Covering more than 70 percent of the earth's surface, oceans play an important role in many physical, chemical and biological processes. Oceans generate most of the oxygen in the atmosphere, absorb a significant amount of carbon dioxide and pollution, and recycle other greenhouse gases.
Oceans are also home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, which over time, humans have come to view as a resource. Modern fisheries, however, with their exponential increase in capacity as well as their geographic concentration, have dramatically altered the marine environment. High-volume harvesting depletes the food for native predators, whose populations often suffer.
Our work here at Futures Project has focused on the marine biodiversity in three ecosystems: the North Pacific, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Florida coast.
Air contains elements that are vital to life on Earth. We breathe air in, absorb some of the oxygen, and then breathe out carbon dioxide. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide, absorb it to build their tissue, and breathe out oxygen. When contaminants enter the picture, however, nature's cycle is disrupted.
Today's air, particularly over cities, is a foul brew of natural air plus smoke from automobiles, factories, leaf blowers, and hundreds of other sources. There are noxious gases like sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen. There are specks of coal dust and rubber. Our bodies can tolerate only so much. When the pollution load is too great, we get sick, we slow down, our heads ache, our chests get tight, and our organs are impaired. The impact is most severe on children, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems. Air pollution does millions of dollars worth of damage to agricultural crops. It kills trees and it obscures visibility.
Futures Project has been involved in the battle to clean up our air and look for alternative energy supplies for more than 10 years. Activities have involved opposing coal-fired power plants in the Southwest, demanding the clean-up of pulp mills in the Northwest and, attempts to curtail sprawl and increases in smog-causing traffic, along with many other issues related to air quality.
The first commercial enterprise in North America was a sawmill. Established in the Virginia territory in 1607, it set the tone for the European colonizers' treatment of the forests in their new home—cut them down.
And so they did, razing most of the eastern hardwood forests by 1900 before moving west, to the softwood forests of the Rockies, California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska. The rapid clearing of the American forest brought alarm as early as the nineteenth century, and was a leading reason for the creation of the country's first conservation organizations.
Today, Americans own 191 million acres of national forest in 156 separate forests in 45 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. This is twice the size of the national park system or the national wildlife refuge system. Three times as many people visit national forests as national parks, and the forests provide habitat for more rare species than refuges do. Hundreds of communities get their drinking water from national forest streams. Most forest land in the US is in private ownership, but the few remaining stands of virgin forest are virtually all on public lands.
Even so, the national forests—the people, plants, and animals who rely on them for recreation, livelihood, and habitat—increasingly threatened by logging and related activities. More than 50 percent of the roughly 190 million acres of national forest land is already open to logging, mining, and other extractive industries. One of the most effective ways to protect a pristine forest is to keep the roads out, as proposed by the Forest Service's Roadless Area Conservation Rule. This rule is currently the subject of legal challenges.
Futures Project works on Capitol Hill to maintain strong environmental safeguards for our national forests, and in court to ensure that management of our forests is in keeping with the law.
Water covers three-quarters of the earth's surface. Rivers are the vascular system of the planet, delivering life-giving water to fields and faucets, carving valleys and canyons, depositing rich sediments on alluvial plains, flushing waste to the ocean. A human can survive a month or more without food; without water he or she will perish in a few days. Water, particularly fresh water, makes life as we know it possible.
Like air, water must be reasonably pure for it to sustain plants and animals, including people. For too long, humans have treated rivers, lakes, estuaries, and the ocean as free dumping grounds threatening your favorite summertime fishing holes and swimming spots!
Factories discharge their leftovers into rivers; eroded lands spill sediment into streams; people drain crankcases into storm sewers that empty into bays and bayous. When drinking water gets contaminated, people get sick. When rivers are tainted, fish die, recreation is shut off, and jobs disappear.
Futures Project has worked for 30 years to make the nation's waters once again—as it states in the federal Clean Water Act—fishable and swimmable. This has involved lawsuits to clean up sewage treatment plants in Hawai`i, oil refineries in California, pulp mills in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, the Washington Navy Yard in our nation's capital, and surface runoff in a dozen states.
The anthropologist Loren Eiseley wrote, "If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water." Unpolluted magic is the best kind.
Turtle Marque Aqu? Para Espa?ol
Birds and whales are miraculous creatures, but they don't read maps. Nor do plumes of smoke, or gases that accumulate in the atmosphere and change the climate. Likewise, economic activity is becoming ever more insouciant to national boundaries, plundering natural resources in one area, then moving on to the next. Trade can spread pollution even as it boosts the economy for the wealthy.
International environmental problems are tough to grip. Treaties that regulate whaling, logging, fishing, and global warming are usually voluntary and difficult to enforce.
Futures Project approaches the problem from three more-or-less distinct angles.
# We have to work to establish and apply the international human right to a healthy environment.
# Our attorneys have mounted a series of challenges aimed at reversing the present international trend of giving "free" trade priority over environmental protection.
# We have worked closely with our colleagues in other countries to develop strong environmental protection mechanisms throughout the world.
Through the enforcement of laws like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Food Quality Protection Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, we have worked to eliminate the terrible threat contaminated drinking water poses to young children; to cleanse our rivers, lakes, and streams of pollutants and sediment so we can swim and fish in them again; to eliminate harmful contaminants from the air so we can all breathe safely; and to ensure a safe and healthful food supply even for the smallest of