News of the Wild

Clean Air Act Saves Billions

  • NWF Staff
  • Dec 01, 1996
Study after study has shown that the Clean Air Act, enacted in 1970, has lowered U.S. air pollution significantly for sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, lead, certain types of particulates and other emissions. But at what financial cost have these improvements come?

That question has been foremost in recent congressional concerns about the cost of protecting human health and the environment from pollution. To help find the answer, Congress, in 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, required the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct periodic assessments of the law. The first such assessment, covering 1970 to 1990 (and still in draft form at this writing) offers an answer: The law comes at some substantial savings, not costs.

In 1990, Americans received roughly $20 in value in reduced risks of death, illness, and other adverse effects for every $1 spent to control air pollution," the report says. The total savings for the 20-year period, in 1990 dollars, is an estimated $6.4 trillion, with total costs for air-pollution controls nationwide an estimated $436 billion.

It is important to remember that even this level of benefit does not capture the additional value of reductions in hazardous air pollutants, protection of ecosystems, and a variety of other health and environmental effects which could not be quantified or monetized," the report says. For example, protection of waterways results in a $69 billion bonus for the U.S. economy just from use by American fishermen.

Forty-five Years Ago

Television star Hopalong Cassidy served as a spokesman for NWF's annual release of conservation stamps, which help raise funds for the organization's wildlife and habitat-protection programs. In 1997, NWF will release a new set of 24 stamps, painted by noted West Virginia artist Chuck Ripper.

Tis The Season To Be Wasteful

The holidays are a time of joy, togetherness--and extra waste. Here are some measures of the season's excesses:

Tons of trash generated in the United States each week during the non-holiday season: 4 million

Tons of trash generated in the United States each week in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas: 5 million

Pounds of Thanksgiving turkey wasted if each person throws away one bite: 8.1 million

Pounds of stuffing wasted if each person throws away one table-
spoon: 16.1 million

Number of gifts the average U.S. consumer wraps during the holiday season: 20

Number of football fields that could be covered with the paper saved by wrapping three of those gifts with recycled wrap: 45,000

Tons of extra garbage cleaned up by the New York Sanitation Department after the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration: 42

Seeing with Sonar

Research at the University of Hawaii's Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory has revealed that bottle-nosed dolphins can "see" as well by echolocation as by sight.

Scientists have known for years that bottle-nosed dolphins emit beams of high-frequency sound (sonar) that bounce off of objects and return to the dolphins, providing them with information about the world around them. Working with an 8-year-old female bottlenose named Elele, researchers Adam Pack and Louis Herman discovered that the animals can recognize by echolocation objects that they have encountered before only by sight and vice-versa. For example, in one test a researcher stood by Elele's pool and, while the dolphin bobbed at the surface with her head out of the water, showed her an oddly shaped object. Since echolocation does not work in air, Elele could inspect the object only visually.

The object was then put into a black Plexiglas box and submerged in the pool with an identical box that held a different object. Elele could not see into the boxes, but her sonar could penetrate them. In 14 out of 16 tests, she correctly picked the object she had previously only seen. Similar tests showed that she could recognize by sight objects she had previously studied only by sonar, scoring correctly 13 out of 16 times.

These studies suggest that sonar and vision are functionally equivalent, Herman says. The brain can perceive the same image based on two different types of data, he suggested. Not all species of dolphins use sonar with the same alacrity as the bottlenose.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Nearly 10 percent of the 17,000 plant species native to the United States may have disappeared from at least one of their native states, and 438 of those dwindling species are missing from two or more states, according to new data compiled by The Nature Conservancy. The Northeast and Hawaii have incurred the greatest losses, with wetland plants showing the most vulnerability.

Delaware recorded the highest percentage of lost species, with more than 12 percent of native plants gone. Hawaii has lost 8 percent and ranks number 2 in losses, but the island state's vanishing plants are of particular concern because 90 percent of them are found nowhere else. Other states in the top five are Maryland, with 6 percent lost; New York, with 5.5 percent; and New Jersey and Connecticut, tied at 5 percent.

Rare Beauties," beginning on page 26, describes one photographer's efforts to capture the nation's endangered plants on film.

The Case for Wicked Stepparents

A wicked stepparent drove Hansel and Gretel from home, and the same may be true for Florida scrub jays, says researcher Jill Goldstein of the University of South Florida, who has examined 25 years of data on resident jays at Florida's Archbold Biological Station.

The jays are cooperative breeders, meaning that adult offspring help their parents raise the next brood. But if one of the parents dies, the survivor may mate anew, putting the adult offspring into contention with a "stepparent."

Contention is just the right word, Goldstein found, because stepparents are much more aggressive toward same-sex stepchildren than they are toward their own same-sex offspring.

For example, stepmothers were most aggressive toward stepdaughters. Stepdaughters facing a stepmother were also more likely to leave home than were stepsons facing a stepfather, presumably, Goldstein speculated, because persevering male offspring might ultimately inherit the stepfather's territory.

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