One look at the weather channel today will give you an idea of why global warming is an issue. The phenomenon of global warming is a hotly debated topic but whatever your beliefs are, there is obviously something going on. The sea levels are rising, heat waves are getting hotter, cold spells are getting colder and hurricanes are becoming more intense.
Greenhouse gases are affecting our environment at an alarming rate, largely in part due to human actions. So what is being done about changing our environmental outlook? There have been laws passed throughout the years to protect and impact our environment. But is it enough for change? There is still so much more to be done.
The Origins of Environmental Responsibility
Environmental activism has usually had the support of the public at large. Who wouldn’t want to protect the earth? The rise of concern for the environment can be traced back to the late 1800’s and the beginning of the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. These clubs largely began in order to raise awareness of the connection between economic progress and the decline of our natural resources. They increased public knowledge about the fact that we couldn’t blindly waste the resources of our forests and rivers without dire future consequences.
When the public really began to demand action was after the book Silver Spring by Rachel Carson was published in 1962. The book spoke of the perils that the chemical era had on the environment, such as the use of DDT and other pesticides. It began a call-to-arms in for environmental reform. The movement was about not only conserving resources but also alerting us to public health issues that stemmed from irresponsible use of chemicals.
Shortly thereafter in 1969 the first Earth Day was held in New York. The 1970’s brought much legislation and new regulations to limit the amount of pollution. This led to the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was responsible for policing the new rules and keeping tabs on the actual improvements that they generated.
Legislation Enacted to Protect the Planet
Although the phrase and concept Global Warming is fairly recent, most of the major laws that support its reduction were enacted in the 1970’s. Here are a few of the key laws:
Clean Air Act of 1970: This law regulated air emissions from mobile and stationary sources. It also enables the EPA to monitor, enforce and revise the regulations. In 1990 these statutes were revised considerably.
Clean Water Act of 1972: This established regulation against pollutants that were allowed into the water and required permits for any pollutants that may be let into navigable water. It also ensured safe drinking water, further clarified by the safe drinking water act of 1974.
National Environmental Policy Act: This policy created in 1969 ensures that all governmental agencies require an environmental impact study before undertaking any major federal action such as building airports or military bases.
Have the enacted laws made a difference?
According to the EPA, the laws put into place in the 1960’s and 70’s have led to cleaner air and water. In an impact study in 1997 it was determined that the air was cleaner than at any time since the EPA began reporting. The release of toxic materials has declined by 42% according to a study in 2000. It is also estimated that 70 percent of major lakes, rivers and waterways are safe for swimming and fishing—which is double the amount from 1970.
It appears that the laws enacted have made a considerable difference but it does not seem to be enough. We are still creating greenhouse gases at an alarming rate. There has been no new legislation to nationally reduce emissions, although there have been many bills that have made it to the U.S. Congress. It remains a political struggle to create a modern law that will satisfy both parties in order to protect the environment against global warming.
What can we do?
The greatest impact on reducing emissions and CO2 in the atmosphere is being accomplished by individuals. The Green movement has been integral in creating a personal responsibility to protect our environment. By reducing what we personally put into the atmosphere, we are paving the way to inspire governments to take action. With the creation of alternative energies and conserving what we use, there has been a positive impact.
Global Warming is a real issue for our world’s environment. By doing your part in personal conservation today, and becoming active in supporting our politicians who are working to change policy, you can create a positive change and begin to make a difference for our planet.
The author, Connie Prescott, is a conservation writer who works with NRDC and other organizations to protect our health and environment. The enactment of environmental laws has been instrumental in effecting positive changes to our earth and its ability to support healthy lives for our future.