It is easy sometimes to feel like the problems of the world are just too large for any one person to tackle. Whether it is a global issue like climate change or more local struggles against ancient coal plants polluting the neighborhood, it feels like there are always powerful interests standing in the way. That’s why I am thankful for the Goldman Environmental Prize because it shows us just how incredible a difference one caring person can make.
Even in today’s divided political climate, taking a stance against mercury and arsenic in our air does not seem like it should be controversial. The gasses, along with other known toxics like chromium, cadmium and selenium are among 84 known air pollutants emitted every year by coal and oil fired power plants.
The mention of soot conjures images of black clouds pouring out of unfiltered cars, or of cities lost in dark fog. At times in our history, soot pollution has helped stain entire ecosystems black, famously causing moths in Britain to change color from white to black to better hide in their environment. These images are well-deserved: soot is dangerous to both humans and the environment.
In his address at the Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama spoke with his usual eloquence about invigorating growth on tribal lands, and the perfect example of this new growth is the Moapa solar project on the Moapa River Indian Reservation. Situated just 30 miles north of Las Vegas, the site will generate up to 350 megawatts of clean, renewable energy. It highlights in many ways the future of the nation’s energy supply, and unfortunately the Paiute Indians themselves know the industry’s cloudy past.
Chromium shows up in surprising places in modern society—most notably on car bumpers and furniture to improve how they look. Too often, the facilities that do this kind of plating put the carcinogen hexavalent chromium into the air in local communities where they operate.
After growing up in Massachusetts suburbia, I have fond memories of canoeing with my family on the town’s river, the Sudbury. Gliding along, we would keep our eyes peeled for turtles on the rocks or fish under the boat, and maybe if we were very lucky a heron drying off in the afternoon sun. Once or twice I even fell in, to the eternal frustration of my parents.