Environmental earth news briefs, including congress addressing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, oranges and the ozone and wildlife tragedy on Guam.
Environmental Earth News
Clean Air and Caribou
Election years have a way of distracting politicians from
important legislative decisions, but Congress may
nevertheless come finally to grips with a number of issues
that have been argued over for several years. Two are at
the top of most environmental organizations' agendas.
One concerns the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
This 19.3-million-acre reserve runs from the Arctic Ocean
on the north across the Brooks Range on the south, from the
Canadian border on the east to the oil fields of Prudhoe
Bay on the west. As it did in Prudhoe Bay, oil has made the
ANWR a national issue.
Development proponents have asked Congress to open the
refuge to oil drilling. They cite national
security—the vulnerability of the Persian Gulf, for
example—and the need to develop domestic energy
resources. Opponents, who hope to have the refuge legally
protected as wilderness, point to Interior Department
estimates that say there is but a 21% chance of discovering
economic quantities of oil and that even if oil is found it
isn't likely to add significantly to the nation's reserves.
They argue that the wildlife there, notably the 200,000
caribou of the Porcupine River herd, deserve statutory
protection and that even exploring for oil would pose
unacceptable threats. Competing bills have been introduced
in both the House and the Senate. Readers' views on the
matter will be welcomed by senators (Senate Office
Building, Washington, D.C.) and members of Congress
(House Office Building, Washington, D.C.).
The other hot topic along the Potomac just now is clean
air. The Clean Air Act of 1972 was strengthened
considerably in 1977; now environmentalists want it
expanded to take on acid rain and toxic air pollutants
(which are ignored by existing laws) and to get tougher on
smog-producing ozone. Urban areas were supposed to have
solved their ozone problems by January 31, 1987, but none
have done so. Many, in fact, are farther from the goal than
ever. Again, your elected representatives will welcome your
views on any of these matters.
Oranges to the Rescue
Not Man Apart , the journal of the organization
Friends of the Earth, reports that American Telephone and
Telegraph has found some good news for the atmosphere in an
unlikely form: oranges.
A great and growing concern among atmospheric scientists is
the deterioration of the ozone shield, an invisible band of
gas that envelops the earth and filters cancer-causing rays
of the sun. The ozone layer has been thinning over the past
several decades, and recently a hole in the shield was
discovered over Antarctica.
The cause of the ozone deterioration is not simple
(environmental problems seldom are), but a major factor
contributing to it is chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals
that are used in spray cans, refrigerators, many kinds of
polystyrene foam and for various industrial applications.
CFCs were banned as spray propellants in the U.S. several
years ago, but they are still used for that purpose
overseas and in considerable quantities for other purposes
in the U.S.
The AT&T discovery is a solvent known as BIOACT EC-7
that is derived from oranges. It will be used in the
electronics industry, replacing a chlorofluorocarbon known
as CFC-113. BIOACT should cut the U.S. contribution to
ozone depletion by some 7%.
Tragedy on Guam
Guam, in the South Pacific, is the site of one of the most
rapid and tragic wildlife catastrophes on record. Some time
within our past generation, a southeast Asian brown tree
snake (or perhaps a few) appeared on the island, probably
by accident and probably as a stowaway on a boat. The snake
soon multiplied, and its offspring have already extirpated
at least three species of birds found nowhere else in the
world. Brown tree snakes are currently threatening to wipe
out several more birds, as well as a unique species of
Enter the U.S. Navy. It recently announced plans to build a
mammoth radar installation—rumored to be part of the
Reagan administration's "Star Wars" program—right in
the middle of an area deemed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to be essential to the survival and recovery of the
remaining endangered species.
This move would worsen the problem.
Members of the Marianas Audubon Society have appealed to
the Navy to modify or cancel the project in order to
preserve the birds and the bats. If the Navy refuses, the
Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund is prepared to take the
matter to court.
Book of the Bimonth
Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen
(Houghton-Mifflin, 1988, $17.95, 264 pages) takes place in
the rain forests of Borneo, which are among the last large
untouched tracts of land on earth. In 1982, Hansen, a
six-foot-six-inch American, determined to cross 600 miles
of Borneo jungle on foot. His charming account of the trip
is by turns funny, moving and highly informative—and
it adds one more view of a world that is rapidly
disappearing in the face of outside forces lusting after
oil, timber and other resources. Most recent accounts of
the plight of the tropical rain forests concentrate on
nonhuman resources. This one introduces us to the humans
native to the jungle, and a delightful lot they are. Great
Tom Turner, a writer and editor who's worked in the environmental field for 18 years, is with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, an independent environmental law firm that represents many organizations across the country. It is supported principally by private donations. For more information, write Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, San Francisco, CA.