Remember acid rain? If you were a kid in the 1980s like our hosts were, the threat of poison falling from the sky probably made some kind of impression on your consciousness. But thanks to the work of scientists, government, the media, and the pope—that’s right, the pope—the problem was fixed! Well, mostly fixed is probably more accurate.
This complicated story spans 27 years, six U.S. presidents, and ecologist Gene Likens’s entire career. Discover the insidious details in the second chapter of our three-part series on environmental success stories.
Hosts: Alexis Pedrick and Elisabeth Berry Drago
Senior Producer: Mariel Carr
Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Audio Engineer: James Morrison
Additional audio was recorded by David G. Rainey.
Image of Gene Likens by Phil Bradshaw of FreshFly.
Our theme music was composed by Zach Young.
Additional music courtesy of the Audio Network.
We interviewed Rachel Rothschild, a former Science History Institute research fellow and Rumford Scholar, about her book, “Poisonous Skies: Acid Rain and the Globalization of Pollution.” To research this episode we read her 2015 dissertation, A Poisonous Sky: Scientific Research and International Diplomacy on Acid Rain. We also read Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway (Bloomsbury, 2010).
We interviewed Gene Likens at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire in 2015 with Glenn Holsten and FreshFly. We interviewed him again in May 2018.
These are the archival news clips we used as they appear in the episode:
The following are the archival news clips we used as they appear in the episode:
Bettina Gregory, Tom Jarriel, and Bill Zimmerman. ABC Evening News, December 14, 1978.
Walter Cronkite and Jim Kilpatrick. “Environment: The Earth Revisited/Acid Rain.” CBS Evening News, September 11, 1979.
Robert Bazell and John Chancellor. “Special Segment: Acid Rain.” NBC Evening News, May 9, 1980.
“The MacNeil/Lehrer Report: Acid Rain,” NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (Boston: WGBH; Washington, DC: Library of Congress), aired May 26, 1980, on PBS, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-pk06w9754b.
“The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” NewsHour Productions, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (Boston: WGBH; Washington, DC: Library of Congress), aired on June 30, 1988, on PBS, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_507-b56d21s53c.
Tom Brokaw and Robert Hager. “Air Pollution: George Bush.” NBC Evening News, November 15, 1990.
Whatever Happened to Acid Rain?
ABC Evening News, December 14, 1978: In the Adirondack Mountains of New York the lakes are so clear they mirror the forest around them. One might think pollution could never taint this mountain paradise, but it has. The fish have died in this lake. The rain has turned the water acid. Scientists say particles of sulfur are carried by these clouds and when it rains it pours a mild sulfuric acid into lakes like this one. The experts say power plants discharge most of the sulfur into the air. And what goes up these smoke stacks, must come down.
Alexis: Hi, I’m Alexis Pedrick.
Lisa: And I’m Lisa Berry Drago, and this is Distillations, coming to you from the Science History Institute.
Alexis: Each episode of Distillations takes a deep dive into a moment of science-related history in order to shed some light on the present. Today we’re talking about acid rain, in the second installment of a three-part series about environmental success stories.
Lisa: Our last episode, “Whatever Happened to the Ozone Hole?” is available on our website: Distillations DOT ORG, through Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you get your podcasts!
Alexis: In the early 1960s American scientists discovered a new environmental threat called acid rain, but most people didn’t become aware of it until almost 1980. Lisa, do you remember learning about acid rain?
Lisa: Yeah, but I’m not sure I knew what it was when I was a kid. I think I thought it had something to do with Guns N’ Roses, sort of acid-washed jeans, November rain…
Alexis: Same. Same. I think I had to do a school project on it and I remember reading this book about acid rain and all these terrible things that happened with it. But then it was raining outside and I was fine. And I didn’t melt. So I had no concept of, ‘is this a threat or not?’.
Lisa: Right. We definitely got rained on in the 80s.
Alexis: Right. And we survived. So…
Lisa: So why didn’t we find out about this problem sooner? What happened in this nearly two- decade-long gap? And what led to that ABC evening news clip we just heard from December of 1978?
Alexis: If you listened to our show about the ozone hole, you’ll remember that we told you how to solve any environmental problem in five easy steps.
Lisa: And of course…we actually learned that it’s far more complicated than that, but we’re going to follow the steps again anyway.
Alexis: So here we go: step number one: figure out the problem.
Lisa: Step two: get your evidence.
Alexis: Step three: inform the public.
Lisa: Step four: you have get industry onboard
Alexis: Step five: implement policy.
Lisa: Acid rain took a long time to resolve in the United States, and there were a lot more roadblocks and slowdowns than with the ozone hole, but you’re gonna hear all of it, so let’s get started.
Chapter 1: Figure out the Problem
Lisa: Chapter One. Figure out the problem.
Alexis: Compared to the ozone hole, acid rain took a bit longer to get under control in the U.S.
–like, a couple decades longer. It was first discovered in North America in 1963, but it took until 1980 before the media really jumped in, and until 1990 until there was any kind of resolution.
Ecologist Gene Likens was there the whole time. And we met up with him where it all started. In a pristine forest in the mountains of New England.
Likens: I’ve always said that I can’t believe that I’ve been paid for all these years to work here. I mean come on! It’s too nice, it’s too beautiful and yet they pay me to work here.
Alexis: Gene Likens is standing by a stream in Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. These woods have been his laboratory since 1953. When they set up Hubbard Brook, Likens and his colleagues thought of themselves kind of like doctors, and the forest ecosystem as a patient.
Likens: We had the idea that we could use the chemistry of the water flowing out of this watershed ecosystem much like a physician uses the chemistry of our blood and urine. If the physician measures the chemistry of my blood or urine and sees that something is wrong then he has some idea that my system isn’t functioning properly.
Alexis: In 1963 Likens and his colleagues were looking at the rain. And what they found was startling.
Likens: This is where we discovered acid rain. Our very first samples was roughly 100 times more acidic than we thought the rain ought to be. We didn’t have any idea why it was so acid or where it might have come from or how long it had been there? We didn’t know any of those fundamental answers.
Alexis: Likens found some of those answers by connecting with another scientist on another continent. Just a handful of years after his discovery, Likens crossed paths with a scientist in Sweden who had recently discovered acid rain in Scandinavia. His name? Svante Oden.
Likens: And Svante said, “I’m going tonight on the overnight train from Stockholm to Oslo, Norway, and would you like to go along?” And I said “oh sure, why not?” So we took the overnight train together, and sat up and talked most of the night.
Alexis: Oden told Likens that he thought that the pollution in Scandinavia was coming from more industrialized parts of Europe, and this information helped Likens connect some dots.
Lisa: It’s like he had to talk to someone else from across the globe to understand what was happening in his own little corner of the world. And this is a bigger theme in science I think we hear again and again. You have to step outside of your framework to see the big picture.
Alexis: Exactly. No one is ever just working on one thing in isolation by themselves. Lots of people are working on the same thing all over the world and they benefit from talking to each other.
Likens: It was just one of those serendipitous events where something happens and helps you understand what’s going on much more clearly than you might’ve otherwise.
Alexis: Likens went back to the U.S. and continued monitoring acid rain. Then in 1974, eleven years after he first discovered it, he decided he had enough evidence to write an article with his colleague Herbert Bormann for the academic journal Science. It was called “Acid Rain: A Serious Environmental Problem.” By this point Likens had moved to upstate New York and had also found acid rain in the Adirondacks.
Likens: The paper was saying, “This is not something unique to Hubbard Brook but is a much more regional problem.”
Alexis: The paper said that acid had been falling in the Northeast for 20 years. But the biggest revelation was that tall smokestacks hundreds of miles away in the Midwest were to blame.
Emissions from burning coal was a major source of the problem.
Likens: The Midwest is emitting large quantities of sulfur and nitrogen Oxides. It gets carried to the atmosphere and then deposited here whenever it rains and snows. So it’s like somebody throwing their garbage out and then the garbage falling on your property and you don’t like it much.
Alexis: The idea that pollution could travel such distances was a new revelation. And the irony of it all was that the culprit—those tall smoke stacks—were originally created as a solution to another pollution problem.
Donora, Pennsylvania News Clip: Residents have difficulty breathing the murky air. 20 died. 400 others are stricken with respiratory illness. A local zinc plant is suspected of emitting poison smoke is closed down. An epidemic of pneumonia is feared in the wake of Donora’s deadly rain of smog.
Alexis: Donora was a small mill town in western Pennsylvania. Back in the 1940, their zinc plant, like most plants at the time, had a short smoke stack, and it was pumping out a poisonous combination of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and metal dust. In 1948 the town suffered a smog attack that killed twenty people and made seven thousand more sick. The disaster alerted people to the hazards of air pollution, and it eventually helped trigger the 1970 Clean Air Act. But it also raised the height of smokestacks.
Lisa: Tall smokestacks helped towns like Donora, they whisked clouds of pollution out of their backyards. But unfortunately they just sent them to other people backyards, further away.
Likens: And what that really did was convert a local soot problem to a more regional soot problem. It just took the push from here and emitted it at a higher level and then it was swept away by the winds and the atmosphere.
Chapter 2: Get Evidence Alexis: Chapter 2: Get evidence.
Lisa: By the time Gene Likens and Herbert Bormann published that paper in 1974, they’d been monitoring the issue for more than a decade.
Alexis: So maybe you’re wondering what they were doing all that time. I mean we certainly were.
Lisa: The answer is gathering that evidence. First they went to some of the most remote places in the world to try to get a baseline estimate of what the acidity, or pH, of rain should be. They had to go places without human activity or any smokestacks—tall or short. Just a few of the places they went were Southern Chile and remote parts of China and Australia. They traveled for a month by boat to get to an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean called Amsterdam Island.
Through it all they learned that the default pH of rain is 5.1. The samples they were measuring back home were at least a hundred times more acidic than that. Here’s how an ABC news clip explained what these numbers meant.
ABC Evening News, December 14, 1978: A pH of 7 would be neutral, the lower the reading the more acidic it is. This sample of rainwater from the summit reads 3.3, which is just about as acidic as grapefruit juice.
Lisa: Likens’s world travels really proved that the rain truly was too acidic. His research also proved that the pollution that caused acid rain really was coming from industry in the rust belt.
Likens: We tried to follow isotopic tracers in the emissions from smokestacks in the Midwest. We followed plumes in small airplanes and vehicles on the ground. We went to enormous lengths to try to answer those questions.
Lisa: Ten years in it seemed like the science was pretty clear. Likens and his team felt confident in their research and they published their article. Some of what they hoped for started to come true. The New York Times quickly picked up their story and the scientific community in the U.S. started paying attention to acid rain.
Likens: That paper changed my life forever because it was published on the front page of the New York Times. I had colleagues all over the world calling me saying, “Likens, what is this? What’s going on?”
Lisa: Environmental scientists definitely took notice. But so did plenty of other people, many with their own agendas.
Likens: There was lots of pushback saying, “Well, it’s not us.” You know, “We didn’t do it. It’s not us. There is no such thing as acid rain.” I can remember many times when there would be a meeting or I might be giving a talk and someone, a denier type would stand up and say, “There’s no such thing as acid rain.” And I would say, “Have you ever collected a sample of rain and analyzed it?” The answer was always no. I said, “Try it sometime. You might be surprised what you find out.”
Rachel Rothschild: There was this pretty dramatic response from the coal industries, who were thought to be the most serious contributors to the problem.
Lisa: Rachel Rothschild is a historian of environmental science and technology and a former research fellow at the Science History Institute. She’s finishing up a book called Poisonous Skies: Acid Rain and the Globalization of Pollution. She’s studied the pushback against acid rain science, and one of the things she’s uncovered is how quickly the coal industry realized that
Likens’s research could be a threat to them.
Rothschild: They, in fact, launched some of the most serious and extensive research efforts on acid rain in the hope of vindicating themselves, and it set up a very interesting confrontation between industry scientists and environmental scientists in the late 1970s and into the 1980s.
Lisa: So we’ve been here in step two, gathering evidence with Gene Likens, thinking we were alone with him.
Alexis: But it turns out these steps—which we made up by the way—aren’t secret! Other people can jump in and gather evidence too!
Lisa: So with acid rain step two is multi-pronged: first you have to gather your evidence, then wait for someone else to dispute or distort it, and meanwhile they’re gathering their evidence, and then you have to dispute the counter-evidence. When the attacks came they were often aimed right at Gene Likens.
Likens: It was bad. It was really nasty. I had a contract put out on me. It was…Did I tell you this story before? If so I apologize. Oh my goodness, I hadn’t thought about any of this in a long time, really painful.
Lisa: A coal-backed policy group tried to carry out what we can only describe as a “scientific hit” on Gene Likens. Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but they put out a call to discredit his research on acid rain—they called him by name—and offered to pay four hundred thousand dollars to anyone who could do the job.
Likens: That was the call. Show that he is wrong. So yeah, it was pretty unsettling and pretty shocking. It wasn’t a contract on my life, but it was a contract on my career, which in some ways almost was as important as my life. I mean, not really but you know what I mean? It’s what I do. It’s what I am. It’s what I’m all about. I grew up on a small farm in northern Indiana. I was a farm boy. I just thought the world worked a little differently and I kept finding out it didn’t. I thought all this
science rode around like knights on big white horses and I found out it didn’t work that way. Answers could be purchased and they were. All that was greatly disturbing to me.
Alexis: So I think this is a good place to stop because this is a pattern we’ve seen before, right?
The naiveté of scientists playing by the rules, but they don’t really understand all of them. Or
they see rules that aren’t there. They are just in their lab doing their thing and not really thinking about how to play this larger game.
Lisa: What happens when the research hits the real world? Yeah, the game can change a lot.
Lisa: It’s partly that naïve sense of playing by the rules maybe? That might help certain scientists when they get to a crisis point, because in the end they have the science to go back to.
Likens: Why did we keep persevering? [laughs] Because I’m a scientist and because I am searching for the truth and because in science we search for the truth. We rarely find it, but we search for the truth.
Lisa: The contract Likens is talking about was put out by one of the biggest sources of counter- research—a coal trade group called the Edison Electric Institute. Their research arm was called EPRI, or the Electric Power Research Institute. Their job was to refute any science that made them look bad, and they were desperate to find some other industry to blame acid rain on.
Rothschild: They were hoping that they might find that, say, logging or other forestry practices, for example, might result in increased acidity in the soil.
Lisa: So EPRI scientists conducted a study in the Adirondacks to get alternative evidence, alternative facts if you will, but they couldn’t find any. So they distorted the evidence.
Rothschild: I would say they misrepresented the evidence and tried to convey that there was more uncertainty than there actually was and tried to use evidence that simply supported a different kind of proposition, to say that actually acid rain wasn’t the problem at all.
Lisa: That scientific hit never paid off. Remember how Gene Likens spend those eleven years of gathering evidence?
Likens: It all started with measurements and was bolstered by continuing high quality measurements so that when the attacks came we were able to lay our data out there and say, “Go at it and show that it’s wrong,” and nobody was ever able to do that.
Chapter 3: Let the Public Know
Lisa: Chapter three. Let the public know.
Alexis: Gene Likens learned that his data was crucial, but it was not going to speak for itself. So he had to learn how to talk to the public and the naysayers. When he wrote that pivotal paper in 1974 he consciously chose the term “acid rain” because he thought it would get people’s attention, and he was right.
Likens: We thought and argued long and hard about whether we should use that as a title. I’m really glad that we did because it brought public attention to the issue in ways, and I’m a scientist, so I’m not supposed to care about that, but in terms of the management of this serious environmental issue it helped. Because you can walk in the rain, you can sing in the rain, you can dance in the rain, but if the rain is acid you might think about it very differently than you would have otherwise.
Alexis: In the late 70s and early 80s television played a crucial role in getting the American public to know and care about acid rain. Robert Bazell worked at NBC news for 38 years. He was the chief science correspondent during the 1980s.
Robert Bazell: Well the media landscape was that there were three networks and most of America watched one of the three every night. There was no cable television.
Newspapers were not going out of business for all the things we think about now. And of course, there was no Internet. It was a very different world, and there was an enormous amount of impact from those stories that were on television.
CBS Evening News, September 11, 1979: Well, as far as I’m concerned the lake is dead. Period. There’s no swallows around, the swallows have left almost two weeks early this year.
Alexis: This is one of the earliest stories on Acid Rain, from 1980.
NBC Evening News, May 9, 1980: Now there are no fish, no lily pads. In fact, there is no life visible in Woods Lake. It was killed by a new type of pollution which is affecting many parts of the world. It’s called acid rain.
Alexis: 38 years later Bazell still remembers reporting it.
Bazell: We were always looking for stories, and this one was an important one, obviously, for the reasons that you just heard in that clip. Fish were dying, trees were dying. It was a visual story, which makes it very impactful for television. Made it a very easy story to tell. You could see what was happening, it wasn’t an obscure concept.
Alexis: Everyone was talking about acid rain, from TV reporters—like Robert Bazell—to cartoons, to the Pope. That’s right, the Pope. In 1985 Gene Likens visited Pope John Paul II, who went on to address acid rain in his encyclical. So the media helped. But it also might have hurt.
The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, May 26, 1980 [Jim Lehr]: There is a new environmental fear alive in the land, the fear of something called “acid rain.” Reports of its presence and its danger come from everywhere.
Alexis: This is Jim Lehrer, in a 1980 clip from the Macneil/Lehrer Report, the precursor to PBS Newshour. On the show Lehrer holds what is basically a debate. On one side is Douglas Costle, Jimmy Carter’s EPA administrator, and on the other is a man named William Poundstone. He’s the executive vice president of Consolidated Coal—one of the country’s biggest coal companies. Throughout the show Costle lays out well-established facts about acid rain and Poundstone disputes them. Or more accurately, he evades and distorts them.
The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, May 26, 1980 [Charlayne Hunter-Gault]: Mr. Costle, what has brought you to your present state of alarm?
Douglas Costle: I think the single most important thing that happened this year was that scientists from all around the world came to me and they said, in effect, “there`s a lot we still do not know about acid rain, but we know enough now to know that we should not be making the problem worse.”
Lehrer: Mr. Poundstone, what do you think of Mr. Costle`s position on acid rain?
Poundstone: There is no issue that the rainfall is acid. But we go beyond that point, and we start to diverge.
Lehrer: In other words, you will concede that there is such a thing as acid rain?
Poundstone: Yes, sir. The rain—
Lehrer: And it’s a damaging—it has serious repercussions when it hits the ground?
Poundstone: I have not said that. I have said the rain is acid.
Lisa and Alexis: “Ohhhhhhh” do you see what’s going on here? I think we can all see what’s going on here.
Poundstone: And there’s a great deal of argument and evidence that must be heard on this issue. The English Electricity Board, the EPRI people as well—
Lehrer: Who are the EPRI people?
Poundstone: That is the research arm of the Electric Power Research Institute.
Lehrer: I see. All right.
Poundstone: They have some $22 million a year in research activity, and I think in these areas are doing more than anyone.
Alexis: Poundstone’s goal was to discredit acid rain science, and this interview made it seem like there was no scientific consensus at all. If you’ve been paying attention to this podcast you already know this is what EPRI was all about. But Jim Lehrer takes everything both men say at face value, seemingly encouraging his viewers to do the same. Imagine you’re sitting at home watching this on the news, they’re the same to you. But they’re not the same.
Lisa: We see this kind of false equivalence all the time. Especially with environmental issues.
Alexis: Right, so that’s why Douglas Costle spent a lot of time playing defense during the Lehrer interview, but he still managed to squeeze in the fact that there was an attainable solution: older power plants could be retrofitted with a technological fix to reduce their emissions.
Lisa: I’m just speculating here, but it seems like that interview must have caught him off-guard, like it felt like a big setback. Just three weeks after this interview Douglas Costle said this on the ABC evening news:
ABC Evening News, June 18, 1980 [Douglas Costle]: I don’t want to sound too cynical, but I have never seen an industry that is a part of the problem, be the first to acknowledge a problem. Or the extent of their own involvement in it.
Alexis: Despite all of this it seemed like things were moving ahead. President Carter signed the acid precipitation act of 1980, which promised to address the problem within ten years. Things were looking up. And then this happened.
Ronald Regan Election Speech Jan. 20. 1981: In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.
Chapter 4: Implement Policy
Alexis: Chapter four. Implement policy.
Lisa: Or, in the case of acid rain: intentionally waste a decade not implementing any policy!
Alexis: It turns out elections have consequences.
Rothschild: So Reagan had really campaigned, much like President Trump did recently, on this idea of deregulating the environment and making sure that environmental regulations weren’t getting in the way of economic development and growth. When he came into office, he very quickly transformed the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lisa: Douglas Costle didn’t last long in Reagan’s EPA. Instead the president brought on one of EPRI’s top scientists—remember them? Another new EPA pick banned the use of the term acid rain. In short, Reagan was not good for the environment. He did, however, invite a team of scientists to brief him on the issue at the White House in 1983. The group was led by Gene Likens.
Likens: At the end, President Reagan sat back in his chair and he looked around the room and he said, I’ll never forget this quote, “Well, gentleman it’s clear to me that my undergraduate education did not prepare me for such complicated issues.” I thought, “Wow.” But any rate we made our case and that was in September of 1983 and on January the Director of Management and Budget made the pronouncement that, “no, we’re not going to deal with acid rain. It’s too expensive to do so. We’ll study it instead.”
It was an amazing experience to go to the White House and to brief the president and the full cabinet, but not to see something happen.
Lisa: In 1986 Reagan suffered a backlash in the midterm elections, and results sent a message that he needed a different approach to environmental issues. So he signed the Montreal Protocol for the ozone hole, and the Sophia Protocol, an international accord aimed at reducing nitrogen oxides to combat acid rain. The environment became a huge campaign issue in the 1988 election.
Michael Dukakis attack ad: For seven and half years George Bush personally weakened regulations on corporate polluters. And now suddenly George Bush tells you he is going to be the environmentalist president. Do you believe that?
Lisa: On the left was Michael Dukakis, who obviously did not win. But Rachel Rothschild says he made a lasting impact.
Rothschild: So, Dukakis really placed environment at the forefront of his political platform during the election, and in many ways forced President Bush to move to the left on that issue and make a decisive break with President Reagan.
Lisa: Part of the public’s anxiety was a growing awareness of something called global warming.
Rothschild: In the summer of 1988 there were congressional hearings about the possibility that carbon dioxide was increasing the planet’s temperature with the potential for catastrophic results to the environment.
The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, June 30, 1988 Congressional hearing [Daniel Albritton, NOOA] If greenhouse gases continue to grow unabated…
[Rep. Claudine Schneider [R] Rhode Island]: There is a very high, high risk of irreversible, and catastrophic impact looming on the horizon.
Rothschild: And that I think, for the first time for many Americans, raised the specter of large scale planetary threats from fossil fuels. And so acid rain, in comparison, almost seemed much more solvable.
Likens: I often wondered if I was just banging my head against the wall for no value. But that didn’t turn out to be the case, did it? Because in 1990 under amazing conditions a Republican president signed the 1990 Clean Air Act into legislation.
NBC Evening News, Nov 15, 1990: What the President is calling for would be the first improvement of the clean air law in 12 years.
President George H. W. Bush: We’ve seen a stalemate. It’s time to clear the air. Acid rain must be stopped and that’s what we all care about.
President George H. W. Bush, address to Congress February 9, 1989: Because the time for study alone has passed and the time for action is now.
Likens: The Congress, both the House and the Senate had voted overwhelmingly, it wasn’t unanimous, but it was overwhelmingly in favor of that action, the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. So being able to be there in 1963 and make the discovery for North American about the occurrence of acid rain, and then all those tough years in between to 1990 when our country took legislative action, was very satisfying, and maybe is unique. I don’t know.
Lisa: Bush implemented what is now known as “cap-and-trade.” It essentially lets companies buy and sell the rights to pollute. It was a perfect free-market solution for a Republican, environmentalist president.
Alexis: You might have noticed that we left out the “get industry on board” step, that’s because, well, they never really got on board, per se, eventually they just had to yield to the change in policy.
Chapter 5: What Does Success Look Like?
Alexis: The cap and trade program was a cost-effective solution, and it stemmed the worst environmental impacts. The rain at Hubbard Brook is 80% less acid now than it was in 1963. But there are still areas of the country that are still at risk or haven’t fully recovered, so it’s a success story, but it’s complicated.
Lisa: The lesson of Gene Likens is the same lesson of Hubbard Brook forest. The mountains of New Hampshire do not exists in a vacuum and neither does Gene Likens and his science.
Alexis: Right. Exactly. And we’ve seen this—
Lisa: Both of them are touched by industry, and social concerns, and money and power and all of that stuff.
Alexis: And by the way, Gene Likens still has not given up the fight.
Likens: No way. And I still don’t. I’m in my mid-eighties and I’m not giving up yet. Here I am talking to you.
Alexis: Distillations is more than a podcast. We’re also a multimedia magazine.
Lisa: You can find our videos, our blog, and our print stories at Distillations DOT org.
Alexis: And you can also follow the Science History Institute on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Lisa: This episode was produced by Mariel Carr and Rigo Hernandez. Additional sound was recorded by Dave Rainey.
Alexis: This show was mixed by James Morrison and our theme music was composed by Zach Young.
Lisa: For Distillations I’m Lisa Berry Drago.
Alexis: And I’m Alexis Pedrick.
Alexis and Lisa: Thanks for listening!