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"The Quartet" by Joseph J. Ellis
A gripping and dramatic portrait of one of the most crucial and misconstrued periods in American history: the years between the end of the Revolution and the formation of the federal government. Learn more
From Environmental History, Vol. 6, No. 2, (April 2001), at 316. It has become common practice among environmental advocates to use history to justify their policy positions. In keeping with its title, Clearing the Air is an attempt to set the record straight about the war against air pollution. Goklany argues that it is wrong to give the federal Clean Air Act credit for recent improvement in air quality, since historical data show that per capita emissions of SO2, VOC, NOx, CO and PM, as well as urban smoke concentrations, had peaked and were in decline long before Congress passed the modern form of the Act in 1970. To Goklany this indicates that federal legislation was unnecessary, since natural forces would have reduced emissions anyway. If the federal program was not responsible for cleaner air, then what was? Goklany attributes the improvement to a societal mechanism he calls "the environmental transition." Over the long term, emissions of a pollutant will increase to the point at which its harmfulness becomes recognized, then the problem is addressed and the pollutant starts to decline. Goklany explains this phenomenon to be a function principally of wealth and technology: as affluence and technological sophistication increase, the human desire to improve living standards causes pollution problems to be addressed. While policy advocates use history to score points, historians should judge such accounts not by their utility but by the quality of their scholarship. While the book presents a strong historical narrative in its first chapter, summarizing the history of air pollution and its control, thereafter the book addresses historical issues almost entirely through data analysis. This is an original contribution, but it has certain shortcomings.Read more ›
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In Clearing The Air, Indur Goklany (formerly chief of the technical assessment division of the National Commission on Air Quality and a consultant in the Office of Policy, Planning, and Evaluation at the Environmental Protection Agency) explains how it came to pass that America's air quality is better today than ever before in modern history -- and continues to steadily improve. Goklany draws upon a painstaking compilation of long-term empirical data to challenge the conventional wisdom that credits federal regulation with this history improvement of air quality. Clearing The Air shows that the air had been getting cleaner prior to federalization because states and localities had taken steps to clean it up. Goklany's data authoritatively refutes the argument that state and local inaction compelled the federal government to get involved. He also argues persuasively that improved technology and the shift from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy have contributed to improved air quality. Clearing The Air is an invaluable, documented, highly recommended contribution toward a proper understanding of the political, technological, and environmental issues involved with today's improved air quality across the country.
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