Cap and Trade

• Is “cap and trade” legislation an effective way to improve air and water quality? Cap and trade involves the government imposing an allowance, or cap, on the amount of a given pollutant a company can release into the atmosphere in a year. Although some companies find it easy to limit the release of a pollutant using various new technologies (e.g., “scrubbers”), other companies have difficulty meeting their cap. The non-conforming companies can then pay for or “trade” with an easily conforming company. It works this way. Company X cannot meet its cap of 10 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) released each year. Company Y also has a 10-ton cap but has dropped its emissions to 5 tons a year. Company Y can then sell the extra 5 tons under its cap to company X, which can exceed its 10-ton cap by 5 tons. In this way, overall emissions can be reduced. Company Y can use the income from its sale to company X to pay for emission control equipment. And company X buys time to continue to pollute while finding future ways to reduce its emissions. (

• Does cap and trade work? You be the judge. By 1984, over 350 lakes in the Adirondacks (NY) no longer sustained fish because they had become so acidified by acid (SO2) rain. These lakes contained water that had dropped to pH 5 and lower, nearing the pH of vinegar. To sustain robust life, water should be at a neutral pH 7.0 or slightly on the alkaline side (pH 7.2-7.5). On Nov. 15, 1990, President George H.W. Bush, after a massive political fight, signed the U.S. Clean Air Act, which in part was designed to reduce acid rain. Today, after 20 years of strict cap and trade regulations, people again fish in the Adirondack lakes. Life has returned to them. And in the northeast, SO2 emissions are down by 50 percent, leading The Economist (July 6, 2002) to pronounce the success of the program “probably the greatest green success story of the past decade.” (Science, Nov. 12, 2010)

• Preschool children process information best when content is directly linked to a narrative story. Several new television series help children understand science by telling a story that, at the same time, subtly introduces them to scientific concepts and the environment. The Public Broadcasting System’s The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! is a story about saving a baby bird, and along the way young viewers learn about the significance of trees, mud, and grass. A series from WGBH in Boston, Peep and the Big Wide World, sets forth a scientific concept and then shows youngsters engaged in a task that illustrates the concept. Nickelodeon has a series called Go, Diego, Go! that introduces children to situations where animals are in danger, and then encourages the young viewers to shout out ways to help the animal escape from danger. The hope is that such programs will help young people gain a better understanding of science and the environment. (Scientific American, January, 2011)

• It’s well known that sleep is beneficial to brain function. However, no one knows exactly how. There are two competing views among neuroscientists. One view is that sleep gives the brain “down time” in which to trim away unimportant synapses formed during the activities of the day, thus clearing the way for another day of activity and learning. The other view holds that sleep allows the brain to consolidate and embed memories from the previous day. Recent evidence suggests that the two views are not mutually exclusive, and that during sleep both activities help ready the brain for another day of decision-making and learning. (Scientific American, January, 2011; research by Appelbaum and Morrain of Stanford University; other sources)