The Endangered Species Act—success or failure?

Dear EarthTalk: Do environmentalists think the Endangered Species Act has been a success or failure with regard to protecting biodiversity in the U.S.? —Ron McKnight, Trenton, NJ While that very question has been a subject of debate already for decades, most environmental advocates are thankful such legislation is in place and proud of their government for upholding such high standards when it comes to preserving rare species of plants and animals. That said, critics of the legislation make some solid points. For starters, only one percent of species (20 out of 2,000) under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have recovered sufficiently to qualify for delisting. And the millions of dollars spent on often failed recovery efforts are difficult to justify,...

Posted at 08:31 PM | Permalink | Comments


Will Mt. St. Helens become a national park?

Dear EarthTalk: What ever happened to the idea of turning Mt. St. Helens into a national park? —Esther Monaghan, Boston, MA Mt. St. Helens, one of the less prominent yet massive peaks of Washington State’s Cascade Range, made history on May 18, 1980 by erupting with the force of 500 atomic bombs, devastating 230 square miles of formerly verdant forest and killing 57 people. After considerable debate about what to do with the decimated landscape in the aftermath, Congress sided with scientists advocating it be left alone for research and education. In 1982 Congress created the 172-square-mile Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument to be managed by the U.S. Forest Service, which had already been overseeing the forests on the flanks of the mountain as part of the...

Posted at 01:04 PM | Permalink | Comments


Genetically engineered…mosquitoes?

Dear EarthTalk: I couldn’t believe my ears: “genetically engineered mosquitoes?” Why on Earth would they be created? And I understand there are plans to release them into the wild? —Marissa Abingdon, Sumter, SC Yes it’s true, genetically engineered mosquitoes, which were bred in the lab to transmit a gene during the reproductive process that kills their offspring, have already been used on an experimental basis in three countries—the Cayman Islands, Malaysia and Brazil—to counteract the quickly spreading mosquito-borne viral infection dengue fever. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that as many as 100 million cases of humans infected with dengue fever—which causes a severe flu-like illness and can in certain instances be...

Posted at 08:08 AM | Permalink | Comments


Why are some countries still whaling?

Dear EarthTalk: Commercial whaling was banned around the world years ago, but some nations continue to hunt whales. Why is this and what’s being done about it? —Jackie O’Neill, Hershey, PA Sadly for our world and its biodiversity, whales are still being killed despite an international ban on commercial whaling. Indeed, rampant whaling over the last two centuries has decimated just about every whale population around the globe. According to Greenpeace, many whale species are down to around one percent of their estimated former abundance before the days of commercial whaling. Fourteen whaling nations came together in 1946 to form the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to manage whale stocks and recommend hunting limits where appropriate. But the continuing...

Posted at 08:58 AM | Permalink | Comments


Air pollution in national parks

Dear EarthTalk: I was appalled by the pollution haze I saw on a recent visit to Acadia National Park in Maine, and was told by a ranger that it was from smokestacks and tailpipes hundreds of miles away. Is anything being done to clear the air in Acadia and other natural areas where people go to breathe fresh air and enjoy distant unobstructed views? —Betty Estason, via e-mail This pollution haze, which emanates from urban and industrial centers to the south and west, has been a problem at Acadia National Park and elsewhere (e.g. Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah and Voyageurs national parks) for decades despite a 1977 Congressional dictum calling for the nation’s greatest natural treasures—known as “Class 1” areas—to be free of the unhealthy...

Posted at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments


Are there alternatives to conventional, energy-hogging air conditioners?

Dear EarthTalk: Has an alternative to air conditioning to keep rooms cool been invented that is significantly cheaper and/or that uses significantly less energy than traditional air conditioning? —Ashutosh Saxena, Allahabad, India Unfortunately the modern day air conditioner, with its constantly cycling, energy-hogging compressor and environmentally unfriendly chemical coolant, still reigns supreme throughout the world—and increasingly so in rapidly developing countries like India and China where possession of air conditioning connotes middle class status. And while the chlorofluorocarbon coolant widely used in air conditioners through the 1980s was phased out because its emissions were causing damage to the globe’s protective ozone layer, the chemicals that...

Posted at 01:36 PM | Permalink | Comments


Challenging Canada's Prime Minister's efforts to weaken environmental protections

Dear EarthTalk: Why were some environmental websites blacked out all day back on June 4? Was this some sort of protest, or did they get hacked? —Ned Cooper, Detroit, MI It wasn’t hackers this time. In fact, a group of environmental and social justice organizations representing millions of Canadians blacked out their websites for 24 hours this past June 4 to protest efforts by Canada’s conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to push through a budget bill that would significantly weaken environmental protections. Organizations leading the black-out include the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Sierra Club Canada and World...

Posted at 08:40 AM | Permalink


Meat consumption, health and the environment

Dear EarthTalk: We’ve been hearing for years how producing red meat is bad for the environment while consuming it is bad for our health. How do other types of meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins stack up in terms of environmental and health impacts? —Julia Saperstein, via e-mail Not all forms of protein are created equal as to the environmental and health implications of raising and consuming them. A 2011 assessment by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that “different meats and different production systems have varying health, climate and other environmental impacts.” The quantity of chemical fertilizers, fuel and other “production inputs” used, the differences in soil conditions and production systems and the...

Posted at 09:22 PM | Permalink | Comments


Swapping out New York City's dirty residential heating oil for natural gas

Dear EarthTalk: What’s the deal with New York City buildings switching over from heating oil to natural gas? Is this a trend in other U.S. cities as well? —Mitchell Branecke, Yonkers, NY Anyone who has lived in New York City knows that particulate matter is omnipresent there. Commonly referred to as soot, such particulate pollution is comprised of fine black particles derived of carbon from coal, oil, wood or other fuels that have not combusted completely. Due to this preponderance of soot in the air, asthma rates in some parts of the Big Apple (like Harlem and parts of the Bronx) are sky high. Environmentalists have been pointing the finger for years at the dirty residential heating oil used by so many New York City buildings, many of which were built before...

Posted at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments


Reptiles' numbers dwindling

Dear EarthTalk: How are the world's reptile species faring in terms of population numbers and endangered status? What's being done, if anything, to help them? —Vicky Desmond, Troy, NY The world’s reptiles—turtles, snakes, lizards, alligators and crocodiles—are indeed in trouble. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which publishes an annual global roster of threatened and endangered species called the Red List, considers some 664 species of reptiles—representing more than 20 percent of known reptile species worldwide—as endangered or facing extinction. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service considers about 10 percent of American reptiles threatened or endangered. Why care? The non-profit Center for Biological...

Posted at 10:26 AM | Permalink | Comments

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