Sometimes we're so bombarded with bad news that positive progress just can't make it through the information glut. So here's the Earth in balance, a planetary report card with both good and bad grades.
First the Good News…
The Ozone Hole. The hole isn't shrinking yet, but our use of aerosols and other chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) is. Are better air days ahead?
Hemp. There are movements underway to legalize this versatile fiber in 14 states. But don't worry, nobody's smoking the industrial stuff.
Dams. The crash of Maine's 160-year-old Edwards Dam was heard 'round the world. Too bad some of the megaprojects—like China's Three Gorges Dam—are still on track.
Styrofoam. This landfill stuffer has an unlimited half-life, and McDonald's isn't the only corporation getting the message to trash it.
Car-Free Zones. Europe is leading the way in getting automobiles out of central cities. Unclogging the highways is the next step.
Urban Air. Happy days: Los Angeles has its clearest skies in 50 years. But now Houston is the smoggiest city in America. Come home, George W. Bush, your state needs you.
Environmental Awareness. A huge majority of Americans, 85 percent in some polls, identify themselves as green. Though for many that means little more than putting the recycling bin by the curb, it's a start.
Fertility Rates. Most parts of the world are moving, albeit slowly, back down to a replacement level of two children per couple. In Africa, five kids are the average, but consumption rates are low.
Recycling. Our 28 percent recycling rate is four times what it was 30 years ago. Now if we'd just learn to reduce and reuse…
Packaging Laws. In Germany, companies voluntarily reduce packaging to avoid having to pay to reclaim it. When will cardboard-and-cellophane-obsessed America follow suit?
Fuel Cells. By 2004, four or five auto companies will be marketing cars powered by these clean power plants. And fuel cell houses are on their way, too. (It's about time, since the cells were invented in 1839.)
Wind Energy. This zero-polluting power is the fastest-growing energy source in the world today. Do you feel the breeze?
Organic Agriculture. With national standards finally in place, organic producers are supplying a hungry market that grows by 25 percent a year. It's not hard to understand the appeal, when displayed next to genetically engineered tomatoes grown with flounder genes.
Natural Foods. They're not just in health food stores anymore. Boca Burgers and Not Dogs have gone mainstream as part of a $28 billion natural supermarket explosion.
Green Business. Is “corporate conscience” an oxymoron? Tell it to the environmentally-concerned companies that do $110 billion in sales annually.
Voluntary Simplicity. The American Dream is changing. Happiness is no longer a two-car garage.
Open Space. Communities are finding their best protection against sprawl: preserving their natural legacy. And the public gets a place to walk the dog without being slapped with a jaywalking ticket.
Environmental Education. Despite a corporate backlash, green curriculums are the law in more than 30 states. Maybe the kids really are all right.
The Internet. Green information once sequestered in dusty files and government databases, now appears on-screen with the click of a mouse.
River Cleanups. Our favorite Merit Badge.
College Activism. Bye, bye binge drinking. Students on America's 3,700 campuses are getting buzzed on building cob houses and fighting environmental racism.
Fair Trade. From Rainforest Crunch to Thanksgiving Coffee, it's about workers' cooperatives and paying a living wage. Are you listening, Nike?
Ecotourism. Nobody just bakes in the sun anymore. It's about taking responsibility for your travel and treading lightly.
And Now the Bad News…
Global Warming. The rising tides, melting polar ice, migrating species and unusual weather that come with the territory are made worse by all the hot air from Congressional Republicans and industries-in-denial fighting to prevent ratification of the Kyoto Accords.
Ancient Forest Protection. We have only five percent of our old-growth left, and it's disappearing fast. Will we ever get Julia Butterfly down from that tree?
Genetically Engineered Foods. American producers are quietly modifying more than half our food supply. At least Terminator Seeds got terminated.
Saving Endangered Species. According to biologist E.O. Wilson, we're entering the “sixth extinction,” the greatest loss of animals and plants in millennia. Most likely to survive: humans and cockroaches.
Oil Spills. The Exxon Valdez was just the one that got reported.
Overfishing. Factory trawlers are vacuuming the seas, and throwing one quarter of the annual catch back overboard—dead. They call it “bycatch”; we call it shocking waste.
Ocean Pollution. We thought the seas were too vast to damage, but now six-pack rings and old tires wash up on even our most remote beaches.
Desertification. Grazing and logging-related erosion are squandering millions of acres of productive farmland each year. Today's Old MacDonald is tomorrow's Bedouin.
Population (sheer numbers). We reached six billion this fall, and we'll be 10 billion by 2050. Isn't birth control a family value?
Exotic Species. Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, brown tree snakes in Guam, rabbits in Australia—all play havoc with natural ecosystems.
Endocrine Disruption. Girls are maturing earlier and animal abnormalities are piling up. Is it something in the water? The food supply? Or both?
Urban Sprawl. In 20 years, Chicago swallowed up 46 percent more land area, while the population grew by only four percent. How many more mini-malls and big-box outlets do we need?
Environmental “Riders.” Congressional Republicans are using “trojan horses” to sneak bad bills through the legislature. There's a Lott of blame to go around.
Pollution-Induced Asthma. Asthma rates among American kids have doubled in the last decade. Do we need to add “breathing” to the Bill of Rights?