Why did I choose to write up an acid rain update on a Monday? Because it’s an important topic, but I’m not malicious enough to ruin your weekend.
Why did I include an image of an adorable little bear cub, instead of say, a charred and decimated forest? Again – I’m not malicious.
It feels as though it’s been years since acid rain has been a topic of discussion, in both classrooms and news media. I remember at one point we were half expecting burning acid droplets to come falling out of the sky, forcing us underground.
The terrifying moniker ‘acid rain’ is both fortunate and unfortunate. It’s fortunate in the sense that it sounds like an immediate threat – similar to a meteor hitting a populated area or a volcano brewing under Los Angeles. It practically demands that we stand up against it – and this stand has actually led to some better environmental regulations that have decreased the levels of acid rain over the last 50 years. It’s unfortunate in that it doesn’t quite paint acid rain in the right light as an ongoing issue. It’s a quick fad, a tepid blockbuster or a movie of the week.
In reality, acid rain is a fairly straight-forward chemical event: sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from natural events and the burning of fossil fuels. Harsh gases mix with precipitation and find their way back to Earth where winds can carry them hundreds of miles. Even if there are no fossil fuel burning plants in a particular area, the effects can still be felt, in the landscape and in the populations of fish and mammals – such as our friendly little bear cub above.
The impact of acid rain is a gradual but dramatic change in the environment. A recent article from NPR shares how we have permanently altered the chemistry of the Mississippi River, as acid rain has slowly eaten away at chunks of limestone, slowly ‘dissolving the surface of the Earth.’ And this is happening nearly fifty years after acid rain has been significantly decreased.
Perhaps one of the reasons we are not hearing more about acid rain, in addition to its villain of the week reputation, is because there are some extremely positive developments in our battle. Rick Beauchamp, an angler in upstate New York, reeled in the record-breaking brook trout to your left in Silver Lake earlier this summer. This catch would have been unheard of years ago as many had written off Silver Lake as having been killed off by the long-term impact of acid rain. For reasons that I will never understand, it seems that once we start to improve things, we will oftentimes lose interest in solving things.
What’s perhaps most ironic about the lack of focus on acid rain the last several years is the increased awareness in the importance of clean drinking water in everything from education, to government, to commerce – from global water shortage solutions being proposed by students, to Chinese officials pledging to stem their ongoing water crisis – and yes – in the water filters that we sell. In an interview we ran last week with Surfrider Foundation San Diego chapter coordinator Haley Jain Haggerstone, she very correctly described the importance of clean ocean waters to the health of our planet as a whole – from clean drinking water to our food supply.
Caring about clean drinking water does not begin when droplets hit the ground or bubble to the surface. It’s circle of life stuff – meaning that we need to continually improve our environmental practices in order to ensure we pass along a viable home to the next generation.
In short – acid rain will not fall from the sky tomorrow, melting off your skin and making you unrecognizable. But unless we continue to be aware of this problem, and continue to focus on developing more permanent global solutions, it may just force our grandchildren to grow up in a world that we will have no way of recognizing.
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