At the mouth of the Mississippi River, in the Chesapeake Bay, in the Baltic Sea, and in hundreds of sites around the world, pollution of waterways is creating coastal dead zones where marine life cannot survive. Human activities, mostly agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels, have also disrupted the nitrogen cycle. As agricultural production has increased to feed a global population that almost quadrupled during the Twentieth Century, humankind doubled the flow of nitrogen into the environment and tripled the flow of phosphorous. Half of all the nitrogen fertilizer ever used has been used in the last two decades.
This map shows the location of the world’s most serious dead zones. The entire East Coast of the United States is at risk in the summertime. The Chesapeake Bay, a place where I spend a good deal of time as a fisherman and sailor – has recently begun to suffer dead zones as a result of this nitrogen and phosphorous influx. This is a direct result of rapid development and intensive agriculture on the Bay and in the Potomac and Susquehanna watersheds.
In 2007, several states – Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, and, I hope, Maryland – may launch a program to give farmers the opportunity to sell pollution reduction credits through a trading system like the successful sulfur dioxide pollution reduction trading program used to reduce acid rain in the 1990’s.
WRI pioneered this nutrient trading system that enables farmers to make money doing the right thing environmentally. I think you’ll see Pennsylvania taking the lead in a first-in-the-world large scale water pollution trading program that offers real hope not only for the Chesapeake but for other states and countries trying to deal with their own dead zones.