Peter Dykstra: Good news and hope on an otherwise gloomy beat
Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program

Peter Dykstra: Good news and hope on an otherwise gloomy beat

It's sometimes hard to find hope amid the news of environmental degradation. Here's some.

We try our best to present the honest news on environment, health and climate on these pages every day.


It's really not our fault that on balance, there's more bad news than good: Melting ice and permafrost, vanishing habitat, a crushing body burden of poisons from our chemical-laden lives. Some days EHNand The Daily Climate are more like The Daily Bummer.

But we should still occasionally take a break from the dreary drumbeat and look at the many steps forward in our fragile world. Here's a sampling of some progress.

I'll save some more for later, since we'll surely still need an antidote for eco-sadness.

Clean energy is not looking back

Credit: Edison Sub-District Office District 4 United Steelworkers

During the first "Energy Crisis" of the 1970's, President Richard Nixon dismissed calls for investment in wind and solar energy as an unrealistic pitch for technologies widely seen to be "30 years off."

Nearly 50 years later, we're about to make a semi-honest man out of Nixon, at least on this one point. China leads the world in solar energy development; in the U.S., Wal-Mart, long held as an environmental villain, has covered the roofs of its big box stores with solar panels.

Traditional oil and gas states like Texas and Oklahoma are cashing in on windpower, while offshore windfarms are jumping off the drawing board in New Jersey and New England.

Love that Dirty Water no more

The 1966 song "Dirty Water" immortalized the condition of Boston's Harbor and Charles River. Twenty-two years later, George H.W. Bush used Boston Harbor's filth as a campaign issue against Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race. Today, the Harbor is vastly cleaner, and this summer, humpback whales cavorted in that once-dirty water.

And the Hudson River is said to be its cleanest in 100 years. While still hosting PCB's dumped by two General Electric factories in the mid-twentieth centuries, the river sees fewer sewage and chemical discharges.

A few miles away, the Hackensack Meadowlands are recovering from more than two centuries of being on the receiving end of a massive industrial bowel movement from the Metro New York area.

Sewage, toxic chemicals, garbage, and the occasional Mafia corpse were Meadowlands trademarks. These days, you're more likely to see kayakers tracking migratory birds than the remains of Jimmy Hoffa. Last week, the annual Meadowlands Birding Festival drew hundreds of birders from all over the U.S.

Similarly, the decades-long cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay is paying off. The Bay's leading NGO says the Chesapeake is cleaner now than any point in the past 33 years.

Big (Green) Brother 

Imagine you're a Texas State Trooper. Now imagine you're the only Texas State Trooper, responsible for patrolling from El Paso to Brownsville to Port Arthur to Lubbock and back again to catch speeders and other desperadoes.

The island nation of Palau had a problem with illegal fishing in its marine sanctuary, which is roughly the size of Texas. Palau's budget stretched to afford staffing one patrol boat.

Now imagine you've got an eye in the sky – satellite monitoring that can cover Palau's sprawling Pacific expanse. Environmental monitoring from the sky, pioneered by nonprofits like the West Virginia-based SkyTruth, can help snag today's eco-desperadoes – illegal logging, destructive mining, and pirate fishing.

In 2017, satellite monitoring helped the Palauans nab a pirate fleet from Vietnam. The mighty Palauan Navy seized the vessels and burned them.

Liberating rivers 

Credit: Pelennor/flickr

Work to remove two dams on the Elwha River in Washington State's Olympic Peninsula began in 2011. With nature taking the lead, both the riverbed and salmon runs are coming back. The Elwha and Glines Canyon dams were hydroelectric assets that grew obsolete over the decades.

In places like Maine's Penobscot River, ancient former industrial workhorse dams are coming down. Demolition of Maryland's Bloede Dam is underway this month.

On the Chattahoochee River, two more obsolete hydro dams were removed several years ago, creating a whitewater tourist attraction in downtown Columbus, Georgia. Another dam project is underway on the Oconee River, near the University of Georgia in Athens.

In Chile, the government yielded to public pressure in 2014, cancelling a multi-billion dollar project to build five dams on two pristine rivers in Patagonia.

So there you have a partial list of some of the breakthroughs and victories in environment and energy. I'm looking forward to writing about more, and would welcome your suggestions. My email is pdykstra@ehn.org

And when you're feeling cynical, remember this: If we play our cards right, all the acid we're putting in the ocean will eat all the plastic we're putting in the ocean.

*The song "Dirty Water" was performed by the Standells, a teenage garage band from L.A. that had never set foot in Boston or its filthy harbor. The song never made the Top Thirty, but remains as an anthem today for Boston sports teams. The video above shows also one of the worst efforts at lip-synching in history.

pipeline protest
Protesters rallying in opposition to the PennEast pipeline. (Credit: Delaware Riverkeeper Network)

Protesting oil and gas line development harms mental health and creates distrust in government: Study

“The number of stress-activated health conditions people reported was quite staggering."

PITTSBURGH — Engaging in public participation during permitting for oil and gas pipelines often harms mental health and creates distrust in government, according to a new study.

Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
plastic waste
Credit: Unsplash+

Plastic chemicals are more numerable and less regulated than previously thought: Report

HOUSTON — Fewer than 6% of more than 16,000 chemicals associated with plastic production are regulated worldwide, according to a new report from PlastChem.

Keep reading...Show less

Methane emissions far exceed official estimates, study finds

A new study highlights the significant underreporting of methane emissions by the oil and gas industry, revealing emissions approximately three times higher than Environmental Protection Agency figures.

Jeff Brady reports for NPR.

Keep reading...Show less
petrochemicals Texas
Cristina Lazo starts the daily routine of washing her daughter Alina’s hands, changing clothes and rubbing an ointment on her irritated eyes after coming home from the outside. (Credit: Danielle Villasana for The Texas Tribune)

Toxic air lingers in Texas Latino community, revealing failures in state’s air monitoring system

This project was created through the Altavoz Lab Environmental Fellowship in partnership with Environmental Health Sciences and received additional funding from the Pulitzer Center. It was co-published by The Texas Tribune, Environmental Health News and palabra.

Keep reading...Show less

Gulf Coast sees petrochemical surge, raising environmental and economic concerns

A new report highlights the rapid expansion of petrochemical facilities along the Gulf Coast, drawing billions in tax breaks despite pollution concerns.

Dylan Baddour reports for Inside Climate News.

Keep reading...Show less

UK's climate adaptation efforts deemed inadequate by experts

The UK's strategy for climate change adaptation significantly lacks the depth and urgency needed, as outlined by the Committee on Climate Change.

Fiona Harvey reports for The Guardian.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
petrochemicals Texas

El aire tóxico en una comunidad latina de Texas revela los fallos del sistema estatal de control de calidad del aire

Los datos públicos de una red de monitores estatales del aire alrededor del Canal de Navegación de Houston son difíciles de interpretar y a menudo son insuficientes, dejando a vecindarios de mayoría latina, como Cloverleaf, sin saber si el aire que respiran es seguro.

Global Plastic Treaty

This will be a big year in shaping the future of chemical recycling

The controversial practice looms large in state environmental laws, federal regulation and global plastic treaty negotiations.

plastic chemical recycling

What is chemical recycling?

While industry claims it could be part of a circular plastics economy, experts say that chemical recycling is extremely damaging to the environment and provides no real benefits.

algoma steel sault pollution

Cleaner steelmaking can’t come fast enough for this Northern Ontario city

Algoma Steel continues to exceed Canada’s standard air pollution limits for cancer-causing compounds and struggles with spills as it pushes toward a “green” makeover.

petrochemical shell pennsylvania plastic

Tracking petrochemical accidents across the US

A new database monitors fires, flares, spills and other accidents at petrochemical plants.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.