, and may be detrimental to the realities the Earth faces.
Gallup reports that in 2000, 72 percent of Americans worried a great deal about pollution in drinking water, while another 59 percent worried about air pollution. Twelve years later, and those concerns have dropped off significantly: 48 percent now worry about pollutants in drinking water and 36 percent express concern about air pollution.
There were also significant drops in concern for global warming, plant and animal extinction, depletion of tropical rain forests and water and soil contamination by toxic waste from pollutants such as nuclear waste and chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Gallup says these attitudes fell at the height of the United States’ economic collapse. The polling group theorizes that people began to focus more on economic issues and less on environmental issues.
“The economic downturn has forced Americans to focus more on bread-and-butter economic issues than quality-of-life issues,” Gallup wrote. “It may be no coincidence that environmental concern was highest in 2000, when the U.S. was enjoying one of the strongest economies in recent memory, and that environmental concern has reached new lows recently, after the worst financial downturn in the last 25 years.”
The increased complacency is running parallel with events that have politicized and created debate over the legitimacy of environmental issues such as pollution and climate change. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, while governor of Massachusetts, believed carbon emissions were a contributor to pollution and climate change, but has since changed his tune after becoming a serious contender for the Republicans in the race for the White House.
“I don’t think carbon is a pollutant in the sense of harming our bodies,” Romney was quoted as saying during a town hall meeting.
On the other side of the debate is President Barack Obama, who has championed a combat against climate change and the reduction of carbon emissions. On March 27, Obama instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately impose carbon and greenhouse gas emissions restrictions on any future coal-fired power plants, as coal plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide.
“I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change,” Obama acknowledged. “But here’s the thing – even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”
Something in the water
While Gallup shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans no longer see the environment as a top-priority issue, pollution has become more widespread in many areas as the years have passed. The New York Times analyzed federal drinking water data from 2004 to 2009 and found that 20 percent of the nation’s water treatment systems violated provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Since 2004, drinking water provided to more than 49 million people has been shown to contain arsenic, sewage bacteria and radioactive agents such as uranium, all at illegal concentrations.
With the rise of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking as it is commonly called – for natural gas, pollution to the water supply has become a followed topic. In fracking, chemicals are injected under high pressure underground to extract gas and petroleum from source rocks. The practice has been linked to polluting drinking water with methane gas at homes located near fracking sites.
Research conducted at Duke University found that some levels of methane pollution in drinking water caused by fracking was so bad that the water was flammable.
“Our results show evidence for methane contamination of shallow drinking water systems in at least three areas of the region and suggest important environmental risks accompanying shale gas exploration worldwide,” the research said.
In 2010, the EPA noted 54 active pharmaceutical ingredients and 10 metabolites in already-treated drinking water. As of 2009, the latest available figures, 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals had been legally released into waterways. With little regulation on the industry, federal officials say they do not know the extent to which pharmaceuticals are released.
Effects of the pharmaceuticals on humans are also up in the air, as environmental scientists can only speculate because not all pharmaceutical releases are documented. Scientists say that while concentrations are often low, “we cannot be assured that the final mix is safe”.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) attributes climate change to a depletion in water resources and says that 12 states have yet to formally address climate change preparedness. The NRDC says only nine states have “developed an integrated and comprehensive preparedness plan that addresses all relevant water sectors and state agencies.”
Across the U.S., the impacts of climate change on water resources are already being seen. Warmer temperatures, changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns and rising sea levels are beginning to affect our communities and natural resources,” the NRDC wrote. “As carbon pollution continues to change our climate, these wide-ranging impacts will only grow worse, threatening our nation’s cities, towns, and neighborhoods.”
The air up there
The height of air pollution in the United States was during the Industrial Revolution. Since then, a series of clean air acts have lessened the amounts of the most common air pollutants seen in America: carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.
From 1970 to 2006, the time when the initial series of clean air acts went into law, air pollutants fell dramatically. Carbon monoxide emissions fell from 197 million tons to 89 million tons; nitrogen oxide emissions fell from 27 million tons to 19 million tons; and sulfur dioxide emissions fell from 31 million tons to 15 million tons. Those pollutants can lead to asthma and other respiratory conditions.
However, the ubiquitous pollutant in America comes from particle pollution, or particulate matter, which most commonly comes from vehicle exhaust. The EPA defines particle matter as a “complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets.”
At high concentrations, particle pollution can contribute to chronic bronchitis, asthma, irregular heartbeat and decreased lung function. Children and older adults are most likely to be affected by the particle pollution. The pollutant is also responsible for reduced visibility, or haze, in many parts of the country with high population densities. It can also take a toll on the surrounding environment, according to the EPA.
“Particles can be carried over long distances by wind and then settle on ground or water,” according to the EPA. “The effects of this settling include: making lakes and streams acidic; changing the nutrient balance in coastal waters and large river basins; depleting the nutrients in soil; damaging sensitive forests and farm crops; and affecting the diversity of ecosystems.”