Why do we only hear about certain eco issues, such as climate change? What happened to acid rain and the ozone layer problems — have they been solved?
I agree that planet green has a tendency to be a little one-note. For a long while it’s been singing a plaintive song (more of a wail, actually) about climate change. But you can see why this preoccupies us. In the run-up to the Rio climate conference we are without an agreed solution and parts of the world are experiencing dire effects first hand.
Inevitably eco issues remain “hot” until they are solved and we all have a vested interest in making as much noise as possible in the meantime.
There are historical precedents. You pick two classics with acid rain and the ozone layer. In the 80s I remember little else. “Save the ozone” made it on to T-shirts and benefit concerts and gave naturally anxious kids like me sleepless nights.
Some say this proves that big environmental causes are a mix of hot air and needless worrying. This is wide of the mark. The problems receded because they were addressed. Take acid rain. In the late 60s, Swedes noticed outstanding episodes of pollution affecting their forests and lakes. Scientists found that this was due to industrial emissions – notably from the UK; it was a similar story in parts of Scotland.
The answer was indeed blowing in the wind: sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which reacted with water and came to earth as rainfall. But it was only when the Swedes produced dead fish that governments acted. Clean-air controls that we now take for granted, including catalytic converters and air scrubbers on power stations, became commonplace. Acid rain ceased to be a headline because action was taken (though sulphur emissions from huge industrial powers, such as China, now threaten a new acid rainstorm).
Similarly some policymakers refused to acknowledge a substantial hole in the ozone layer until it was very nearly too late. Caused in part by the cumulative use of CFC gases, it took a huge global campaigning effort to insist that industry banned all use and production.
What does this tell me? Big environmental problems need constant publicity, consumer action, scientific consensus and, unfortunately, dead fish (or equivalent) in order to get action. But, on the bright side, we are capable of taking action and making laws to solve seemingly intractable eco problems. Then we can collectively say: “Been there, got the T-shirt.”
Green crush of the week: Nemone Metaxas
“I’ve become a tent aficionado,” says Radio 6 DJ Nemone Metaxas. She’s fallen in with Love Your Tent, a campaign begun by Eco Action Partnership, targeting the one in six festival-goers who leave “cheap” tents rotting in the field post jamboree. “Love Your Tent is about investing in a good-quality tent which can be used for years to come,” says Nemone. It also trashes the myth that tents are scooped up by charities for disaster relief. Rubbish. A pre-used £8 tent is of as much use in a disaster zone as a pair of hair straighteners. They go to landfill. Let’s clean this up.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010