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The obligatory fireworks post

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It's the Fourth of July again, which means that greens across the nation will have the opportunity to look like unpatriotic ninnies by pointing out that fireworks are bad for the environment.

They're right, of course. As Salon's resident eco-expert Pablo Päster points out, all the fireworks purchased in the United States in 2006, would, if detonated, emit 60,340 tons of C02, the equivalent of what is produced by 12,000 cars running for a year. He also notes that the compounds used to create fireworks' bright colors contain heavy metals that contaminate soil and water.

What's more, most fireworks contain potassium perchlorate, a chemical thought to pose health risks to humans and wildlife. Last year the Environmental Protection Agency discovered a definitive link between fireworks and surface water perchlorate contamination. But perchlorate levels returned to normal after a month or two.

Given these hazards, Mr. Päster actually recommends that you skip the fireworks and attend a Pink Floyd laser show instead, advice that I'm sure will dispel any notion that environmentalists are a bunch of America-hating hippies.

Grist's eco-advice columnist, Umbra Fisk, is a more temperate in her response. Recycling a column from July 2007 (which is what I plan to do with this post in July 2009), Fisk responds to someone asking if she should challenge her family's annual backyard fireworks display. Fisk writes that she is ambivalent, given that it happens only once a year.

My own take is that enviros shouldn't raise a stink about it. While sixty thousand tons of C02 sounds like a lot, it's tiny compared to the 7 billion tons that the United States emits annually. And while perchlorate and heavy metals are no joke, eliminating bottle rockets won't make that much of a difference.

And harping on about such an ingrained American tradition is likely to make people tune out green messages altogether, which would lead to far more C02 emissions and pollutants than fireworks could ever hope to produce.

The best thing to do would be to invent a greener pyrotechnic. That's what the Walt Disney Company did in 2004, replacing black powder with compressed air.

Fireworks do pose one significant environmental hazard: wildfires. As MSNBC reports, a number of cities and towns in California and other states have banned fireworks displays out of fear that they may spark brush fires. Polluting the environment is one thing, burning it to the ground is another matter altogether.

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But as long as you're not in dry conditions, and it's not illegal, you should enjoy the pyrotechnics without any guilt, and save the laser show for another time, you crazy diamond.


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