Environmental earth news briefs, including congress addressing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, oranges and the ozone and wildlife tragedy on Guam.
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 fruit bat.
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 stuff.
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.
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