I just read, and quite enjoyed, a Slate article by Nina Shen Rastogi looking back at the acid rain problems of the 1980s [LINK]. She brings up a good point about the public awareness campaigns; I remember well many cartoons and kids shows mentioning and vilifying acid rain. I'm not sure that is happening now with global warming, but maybe it should be if it isn't. Anyway, the review also brings up two other good points. First, enacting acid rain mitigation strategies through federal legislation (e.g., the Clean Air Act of 1990) has dramatically reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide from power plants and factories, leading to an improvement in the pH (i.e., acidity) of rain across the northeast USA and eastern Canada. The point being that these strategies are proven to be successful. Second, acid rain hasn't actually gone away, and it's still a hazard in some areas in the USA and Canada. Worse yet, industrializing nations such as China and India haven't gone through the cycle of discovering they are poisoning themselves, figuring out a way to fix it, and enacting the strategy. These countries could face serious environmental and infrastructure harm if they don't preempt emissions of acid rain precursors.
All of this sounds so much like issues involved with carbon dioxide and climate change that it's eerie, huh? I guess the disappointing thing is that there's still so much hesitation and resistance to doing something about these environmental issues in our culture. We've got clear examples of success, like the ozone hole and acid rain, where science described the mechanisms and suggested the causes, and mitigation strategies were adopted, and environmental catastrophe was avoided (or at least averted). It makes me wonder if past success has lulled us all into a false sense of confidence.... you can finish this disturbing thought.