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Date: Started in 1974, apparently based on a paper by G.E. Likens and F.H. Bormann, [i] who were professors of Ecology and Systems at Cornell University and Forest Ecology, Emeritus at Yale University, respectively, at the time.

Forecast of the impending disaster: Likens and Bormann predicted that sulfur oxides will increase “two- to fivefold by the year 2000”, and claimed that the effects of strong acids into natural system in the northeastern United States must be considered in proposals for new energy sources and in the development of air quality emission standards.

A November 20 (2009) search for
'acid rain' in Google Scholar found that three out of the top four links were to papers written by G. E. Likens. Likens & Bormann (1974) has 264 citations.

Forecasting method: Likens and Bormann provide a rambling discussion of some facts and conjectures about sulfur emissions and then offer their forecasts. Their paper does not descibe their forecasting procedure, nor do they make any reference to issues of forecasting methodology.

Actions called for: Government imposed regulations intended to reduce the emissions of SO2 and NOx by implementing programs proposed by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and supported by politicians such as Senator Stafford and Senator Mitchell. [ii]

Endorsement of and challenges to the forecast: Experts from leading institutions (e.g. F.H. Bormann from Yale, Noye M. Johnson from Dartmouth, from G.E. Likens from Cornell) and special interest groups (Environmental Protection Agency), claimed that acid rain had wiped out fish in many lakes and streams, and that it poses a serious risk to human health. Likens, along with other scientists, even claimed that the current government action alone is not enough to fight against the long-term danger of acid rain. [iii] Alarming reports on the predicted effects of acid rain were given much coverage by the media from 1979.

Outcomes of the conflict: In the United States, the Acid Rain Program was implemented in 1990 under the Clean Air Act. The Program called for a total reduction of about 10 million tons of SO2 emissions by 2010 from most of the power plants in the country.[iv] The Acid Rain Program is still in effect yet the benefits of the reduction of SO2 emissions related to acid rain is undetermined. The National Acid Precipitation Assessment Program (NAPAP), a 10-year, $537 million study sponsored by the federal government, found that special interest scare-mongering over acid rain was not based on facts, that acid rain cuased very little environmental damage, and that it posed virtually no risk to human health. [v] The NAPAP further proposed alternative solutions to the problem of acid lakes in the Northeast (the acidity of which were in fact unrelated to acid rain), such as adding limes in the lakes. This solution would cost less than $500,000, a fraction of the cost of the current regulations which have been estimated to amount to $1 to $2 billion per year. [vi] (EPA estimate of the cost required to the targeted SO2 emission reduction 2010. EPA reports that this is “only” one quarter of the original EPA estimates.)

A pdf version of this description is available here.


[ii] Jurgen Schmandt and Hilliard Roderick. (1990) Acid Rain and friendly neighbors: The policy dispute between Canada & the United States. USA: Duke University Press.

[iii] Likens, G. E. Driscoll, C. T. Buso, D. C. (1996) “Long-Term Effects of Acid Rain: Response and Recovery of a Forest Ecosystem,” Science, 5259, pg. 224-245.

[v] NAPAP 2005 Report

[vi] EPA 2008 Acid Rain Progress Report


Other Sources:

Simon, Julian L & Norman Myers. (1994) “Scarcity or Abundance? A debate on the environment,” Chapter 5: Atmospheric Issues. (available in www.juliansimon.com)

Brookes, Warren T. (1989) “The Continuing Mythodology about Acid Rain,” Human Events, pp.12-13.

Singer, S.F. "The answers on acid rain fall on deaf ears," The Wall Street Journal, 3/6/90. (available in Fort Freedom)