Back in the 1980s the big environmental issue was Acid Rain, but now you never hear about instead all the talk is of climate change. So what ever happen to acid rain, was it real or just a myth?
During the 80’s I spent several summers working on a farm in Norway, where I was told about the about dead lake in the mountains. These were lakes where all the fish had died due to acidification of the water due to airborne pollution, which I was regularly told, that came from British power stations. It wasn’t just in Britain that was the culprit, in other parts of Europe, tree were dying in the Black Forest, blamed on East Germany and other countries in Eastern Europe. In Sweden and Finland there were forest and lakes were being poisoned by acid rain which came from West Germany and Eastern Europe. In North America the Canadians were complaining of acid rain from the Us of A.
So what was this acid rain and where did come from? Well acid rain or more correctly acid deposition is due to a mixture of air pollutants which can lead to acidification of freshwater and soils (for more information see the Air Pollution Information System). A major component of this long distance acid deposition is Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is caused by the burning of high sulphur fossil fuels electricity generation, industry and domestic heating. The traditional solution to dealing smoke pollution from this type of combustion was to build a bigger chimney and move the problem further away. As air pollution is no respecter of political bounders this lead to the problem becoming transboundary which need international action to solve. So starting with the 1985 Helsinki Protocol (the “30% club”) international action was taken and a number protocols agreed leading to the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution.
As result of these international agreements the problem of acid deposition (acid rain), in the developed world, have been greatly reduced, although there are still worries about the effects of acidification in upland areas (see Smith et al. 2000, etc for more information). In the developing world, especially in China and India acid deposition is an increasing problem as environmental legislation in these countries is not strong.
This show that where there is the political will to do something about it such transboundary, and indeed global, environmental problems can be tackled and solved. In a week when it has been made abundantly clear by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that climate change is a real issue and a largely man made one at that (see IPCC 4th Assessment Report), we all have a duty to do something about it.