How Green are We?
By Chris Museler
(page 1 of 11)The word “green” gets tossed around a lot these days, but it’s a hard one to define. And really the question “How green is Rhode Island?” comprises a bunch of questions: How clean is our air? Our water? How much energy do we use and where does it come from? How much trash are we producing? And how much are we recycling? In short, how does our little state
help or hinder the health of our planet, and, ultimately, the health of its inhabitants?
In 1990, around the time the word “green” became a political catch-word, a comprehensive report came out that boldly asked: Will Rhode Island be the first green state? The report looked at water and air quality, recycling, open space and energy, and offered up public policy suggestions that would help the state become less wasteful.
In the introduction of the piece, the authors optimistically say: “Probably no U.S. state can achieve true ‘sustainability,’ but becoming ‘green’ might be comparatively easy for Rhode Island because its size is small, its vistas are beautiful, and its citizens are not only innovative but committed to cleaning up their state.”
So did we become the first green state? No. Are we greener today than we were then? The short answer is, nobody really knows. Though most environmentalists and politicians in the state say we’re going in the right direction, most agree that lack of funding and leadership makes for a painstakingly longer color switch from brown to green.
Seventeen years after the report, environmental watchdog groups like Scorecard.org consider Rhode Island a very pale green at best. In the latest Scorecard rankings for states with the most polluted air, we came in thirteenth. The Environmental Protection Agency lists us as one of the worst in the country when it comes to the number of waterways threatened by pollution. For chemical releases into the environment and waste generated, however, Rhode Island is listed as one of the cleanest.
Rhode Island made a “brave start towards serious recycling” in the early 1990s, but since then our percentages are “pretty pitiful,” in this and other environmental areas, says Harold Ward, an author of the 1990 report, and a retired professor from Brown University’s Center for Environmental Studies. Even though, for example, the state has one wind generator in Portsmouth and feasibility studies in motion for a dozen more, the gears of progress toward renewable energy have proved rusty. “We’re even looking at wave power,” Ward says, “but the state has been waiting for two years to permit just a small
test unit in Point Judith.”