The 1981 TV Documentary That Warned About Global Warming
By Leo Hickman
On the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 8, 1981, the UK's only commercial TV channel, ITV, broadcast an hour-long documentary, Warming Warning.
It was among the earliest occasions—possibly the earliest—anywhere in the world where a major broadcaster aired a documentary dedicated solely to the topic of human-caused climate change.
The documentary, which was made by the now-defunct Thames Television, has sat in the archives largely unseen ever since. Until now.
Carbon Brief has tracked down the copyright holder, FremantleMedia Ltd, and persuaded it to release into the public domain a selection of key clips from the documentary.
The clips provide a poignant, historical insight into what scientists knew about climate change almost four decades ago—and how the world was beginning to react in terms of the resulting geopolitical, technological and societal ramifications. Many of themes still resonate strongly today.
To put it in context, the documentary was broadcast seven years before Dr. James Hansen's famous "it is already happening now" Senate testimony in 1988, nine years before the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report was published, and 25 years before Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth was released. After it first aired in 1981, Warming Warning went on to be broadcast in the U.S. (in 1990 on PBS), Greece, Japan and Israel, according to FremantleMedia.
In its TV listings on the day the program aired, the Times described it as "a documentary about the serious effects our polluting of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide will have on the climate." It added: "Scientists are worried that at the present rate the Earth will be 2°C warmer by the middle of the next century with disastrous consequences for the polar regions."
On 8 Dec 1981, ITV broadcast this hour-long documentary about climate change called "Warming Warning". Can anyone r… https://t.co/DtE0aukhqq— Leo Hickman (@Leo Hickman)1490188177.0
New Scientist said at the time it was "excellently written and directed" by Richard Broad, a current affairs documentary-maker, then better known for films focused on the Middle East conflict. (The credits at the end thank, among others, the science writer Dr. John Gribbin.)
The film, narrated by the presenter Tom Vernon, opens with an introduction to the problem of burning fossil fuels. The narration begins:
"Since the time of the Industrial Revolution, man has consumed huge and increasing amounts of fossil fuel to sustain the growth of industrial societies … Meteorologists now believe that increased quantities of CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to significant warming of the planet within decades."
The film then introduces several U.S.-based experts, starting with Gus Speth, who is captioned as "an environmental adviser to President Carter," but who went on to found the World Resources Institute thinktank and advised Bill Clinton, among many other roles. He begins:
"It's hard for me to imagine a more serious environmental issue."
In quick succession, the film also introduces two more talking heads. First, David Burns, who was director of the "climate project" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Then comes Dr. Walter Orr Roberts, a well-known U.S. atmospheric scientist.
Running time of this clip in original documentary: 05:25-08.07. (This, and all clips below, are courtesy of FremantleMedia Ltd/Thames Television.)
Once the film returns from the first commercial break, it introduces two more U.S. experts. Dr. William Kellogg is captioned as a "climatologist," but he played a key role researching climate change in the 1970s, in particular, based at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research. Earlier in the same year that Warming Warning aired, Kellogg also co-authored one of the earliest books on the topic, titled "Climate Change and Society: Consequences of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide."
Next comes (a very young looking) Stephen Schneider, a seminal figure for alerting the world to the potential dangers of human-caused climate change. At the time, Schneider was also based at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, but he would go on to be among the world's most prominent scientists warning about climate change (and, in the process, was the target of a campaign of abuse, intimidation and even death threats).
The documentary intersperses the interviews with lots of stock footage showing human dependence on fossil fuels—aircraft taking off, coal mining, modern agriculture, etc.
This second clip also contains the views of another seminal climate scientist, Dr. George Woodwell. He was the director of the Ecosystems Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Four years later, he would go on to found the Woods Hole Research Center.
Running time: 11.09-17.44
The film is notable for being careful to explain the nuances of the latest scientific knowledge about climate change. For example, in the third clip below it says that the uptake of CO2 by the oceans is a "slow and poorly understood process."
Dr. Lester Machta, director of the Air Resources Lab at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), explains that "up until the 1960s the prevailing scientific view was that the oceans could soak up all of the CO2 that might come from the combustion of fossil fuels." He then explains that, from the late 1950s onwards, observatories were set up —most famously at Mauna Loa in Hawaii—to measure the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere.
The film shows a chart plotting the "steady rise" in CO2 since 1958. The narrator pauses to remark that in 1981 the concentration stood at 338 parts per million (ppm)— "a rise of seven percent in 23 years." Today, in 2017, the concentration now stands at 407ppm.
He adds: "We believe now that there is some suggestive evidence now that the atmosphere is indeed warming due to the greenhouse effect."
Running time: 18:58-21:32
The viewer is then shown a scientific paper published that year in the journal Science, titled "Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," which attributed the warming to rising CO2 concentrations. The lead author was Dr. James Hansen, who has since become one of the world's most prominent and outspoken climate scientists.
Dr. Woodall remarks: "There is a reasonable consensus among meteorologists that the warming will continue and will be significant and easily measurable roughly by the end of this century."
The narrator adds that most scientists agree that the temperature will rise by "some two degrees in the next century … but the warming will be much more dramatic in some areas than in others."
Dr. William Kellogg then returns to explain that "by the middle of next century, when we might have twice as much carbon dioxide than in 1900, it may rise by an average of 2-3°C, but in the polar regions 5 or 10°C, which becomes a very large change and would change the whole character of the polar regions."
The metric used to estimate the warming caused by a doubling in concentration of atmospheric CO2 is known as "equilibrium climate sensitivity" (ECS). The most recent IPCC report, published in 2013, gave an ECS range of 1.5-4.5°C, with the majority of climate scientists still believing that 2-3°C of warming is most likely from a doubling of CO2 concentration.
Running time: 23:16-25:25
The narrator explains that there is already "some tentative evidence" that the poles have already begun to warm. But the film concentrates on the risk of the "inherently unstable" Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf melting.
Schneider provides a succinct summary of what might happen if one of these "kilometer thick floating blocks of ice," which are "pinned" on islands, were to disintegrate due to global warming. Because they act like "buttresses of a medieval building," they are holding back the ice on the land, he says: "If the climate warms up by a few degrees, there are a number of glaciologists who believe these shelves could break up."
This could then lead to a "surge" of land ice entering the ocean which could cause sea-level rise of up to 5-8 meters (16-26 feet). The narrator stresses that glaciologists "disagree" whether this is likely to occur within "decades or centuries," adding:
"However, a rise of up to 20 feet would make the new Thames barrier, designed to meet surge tides of 11 feet, redundant."
It imagines a scenario—illustrated with aerial shots of 1981 central London—where "Buckingham Palace would be under seven feet of water."
Running time: 25:26-27:47
How do scientists know how CO2 will likely impact the climate in the future? The film moves on to discuss the use of computer models by climate scientists.
"The simplest way to figure out how a CO2 increase will change the climate is no theory at all. Just go ahead and find some Twin Earth and pollute it and see what happens. But we don't have a Twin Earth, so we have to build one … The only thing you can do is build a mathematical model to try to simulate the way the earth's climate behaves."
The narrator says that the "latest generation of computers," which "make 80 million calculations a second," are being used at research centers around the world, such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. The narrator adds:
"The computer is fed with equations that relate to the behavior of clouds … to that of sea … to the role of sunlight … and to the effect of the poles. The model's subtlety can be tested and refined by observing how well it imitates the real climate, responds to seasonal differences and regional change. Though crude compared to the real thing, it is a useful tool."
Dr. Kellogg remarks that they "look as if they match our real system rather well."
Then you take the model, Schneider said, and you "literally pollute it" by going to the computer and "typing in a couple of cards." That's where the climate predictions come from, he said.
Running time: 33:23-37:15
Beyond the clips highlighted above, the film also discusses the best choice of power generation, carbon pollution caused by transport, how to feed a growing population and the impact of land-use change through deforestation and agriculture. Still today, all very familiar topics of debate and research.
But the most remarkable section of the documentary is, perhaps, its conclusion. The narration is both poignant and prescient:
"Uncertainty will permeate energy policy, if only because such a policy needs to be introduced before the irrefutable evidence that it is needed. They'll be difficulties, too. The call for restraint in a society built on the exploitation of energy may meet irresistible forces. There is, for example, the vested interests that many of the world's great corporations have in fossil fuels and the power they could wield on their behalf. International agreement will be needed to control the use of fossil fuels, but with the third world likely to benefit from climatic changes [one part of the film explores the idea of warming helping to grow crops in some famine-hit regions], and while China and Russia have vast reserves of coal, that seems unlikely.
"Alternatives to fossil fuels, such as nuclear power, have their own dangers. Or, in the case of solar energy, present technical problems. Yet a serious policy of fuel conservation, which makes good sense for many other reasons, becomes imperative as a result of the CO2 problem."
Gus Speth then reappears for a final comment: "Long before we could ever use all the coal on this planet, we will have greatly exceeded tolerable levels of CO2 concentration. We ought to face the fact that we can't use all that coal … The CO2 issue is not being seriously considered. And it is high time that it should be."
He adds: "Is the world ours to experiment with? I think not. I think we owe future generations, other life on the planet, a profound duty of restraint and, right now, we don't seem to be exercising it."
The narrator then ends the film with a concluding monologue:
"But to stop the easy flow of energy is difficult. We all enjoy it far too much … It is our wealth that has manufactured CO2. But, having created the problem, can we reasonably ask countries that have never enjoyed all this to exercise restraint?
"When economists argue that our industrial difficulties can only be relieved by promoting industry and creating growth, CO2 seems a remote problem. Yet more jobs mean more power and increased CO2 … Government today is not designed to deal with a problem of this dimension at such a timescale, a problem challenging the belief that more means better …
"The prospect of a warmer world may seem superficially attractive. Electorates are unlikely to be seduced by policies of restraint, constraint and self-denial … To apply the brake now, to introduce policies and avert the possibility of a crisis ahead, demands a vision across decades among politicians who rarely hold office for more than a few years. Economic imperatives, political realities and the very way our society is organized dictate that the power continue to flow. But now we know what this implies …
"Yet we're mortgaging the world against the future to be paid by our descendants, our children. The carbon dioxide problem is a warning …
"Man has demonstrated he has the capacity to change one of the great natural systems of the world. The sheer weight of our presence is altering the planet. Our industry has now become part of the climate, a new intruder disturbing an old system. Most of the small group of scientists who really understand the interactions of the climate have now warned us in measured language of the prospects that we face."
Running time: 46:20-53:43
Finally, for further context, Carbon Brief has produced this chart showing global CO2 emissions since 1959. It allows you to quickly see the continued increase in emissions since the documentary was broadcast in 1981. Or, to put it another way, just over a trillion tons of CO2 have entered the atmosphere since the film was first shown.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Carbon Brief.
By Dirk Lorenzen
2021 begins as a year of Mars. Although our red planetary neighbor isn't as prominent as it was last autumn, it is still noticeable with its characteristic reddish color in the evening sky until the end of April. In early March, Mars shines close to the star cluster Pleiades in the constellation Taurus.
A Landing Like a James Bond Movie<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MDU5MDQ2Nn0.aLE-s5r9YhoJs40XbavhUwUXdY97iykXqo0OO0S5eso/img.jpg?width=980" id="19fa1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c758d3cd0d3e11fbd5290bb95da86396" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="700" data-height="394" />
NASA's Mars 2020 Perseverance rover (shown in artist's illustration) is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to Mars. Ingenuity, a technology experiment, will be the first aircraft to attempt controlled flight on another planet. Perseverance will arrive at Mars' Jezero Crater with Ingenuity attached to its belly. NASA<p>The highlight of this year's Mars exploration is the landing of the NASA rover "Perseverance" on February 18. Once the spacecraft enters the atmosphere it will be slowed down by friction. The heat shield will surpass 1,000 degrees Celsius. Later, parachutes will deploy to slow it down even more. Roughly two kilometers above the planet's surface, a sky crane comes into play. Four thrusters keep the crane properly oriented.</p><p><span></span>The rover is connected to the crane by nylon tethers. Upon approach of Mars' surface, the sky crane will lower Perseverance down about 7 meters. Once the rover has touched down, the tethers are cut and the sky crane flies off to land somewhere else on the surface.</p><p>Entry, descent and landing takes just seven minutes – the so-called seven minutes of terror. The flight team can't interact with the spacecraft on Mars. Experts have to sit and watch what's happening more than 200 million kilometers away. Radio signals from the spacecraft need about 11 minutes to travel in one direction. When the control center in Pasadena, California receives the message that entry has begun, Perseverance will already be on the ground. There is only one chance for a smooth landing. Any error could mean the mission is lost. The audacious sky crane maneuver would be a great feat in any action movie. But NASA knows how to do it – the Curiosity rover landed with a sky crane in 2012.</p>
Life on Mars?<p>Scientists want to use Perseverance to explore whether there is or ever has been life on Mars. Today the planet is a hostile environment – dry and cold with no magnetic field shielding the harsh radiation from space. Life as we know it can't survive on the Martian surface right now. But billions of years ago, Mars was hotter and wetter and had a shield against radiation. So it is at least plausible that simple microbes developed there. Maybe they live in the soil now, one or two meters below the surface. Perseverance will collect samples to find out. A future mission by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will pick up the samples and return them to Earth. But this won't happen before 2030.</p>
The Long Wait for James Webb<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2OTM1MDUzNX0.0Jmw-vIz6zuOa7eNsVX2oVzc0L6AFp05cAs4QbzdK6c/img.jpg?width=980" id="9cf3e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d46a2f73a4a2e32a9775087750c92431" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="700" data-height="394" />
The Hubble Space Telescope has been orbiting the Earth for more than 30 years. NASA<p>The Hubble Space Telescope's images of planets, nebulae, star clusters and galaxies are legendary. The cosmic eye, launched in 1990, is likely to fail towards the end of this decade. The James Webb Space Telescope will be its successor. It is scheduled to launch on October 31 with a European Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.</p><p><span></span>The launch date is about 14 years later than planned when the project began in 1997. At almost $10 billion (€8.2 billion), the telescope is more than ten times as expensive as originally conceived. Its namesake James Webb was the NASA administrator during the height of the Apollo project in the 1960s.</p><p>Astronomers expect completely new insights from James Webb Telescope images, such as how the universe came into being, how it developed and how galaxies, stars and planets are formed. The instrument will observe the earliest childhood of the cosmos and photograph objects that already existed in the universe 200 to 300 million years after the Big Bang. James Webb, as the experts call the telescope for short, may even provide information about possibly inhabited exoplanets – planets like ours orbiting stars other than the Sun. </p>
A Sensitive German Camera<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyOTIxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTE0MzY3Mn0.o3aPaW5t0MFkEgeJl0HQ1V9lz6WDxKVGXyYWvpfoYyk/img.jpg?width=980" id="6ff49" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="187458ae2291c2aeb3bd36bc1ed777e0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="985" data-height="657" />
The fully assembled James Webb Space Telescope with its sunshield and unitized pallet structures that will fold up around the telescope for launch. NASA<p>The mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope is 6.5 meters in diameter and consists of 18 hexagonal segments. The entire instrument unfolds in 178 steps over a period of several months. Only then – probably in the spring of 2022 – will we see its first images.</p><p>Many communication or reconnaissance satellites only unfold in space. However, not every micrometer is as important as with this telescope. </p><p>NIRSpec, one of the four cameras on board, was built at Airbus in Ottobrunn near Munich. It is made of an unusual material: ceramic. Both the basic structure and the mirrors are made of this very light, hard and extremely temperature-insensitive material. With good reason – the large camera has to withstand a lot in space. It is cooled to around -250 degrees Celsius in order to register the weak infrared or thermal radiation from the depths of space. Plastic or metal bend and lead to blurred images. Ceramic, on the other hand, remains in perfect shape.</p><p>The NIRSpec instrument will examine, among other things, emerging stars and distant galaxies. The ceramic camera is incredibly sensitive – it could register the heat radiation from a burning cigarette on the Moon. Thanks to this precision, astronomers will get completely new insights into the cosmos with the James Webb Telescope and NIRSpec.</p>
No Flight to the Moon but to the ISS<p>It's not very likely that the Orion spacecraft from NASA and ESA will start its maiden voyage to the Moon before the end of 2021. As part of the Artemis-1 mission, it will remain in space for four weeks and will orbit the Moon for a few days. There will be no crew on board for the first flight, but two dummies from the German Aerospace Center, which use thousands of sensors to measure the conditions that human beings would be exposed to. The Orion capsule comes from NASA, while the ESA supplies the service module. The service module, which is being built by Airbus in Bremen, provides propulsion, navigation, altitude control and the supply of air, water and fuel. After problems with an engine test in mid-January, the new NASA large rocket Space Launch System (SLS), with which Orion is supposed to be launched, is unlikely to be operational until early 2022.</p><p><span></span>Matthias Maurer from Saarland is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) in October. The flight will be in a Crew Dragon capsule from Cape Canaveral. Maurer will live and work in the orbital outpost for six months. He is currently training to work on numerous scientific experiments. Maurer will be the twelfth German in space.</p><p>So far, Germany has only sent men into space. In mid-March, ESA will start the next application process for astronauts. A few years ago, the private initiative Die Astronautin ("She is an astronaut") showed that there are numerous excellent female applicants.</p>
Two Lunar Eclipses<p>Even if there is no flight to the Moon, sky fans are looking forward to two eclipses this year. On May 26, there will be a lunar eclipse between 9:45 and 12:53 UTC. From 11:10 to 11:28 UTC, the Moon will be completely in the Earth's shadow. It can then only be seen in a copper-red light. This is sunlight that is directed into the Earth's shadow by the Earth's atmosphere – reddish, like the sky at sunset. This eclipse can be observed throughout the Pacific, and will be best viewed in Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and Antarctica. In Europe, the Moon will be below the horizon and therefore the eclipse will not be visible.</p><p>This also the case for the partial lunar eclipse on November 19. From 07:18 to 10:47 UTC, the Moon will be partly in the shadow of the Earth. In the middle of the eclipse (around 9:03 UTC) 98% of the Moon will be eclipsed. The spectacle will be best seen in North America, Greenland, East Asia and much of the Pacific, such as Hawaii and New Zealand.</p>
Two Solar Eclipses: One Annular, One Total<p><span>In 2021, the Moon will pass right in front of the sun, twice. On June 10, the moon will be nearly in the furthest point of its elliptical orbit around Earth. So it will be too small to cover the sun completely. In the middle of this eclipse, an annulus of the sun will remain visible. The sun's ring of fire appears between 9:55 and 11:28 UTC for a maximum of four minutes – but it will only be visible in the very sparsely populated areas of northeast Canada, northwestern Greenland, the North Pole and the far east of Siberia.</span></p><p>In the North Atlantic, Europe and large parts of Russia, an eclipse will be seen at least partially. Between 8:12 and 13:11 UTC, the Sun will appear like a cookie that has been bitten into as the Moon covers parts of the bright disk. In some places, the eclipse will last about two hours. In Central Europe, a maximum of one-fifth of the sun will be covered.</p>
Dark Sun Over Antarctica<p>The celestial event of the year will be a total solar eclipse on December 4. In a 400-kilometer-wide strip, the New Moon will cover the sun completely. For a maximum of one minute and 54 seconds, day will turn to night. For that short time, the brightest stars can be seen in the sky and the flaming solar corona can be seen around the dark disc of the Moon.</p><p><span></span>Unfortunately, hardly anyone will get to see this cosmic spectacle because the strip of totality only runs through the Southern Ocean and the Antarctic. From 7:03 to 8:04 UTC the umbra of the Moon moves across the Earth's surface – and perhaps some ships' crews will enjoy the solar corona.</p><p>Only during the few minutes of totality is it possible to look safely at the Sun with the naked eye. During the partial phase or in the case of an annular eclipse, suitable protective goggles are necessary to watch the spectacle. Normal sunglasses are not safe. Looking unprotected into the sun can lead to severe eye damage or even blindness.</p>
Two Giant Planets in Northern Summer and Southern Winter<p>Venus, our other neighboring planet, will be behind the sun on March 26. It is not visible for the first few months of the year. From the end of April through Christmas, it will be visible as an evening star in the sky after sunset. The planet, shrouded in dense clouds, is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun and the Moon. The best visibility will be from September to December.</p><p>The giant planet Jupiter is in its best position of the year on August 20. It then shines in the constellation Capricorn, only disappearing from the evening sky at the beginning of next year. The ringed planet Saturn is also in the constellation Capricorn and can be observed particularly well on August 2. </p><p>Jupiter and Saturn are the stars of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and those of the long winter nights in the Southern Hemisphere. They are in the same area of the sky, almost forming a double star with Jupiter being the brighter of the two.</p>
Shooting Stars in August and December<p>There are certain periods when the Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet and shooting stars are much more likely than on other nights. Many small stones and dust particles are scattered on comet orbits, which light up the Earth's atmosphere for a moment when they enter.</p><p>The Perseids are particularly promising: August 9-13, a few dozen meteors (the technical term for shooting stars) will scurry across the sky per hour. The traces of light will seem to come from the constellation Perseus, near the striking celestial W of Cassiopeia. The Geminids – meteors coming from the constellation Gemini – will be similarly exciting with up to 100 shooting stars per hour, December 10-15.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
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By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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