Yesterday, today, tomorrow. A retrospective look at the acid rain problem
Last century, at the end of the seventies, Europe was startled by a serious environmental problem: acid rain. Acid rain was held responsible for the decline of fishes in Scandinavian lakes. Later, it was suggested that acid rain could lead to forest dieback over vast areas of Europe. Forests in the Netherlands could be at great risk, as well. It was clear to everyone what it was all about, for ‘rain’ means water falling from the atmosphere and the meaning of ‘acid’ was evident, too. Acid rain caused much commotion in the eighties but, since then, it has faded into the background. Why is it, that there is so little attention paid to acid rain these days? Maybe the acid rain problem was a hype; with an exaggerated reaction to a problem that was, in fact, insignificant. This article aims to reconstruct the history of one of the most prominent environmental problems of the twentieth century.
The article describes the origin of the acid rain problem in the 1960s and describes the scientific research that was carried out to develop a better understanding of the problem from an atmospheric chemical point of view. Subsequently, it treats the rise of public awareness in the seventies. The article subsequently focuses on the situation in the Netherlands. The initial research into forest health showed alarming results. This led to widespread concern within the Netherlands, which, once more, urged the government to come into action. Some measures to reduce air-polluting emissions were already taken in the early 1980s. However, these were meant, mainly, to improve local air quality. As the eighties progressed, acid rain provided an additional argument for reducing air pollution. This article presents the consequences of the emission reductions for the acidity of acid rain, and it discusses – in brief – the acid rain problem in light of current scientific knowledge. Finally, it answers the question of why forests did not die.