Air, water and Sun

By Kate Crowley

As one calendar year ends and another begins many of us take stock of where we’ve been and where we hope to be (literally as well as philosophically) in the coming year.  I would hope that everyone would also stop and think about all that our earth and our fiery star gives us.  Every day we get up and take a deep breath of oxygen without a second thought. In one day, the average adult takes 17,000-30,000 breaths per day.   Clean, breathable air; how much does that mean to you?  Then you head into the bathroom where you brush your teeth using this incredible life sustaining resource called water. Depending on what report you read, we are told that the average American drinks anywhere from 2.5 cups to 4 cups of water per day.  And we never question the safety of our water, although there may be more anxiety about this since the people of Flint, Michigan found theirs was severely polluted with lead. And then there is the sun.  Though it has hidden behind clouds for many days these past few months, we have no reason to believe it won’t rise every morning; this glowing orb which allows life to persist on this blue planet. 
Of the three ingredients for life on this planet, only the third in the above list is guaranteed.  I don’t think enough people really appreciate that fact.  We in the U.S., at least since the 1960s and 70s have come to expect that the government will regulate and protect our water and air for us. These concerns were already being addressed in the late 1940s and mid-1950s, but it was the Clean Air Act of 1963 that established federal legislation that authorized research into techniques for monitoring and controlling air pollution.
In the late 1960s a growing public awareness and concern for our drinking water led to the Clean Water Act of 1972.  We’re looking at 40 to 50 years of continued efforts to protect our air and water and there are a three generations of people who have never known any other way.  No wonder these resources are taken for granted.  But, these Acts are constantly subject to changes based on power shifts in Washington DC.   This is very much on my mind as we enter 2017 and find a new administration that has not been tested in these areas.  This should never be a partisan issue; it wasn’t when the original Acts were put into place and it shouldn’t be now.  So, I hope everyone will pay close attention to the rhetoric and actions by the elected officials when it comes to our water and air.
As for the sun; there is good news.  It is not expected to burn out for another billion years and in the meantime we are making significant progress in harnessing its energy to use for fuel to electrify our lives.  One of the major sources of air pollution and climate change is the burning of fossil fuels and coal is known to be one of the worst offenders.  Each year more coal fired power plants become obsolete as other sources of energy come on line.  Right now natural gas has been the biggest winner in this race, but it comes at a high environmental price too, since it is extracted through the drilling practice known as fracking.   
Minnesota has been leading the way in renewable energy sources for some time.  According to J.Drake Hamilton of Fresh Energy, a Minnesota climate and energy nonprofit, “in the last five years in Minnesota, economic decisions to close coal plants have slated 14 coal units for retirement. The revolution that’s being driven by strong growth in renewable energy, energy efficiency based on prices, is well underway.”  A solar installation in Slayton, Minnesota — the state’s largest, with a capacity of 2 megawatts — was brought online in 2013.  Minnesota has a real opportunity to set an energy example for the rest of the country.  Development of wind, solar and natural gas is one reason we are leading the way. 
Sun, water, air; the triumvirate of life on earth.  How well we live in the coming decades will depend greatly on how we treat and use each of them. Worth thinking about.

1.3 million Minnesotans — 25 percent of the population — get their drinking water from community water systems that rely on surface water.
2.7 million — 52 percent — get drinking water from public water systems that rely on wells.
1.2 million — 23 percent — get drinking water from private wells.
Less than 1% worldwide from surface waters -  99% from groundwater
Clean Power Plan.


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