2001 retrospective – a year of environmental highs and lows
edie's international time tunnel takes you on a tour of 2001's world news.
January saw environmental politics – which had been gently simmering for several months since the presidential election – begin to boil, as out-going president, Bill Clinton, attempted to pass as many environmental and conservation bills as possible, and incoming president, George W Bush, attempted to unpick his predecessor’s work as fast as possible beginning, most controversially, with a pledge to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The new president’s choice of top environmental officials was regarded with great concern by environmentalists and conservationists, particularly in the case of new Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, who was reported to have once sponsored a bill to abolish the Energy Department.
In the rest of the world, 2001 was declared to be international biodiversity year, and it was revealed that global deforestation had slowed by 20% since 1995. However, a group of prominent scientists claimed that evidence that humans are causing climate change was gaining strength, and environmentalists joined forces to prevent the export from the US of 118 tonnes of mercury waste to an unknown destination in India .
In February, researchers revealed that a common fern was able to soak up extraordinary amounts of arsenic, and it was found that the population of mountain gorillas in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo had increased by more than 10% since 1989, due to the dedication and bravery of the game wardens throughout the civil war. On the bad news front, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimated that climate change will cost US$3 billion every year. In the US, meanwhile, a California was in the grip of an energy crisis.
March saw George W Bush furthering his anti-environmental reputation, with his announcement that the US would be pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol. The President also performed a U-turn on a pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and pledged to reverse Bill Clinton’s strict arsenic rule, which, later on in the year, he admitted was a big mistake.
Elsewhere in the world, it was revealed that Lake Chad in north central Africa had been reduced to one twentieth of its size since the 1960s, and the former Russian president, Mikhail Gorbachev stressed concern at the lack of vision of humankind to protect the environment.
In April, a Danish wind industry consultancy published a report predicting a 39% increase in global wind capacity throughout 2001, following a 15% increase in 2000. Oil giant BP continued the month’s renewable energy theme by announcing that it was to build the world’s largest solar power project in the Philippines, benefiting 400,000 people in 150 villages.
One of the world’s more wacky renewable energy ideas came from an Australian scientist, who constructed a flying wind turbine intended for use in the jet stream, 4.5 km above the ground, covering an area of around 20 km (12 miles) in diameter. There was further good news as far as pollution prevention goes, in the form of a new technology designed by US government scientists that cuts emissions of nitrogen oxides by 50% from diesel engines.
Meanwhile, in the US, President Bush continued with his apparent lack of commitment to the environment, announcing a cut in environmental spending for the 2002 budget of $2.3 billion, including a halving of the money set aside for spending on renewable energy from $376 million to $186 million .
May saw no let-up in environmental criticism for George W Bush, with the unveiling of his administration’s energy plan which called for more nuclear power plants and a commitment to continued reliance on coal and oil. Good news, however, included an agreement by oil company Marathon Ashland Petroleum to reduce its air emissions by 23,000 tonnes per year, and researchers at North Carolina State University announced that they were testing a permeable parking lot surface designed to cut down on potentially polluting storm water runoff.
Other international news during May included – at last – a ban on single-hull oil tankers, by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in the wake of disastrous events including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and the 1999 Erika spill off the Brittany coast. Following a warning this month from the United Nations that there were more than 500,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides – many banned – being stored in developing and transition countries, the pesticide industry vowed to help with their disposal, starting with 3,000 tonnes in Ethiopia. Officials from 122 countries also adopted a treaty banning 10 of the world’s 12 most toxic persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including the pesticides aldrin, chlordane, dieldrin and endrin.
In June, research revealed that air pollution could cause heart attacks, and researchers unveiled a scheme to convert molecules in dung into valuable commodities. China was revealed to have cut carbon dioxide emissions despite the fact that the country’s economy was growing, although the government admitted that it was losing the war on environmental degradation.
In the US, Walmart was fined $1 million for water pollution, and Wisconsin announced the opening of its first dung-driven power generator. President Bush’s new energy plan hit its first obstacle, with the House of Representatives voting 242 to 173 to prohibit new oil, gas and coal exploration within national monuments.
In July, environment ministers from around the world reached agreement on the Kyoto Protocol, with the ‘umbrella’ countries having the upper hand, as now that the US had parted company with the scheme, their participation had become essential. July also saw the publication of a raft of reports questioning the validity of focusing on the use of sinks for reducing the effects of climate change.
Haze returned to South East Asia from forest fires, from southern Thailand to Borneo, with Indonesia’s authorities admitting that it couldn’t control the problem.
In the US, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced $103.6 million in research awards for clean energy and energy efficiency.
During August, it was revealed that US recycling workers were at risk of a fatal lung disease, and the state of California decided to sue the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an attempt to force it to drop a requirement to add oxygenates to gasoline, saying it would increase air pollution and fuel costs . A report claimed that the President Bush’s energy plan would raise incomes and lower unemployment , and a Chicago couple were accused of faking mercury contamination in their home.
In the rest of the world in August, a Columbian judge ordered the suspension of US-backed drugs fumigation programme which, it was claimed, had made 35,000 Indians ill. A researcher revealed that it took more energy to make the fuel additive ethanol than it provided when burnt, and it was also revealed that by 2025, one-third of the world’s population will face water shortages.
In September, energy efficiency was the name of the game, with an international hoteliers body launching an internet tool that could save hotels around the world over £400 million, and it was pointed out by industry representatives that most companies can make energy savings of 10% without any additional expenditure.
The government of Thailand came up with its own unique method of saving energy, by requesting that civil servants did not come to work wearing jacket suits, thus saving on air conditioning .
In the US in September, it was revealed that the City of Denver, which previously had had a reputation for its smog, had dramatically cut its air pollution. However, on the morning of the 11th, US time, the world stood still as news came in that thousands of people had died in New York in the worst act of terrorism in history. As well as those that were directly affected on the day, there were also fears as to the longer-term environmental affects of the collapse of the World Trade Centre .
In October, it was revealed that the US/Canadian Great Lakes were able to cleanse themselves of pollutants as the surrounding air becomes less loaded with contaminants , and it was revealed that the US could have 20% of its energy generated by renewables by 2020. Minnesota, meanwhile, introduced Clancy, the nation’s first ever mercury sniffer dog.
Elsewhere in the world in October, New Zealand planned to increase its renewable energy by up to 42% by 2012 , and a programme to clean up the Antarctic began.
In November, the Olympic movement declared its commitment to sustainability , and a last minute agreement was reached on the details of the Kyoto Protocol , although the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) admitted that the targets could not be met.
In North America, the entire Mexican government set environmental goals for the first time, and scientists found evidence of climate change in an Alaskan lottery . New York was revealed to be the only state to spend more on public transport than on new roads; it was revealed the Dick Cheney uses renewable energy to charge his mobile phone; and two pig farming companies were told to pay up to US$50 million to remedy pollution from their farms.
Finally, in December nations agreed on environmental standards for exports, and consumers were able to buy energy efficient festive lights that use 99% less energy than conventional lights.