Water Pollution

Water is the most precious resource on the planet, and lack of water can kill all living creatures, including humans, very quickly. Because we rely on water for life itself, we must be concerned with the quality of our water as much as with the quantity of our water supply. There are places where the sheer loss of available good-quality water has become an environmental and human catastrophe, including parts of Africa, Russia, and Asia. In the United States and Europe, there are ample supplies...

New York City

The air in New York is pretty clean these days, but in the 1970s it wasn't. Air pollution caused by the effects of the tremendous postwar industrial expansion had become a fact of life in many cities, but New York, with its huge population density, was among the worst hit. In 1966, a four-day weather inversion killed scores of people who were breathing the really bad air. (I remember it well.) This was the worst of what had become an almost annual event, when warm air trapped by cooler air...

Modern Environmental History

The sixty-plus years since the end of World War II is the period of interest in our discussion. This period represents the fruition and the pinnacle of technological progress and its attendant ills. It is also during this period that people began to see for the first time that there was a cost to the progress everyone was enjoying. The idea that technology itself is at best a double-edged sword or at worst an evil monster without any benefits began to take hold of the popular imagination....

Air Pollution

It is a fact of human nature that we easily forget or suppress unpleasant memories. We do this not only on a personal basis, but also for larger-scale historical and cultural events. It is interesting to have a conversation about pollution and environmental quality trends with people who have lived through the 1960s and 1970s, because I can see how much they have forgotten. Most people have forgotten how bad the air was forty or fifty years ago. How bad was it I already mentioned the 1952...

Measurement of Freedom

There are many ways to test the hypothesis that democracy and freedom have real benefits for human health and the environment. In order to do so, it is necessary to have some way to measure the amount of freedom for each country. A nonprofit organization called Freedom House has done just that. The staff of Freedom House has compiled a Freedom in the World'' survey, which measures two things the degree of political rights and the level of civil liberties enjoyed by the citizenry of each...

Trends in Occupational Health

Conditions in factories, mines, mills, and industrial plants of all types have undergone a major revolution in the past thirty-five years. Of course, in i970 one could have said pretty much the same thing. Working conditions and environments in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world have improved continuously for many decades. In line with the growing environmental awareness of the i960s and i970s, unions began to recognize hazardous conditions as an important bargaining issue....

Natural Resources

In 1980, environmentalist Paul Ehrlich and economist Julian Simon made a famous bet. Ehrlich wagered that five natural resources (he chose five metals) would be more expensive in ten years based on the uncontrolled population growth and the resultant shortages of food and all natural resources that he anticipated. Ehrlich lost the bet, because by 1990 each of his chosen resources had actually declined in price by an average of 40 percent. In fact, we have seen already in some detail that for...

Environmental Books

During this same period, people started writing and publishing books on every facet of environmental degradation, from overpopulation and chemical pollution to animal rights, conservation, species loss, deforestation, the loss of natural resources, and the decline in the overall quality of life caused by pollution. Most of these books discussed how bad the situation was at the time, and all of them made dire predictions for the future if something wasn't done. The most famous of these books was...

Toxic Substances

At a scientific meeting on the toxicity of benzene, a number of scientists including myself presented their research on people who had been exposed to benzene. Benzene is a toxic chemical (and also a carcinogen), but it is still used in many industrial applications because it is such a good solvent. It is also a component in gasoline, crude oil, and cigarette smoke. There was a general problem with many of the presentations at the symposium. The subjects of the study, some of them workers in...

The Antitechnology Legacy of the s

In 1970 I went to visit a commune in Vermont. I found the young people living there to be warmhearted, very friendly, and quite sincere in their beliefs and philosophy. They were also having a hard time. In the Vermont winter, they had found that even with good-quality wood stoves and acres of forests all around them, it was hard to stay warm. The day I was there they had a discussion in the daily meeting (which seemed to last all day) about the heating crisis. The issue was the difficulty of...

Genetically Modified Organisms

The story of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the opposition to their use, first by European and later by certain American environmental groups, is one of the most bizarre and puzzling episodes in modern political history. It is a story that makes virtually no sense and goes only to prove the axiom that scientific logic and politics do not mix. It is also an unfortunate but rare case of an environmental issue in which science has played little or no role. Unlike all other environmental...

Pessimism and the Political Environmental World View

I remember listening in 1970 to an acquaintance explain that the world would basically end in five years due to overpopulation. She explained why in a fairly cogent manner, and it seemed fairly logical to me at the time. When she finished, I was horrified and asked her what could be done to prevent or at least delay this terrible future scenario. Nothing she exclaimed with grim satisfaction. It is too late to do anything now.'' At first I was shocked, and then I felt a complete sense of...

Tobacco

Smoking of tobacco in pipes and cigars started long before Walter Raleigh made the plant popular in the United Kingdom during the seventeenth century. But pipe and cigar smoke cannot be inhaled, and no health consequences from smoking tobacco were noticed for hundreds of years. In fact, there were stories that smoking a pipe a day could be beneficial to the blood.'' The high cost of tobacco also restricted its use to the upper and middle classes. During the first part of the twentieth century,...

Forests

There are more acres of forest in the United States now than there were 100 years ago. As I discussed, the amount of forested land in New England is several times greater than it was in colonial times. Forest regrowth has occurred in many other parts of the world and is being encouraged by a new international program called the Forest Stewardship Council FSC . FSC is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to support the management of forests throughout the world in a way that is...

Time Period

Wire Rope Sling Types

Data from the World Resources Institute's EarthTrends website http earthtrends.wri.org . 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 Data from the World Resources Institute's EarthTrends website http earthtrends.wri.org . 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 Data from the World Resources Institute's EarthTrends website http earthtrends.wri.org . In terms of percent change in population growth, the Chinese population had been growing at a rate of 2.6 percent per year...