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Landmark 70s environmental laws cleaned Cleveland, Cuyahoga River, and Lake Erie

Marc Lefkowitz  |  02/17/17 @ 10:00am  |  Posted in Transform

Today we participate in the #DayofFacts—a national campaign started by two museum professionals concerned about forces that have questioned the fact-finding nature of science.

In their statement on why they are joining 200 museums and science-based institutions in posting facts derived from scientific inquiry, The Newbury Library writes:

“We hope to engage in a dialogue on what counts as a fact and how scholars work to establish a fact.

“There are archival silences in the Newberry’s collection; there are past events whose printed or written accounts either don’t survive or were never created in the first place. Many cultures have documented their heritage through oral storytelling and other non-writing traditions. “Verifying” these moments of the past may be difficult, but that doesn’t diminish their historical truth.”

Cleveland then<br />An aerial view of Cleveland where the Cuyahoga River flows into Lake Erie. The image is from before the Clean Water Act, when pollution was routinely dumped into the river.Cleveland now<br />The Clean Water and Clean Air acts helped Cleveland clean the environment and still maintain a steel industry.

Did you know that the majority of Americans are very concerned about climate change?

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which for nearly a decade has conducted a large, national poll of American opinion on climate change, reported last month that “a majority of Americans (61%) say they are 'very' or 'somewhat' worried about global warming—nearly equal to the highest level recorded in 2008 (62%)."

Concern for the environment in the past has inspired the nation to act. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” captured the concern that many had with pollution. Carson described how DDT, a widely used chemical, disrupted natural areas and living systems. It became an instant best seller, President Kennedy read it and it helped to galvanize the environmental movement.

You may not know that Cleveland played a part in the passage of landmark environmental legislation and the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Air and Clean Water acts, passed with bi-partisan support in Congress in 1972, succeeded in cleaning up many of the worst environmental dump sites—including The Cuyahoga River. A nation watched in horror as the Cuyahoga River literally caught fire one fateful Sunday in June 1969 (from an oil slick, causing $100,000 in damage). That particular fire on the Cuyahoga is widely credited with gathering popular support for the Clean Water Act.

Forty seven years later, the Cuyahoga has been transformed from a river where pollution from factories was openly dumped to a natural area that supports fish, wildlife and recreation (rowing, kayaking, biking and hiking). Steel is being made along its banks still, but Cleveland is safer and more attractive as a result of cleaning up the river. An influx of residents have rekindled an interest in keeping it clean. Major investments like the Cleveland Foundation Centennial Trail, The Flats East Bank, Merwin’s Wharf, The Ohio City Bike Co-Op have flowed in as a result. Last year, a group discovered a walleye, a native fish, swimming in the river for the first time in decades.

The river connects to Lake Erie, our most important natural resource. Our health is bound to its health. Clean air and water have supplied countless benefits to Greater Clevelanders. Environmental protections have reduced cases of air and water-borne illness and have supported new life and biological diversity. In their book, "Natural Capitalism", national leaders on “capitalizing” on a clean environment, Amory and Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawkins, calculate that a clean environment provides billions of dollars in “ecological services” both to industry’s like the $1 billion Lake Erie fishing and tourism sector and in the avoided cost of hospitalization from asthma attacks and lead poisoning, which are both major concerns for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County children.

Unlike the Cuyahoga River catching fire, climate change is an emergency happening in slow motion. It has taken a generation to notice the clear and present danger of climate change. For decades now, the consensus report of the IPCC, the most comprehensive study of climate from hundreds of climate scientists around the world, has found “overwhelming evidence” that human behavior is influencing climate change.

We can no longer afford to ignore the evidence. We must continue the progress and find solutions to climate change.

As more people choose renewable energy to power their homes and businesses, the costs for solar and wind power has significantly dropped. Renewables are market competitive in many places with coal and other dirty sources of energy. As people have chosen to live in walkable, transit connected places, the policies at the U.S. Department of Transportation and at the local level have improved to promote low-carbon forms of transportation.

If Washington turns its back on the progress we have made as a country, we urge Cleveland and cities to take action to forestall the worst effects of climate change. We will find support in a broad coalition of health (i.e. the American Academy of Pediatrics), national security (The Department of Defense), outdoor enthusiasts, birders, scientists (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–IPCC) and science-based institutions (i.e. The Union of Concerned Scientists).

We can take action as individuals and in groups. We can act locally and think globally. But we need help. We need continued leadership at the national level. We have a responsibility as a nation to act to stop the great threat of climate change. For our part, GreenCityBlueLake will be a voice for biodiversity—the green web of life that supports us all—and for sustainable solutions to climate change. Our part in the legacy of positive environmental change is engrained in Cleveland history. We honor the brave men and women who acted then and continue to support environmental regulations and the many important programs administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in this late age of climate change.

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