Once upon a time, when the world’s population was a fraction of the 6.5 billion it is today, environmental issues were thought of as local problems. Writers, politicians, scientists, and activists have recorded the polluted, disease-producing conditions of urban centers for centuries. Benjamin Franklin petitioned the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1739 to stop dumping waste and remove tanneries from Philadelphia’s commercial district, citing foul odors, lower property values, and disease. And yet, even the proto-environmentalist Franklin could not predict that centuries of local industrial recklessness would one day endanger the entire planet.
In 2007, environmental issues are literally global in that the carbon emissions of every industrialized country have accumulated to create the present damaging climate changes. From Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth to the release last month of “Climate Change 2007,” a six-year study about global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there seems to be little doubt that the by-products of industrialization—greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2)—are responsible.