Its Hard Not To Care When There Is So Much Smog In The Air

Living in New England, we have all encountered several blizzard warnings in which we are advised not to leave our homes. But can you imagine not being able to leave your home due poor air quality. For many of us this is unimaginable. How could the air quality within a whole country be so poor that one could not leave their home? For me, I actually lived through a smog epidemic during the summer of 2013 (Figure 1). This epidemic was so bad that the government made it illegal for individuals to leave their homes for about 3 days. Smog and excess air pollution is a chronic problem in Asian countries. This week I decided to dive in deeper and truly understand how smog build up occurs and why we see it so often in Asia.

Figure 1

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Smog by definition is the combination of smoke and fog. Smog is a black haze comprised of a mixture of pollutants (Figure 2). But how exactly is smog created? As previously mentioned, smog is essentially a combination of pollutants in the air. When these pollutants are burnt the fumes are then released into the air.  These fumes come directly from things such as heavy traffic, high temperatures, sunshine and calm winds.The smog we see today is called photochemical smog. Photochemical smog is when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC) in the atmosphere. Examples of nitrogen oxides include car exhaust, coal power plants, and factory emissions. Examples of VOCs are include gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents. When the sunlight hits these particles it sparks the creation of fumes thus creating smog. Asian countries tend to have high populations thus resulting in an increase in the number of automobiles and heavy traffic. In addition, Asia being located near the equator makes for high temperatures and plenty of sunshine. These factors double the effects of smog and amplifies the effect. 

Figure 2

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Smog can be extremely detrimental to ones health and in some cases it can be fatal. Smog gives off an immediate effect and theres no gradual build up. Smog can cause minor health issues such as a cold and pneumonia. Although this is the case, smog can also be responsible for major health issues such as lung cancer. Smog is most commonly known for causing irritation  in the eyes and increasing the difficulty to breathe (figure 3). Smog also deteriorates plant life. With several pollutants in the air, this makes it difficult for plant life to prosper and continue to grow. More often than not plant life can completely die as a result of smog. 

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So what can you do to help? There several small actions one can do to reduce the amount of smog emitted in urban areas. First and for most, avoid driving if it is not necessarily. Try walking, carpooling, and or using bikes if everyone tries to do this smog emissions will slowly begin to decrease. In addition, fill your automobile with gasoline during the cooler hours of the day; this prevents gas fumes from heating up and producing ozone. Finally, if one cuts down on gas powered appliances and uses electrically powered appliances in stead this will also reduce the amount of smog.

The smog epidemic personally effected me and I am fearful that the problem will increase if we dont do anything about it. This problem can be reduced as long as we are aware and try and put forth our best effort to reduce the number of gas powered appliances we use!!! What will you do to reduce the effects of smog on our community?

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If It’s Sunny You’ll Save Money

Considering the fact that this blog is online, I am assuming that you are using a computer, smartphone or tablet to view this page. Now, I ask you to take a moment to reflect and think about how long you have been on this computer and how much electricity you have been using during the duration of this time. The average American spends about 5 hours a day on digital devices ( figure 1). Annually, that is a total of 1825 hours on digital media. Think about this, and think about how much it costs the average American to power their digital devices.  This means that the average American can spend up to 600 dollars just on electrical bills for their computer. However, what if there was a way to power your computer just using the environment around you?

Figure 1

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Using solar power is all the rage as individuals are discovering that they can cut back on electrical bills by using energy from the sun. Solar panels allow us to use , solar energy (a type of solar power) which comes from the sun. In doing so, solar energy can be converted into electrical energy, which can then be used to power things such as a computer and other devices which need electricity to work (figure 2).  Solar energy allows one to power devices with low cost renewable energy and using solar energy to power devices is a fairly simple process.

(Figure 2)

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Companies such as Samsung and SOL have developed laptops that run solely on the energy from the sun. The computer developed by Samsung is powered by a solar panel embedded in the lid. In order to function the computer needs approximately 2 hours of sunlight to get 1 hour of working battery life. When fully charged, the computer battery can last up to 14 hours straight. This computer costs about $350 US dollars. Similarly the company SOL (known for developing devices using solar energy) developed a laptop which uses solar energy as well. This laptop is more efficient than the Samsung, as it is equipped with a detachable solar panel which can obtain 10 hours of battery life from just 2 hours of sun exposure (figure 3). This Laptop costs the exact same amount as the samsung computer, costing about $350 US dollars. By purchasing either of these laptops one would be purchasing a laptop $400 dollars less than the average computer and it is powered free of charge due to its solar panel technology.

Figure 3

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Converting to solar energy is 100% cost efficient and can end up saving you thousands of dollars (figure 4). Personally, I think that everyone should convert to solar power as it is a natural never ending resources that the earth has given us. Although one must pay for the initial cost of installing solar panels, in the long run solar panels save you up to 7 thousand dollars (figure 4). By using solar energy one can cut back on electrical bills and it makes for a more cost efficient lifestyle. Developing technology that allows computers to run on solar panels is truly revolutionary and I think that there is no better place to start converting people to using solar energy, than the devices we use on a day to day basis.

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Efficient Energy Please, the Japanese Do it with Ease

Everyone these days seems to be obsessed with saving energy. The word “sustainability” and “go green” seem to be all that were hearing these days. Some people hear these ideas of being energy efficient and it goes straight in one ear and out the other. Some countries however, truly want to create  a sustainable, energy efficient environment, and currently Japan sets the highest standard as the most energy efficient country (Figure 1).

Figure 1:

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Japan has always prided itself off being 30 years ahead of other global super powers in terms creating an energy efficiency initiative. After the 1970 increase in oil price (figure 2) it was evident that “if something wasn’t done, life wouldn’t be sustainable” . Japan and several other countries suffered economically and Japan’s economy in particular “was on the brink of collapsing. This prompted the Japanese government to take initiative and increase energy efficiency across their country.

Figure 2:

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The Japanese government has had a great influence over the Japanese people and their energy efficiency. In doing so, the government established several movements and laws in hopes of creating a sustainable country. Several conservation laws were passed forcing factories to replace old inefficient boilers and assembly-line machinery with new energy efficient equipment. There is also a law put into place which requires each factory to hire an individual who is in charge of overseeing factory energy efficiency. This is a very demanding job as by law, Japanese factories are required to become more energy efficient by one percent every year.  Japanese individuals have also started movements such “Setsudan” which emerged to “encourage people and companies to conserve energy and prevent rolling power cuts”. Japanese individuals will increase temperatures in homes and offices, thin lighting by removing some of the bulbs, and stop using big screen and exterior lighting in hopes of cutting back on energy.  These cut backs in energy use are obviously working as”Japan’s industrial sector uses the same amount of energy as 40 years ago, despite the dramatic economic growth since then”. These laws and movements have now become a Japanese way of life as most families live and operate in energy efficient manners.

Japan faces extreme temperatures in the Summer however typical Japanese families rarely uses their Air Conditioners. Most Japanese have AC units in every room of their homes. In doing so this enables them to save energy in the long run. AC units are only turned on in rooms which are occupied this saves more energy compared to having constant central air. Not only this, but the Japanese also have power strips with individual on/off switches so that their appliances won’t waste energy. Most families also purchase LED lights as well to conserve light energy. Families even save water by sharing bathwater; some individuals even have bathtubs that talk to them and warn them when they are wasting energy (figure 3) . Families are also prompted to conserve energy because of the high energy bills which costs twice as much in Japan as in the US, because Japan imports nearly all of it’s fossil fuels. 

Figure 3:

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No matter what the motivation is for the Japanese, whether it is fear of high energy bills, or the fear of living in an unsustainable environment, Japan is setting a great example for the rest of the world in terms of energy efficiency.  In fact, recently Obama mentioned Japan as a country we should strive to be like in terms of our own energy consumption in the US.  Although it could take sometime, I am very hopeful that with some new laws and green initiatives, the US can soon become a green, sustainable country which excels in energy efficiency as well.

Ukraine Knows best

We all know that recently the effects of global warming have increased greatly. But do we really understand why this is all happening? Global warming is the “gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere attributed to the greenhouse effect”. This increase in the global temperature is directly related to the deterioration of the carbon cycle. The carbon cycle is the earth’s natural way of moving carbon in and out of the atmosphere from trees, oceans, soil and animals. The carbon cycle supports the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere, which has kept the planet comfortably warm for millions of years.

As human beings we are constantly using fossil fuels in our modern society. Examples of humans using fossil fuels include the use of coal, the use of oil, and the use of gas for both electricity and to fuel transportation. In the United States and similarly modern places, humans use these fuels on a daily basis and the use of these fuels has rapidly increased over the past 30 years (figure 1). As a result, the Carbon cycle has been effected and has directly been related to the cause of global warming.

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How exactly does our use of fossil fuels negatively impact the carbon cycle though? The burning of fossil fuels by humans affects the carbon cycle because when large quantities of fossil fuels are admitted , it releases large amounts of extra carbon into the atmosphere causing the carbon dioxide rate to increase. As a result it creates an enhanced greenhouse effect, leading to global warming. It releases carbon back into the cycle that had been tied up in coal, oil, or gas for millions of years. One can see in figure 2 bellow, that as humans we are constantly contributing to the increase in carbon being released. This injustice we are doing to the environment is completely deteriorating the carbon cycle and it is creating and severe imbalance in the way that the environment functions. Several countries are trying to fix this problem and personally, I agree with the initiatives they are taking to prolong the process of Global Warming.

Figure 2

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Below is a listed ranking of countries and their Co2 emission rate per capita. One can see that the countries with the largest emission of C02 are the global supper powers. However, if one looks at the countries with the least amount of CO2 these are the countries that have initiated campaigns to reduce their emission of CO2. In Ukraine, the government has put forth a stern effort to prevent increases in the use of fossil fuels.

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http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html#.VDq_UVb8Eds

The president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych initially took drastic measure to insure emission rates decreased. He decided to cut off all oil supplies in the Ukraine for a month. This method wasn’t very successful and he came up with an alternative plan. His new initiative is to create a system in which each household is limited to a certain amount of oil, gases and coal. Every week, a family of 4 is restricted to use of 87,000,000 barrels of Fossil Fuel. This quantity is altered depending on the size of one’s family. If one exceeds the quantity their family is given they are cut off from their supply. As a result, it forced families to budget the distribution of their fossil fuels. Personally, I think this a phenomenal initiative and other countries with high CO2 emission rates should take the similar steps to curb their CO2 emission rates. Countries such as Japan have taken steps similar to this and their rates are relatively low compared to other countries (figure 3). I believe that as other countries begin to do the same, we can collectively reduce Co2 emission rates and potentially prolong the process of global warming by fixing the glitch in the carbon cycle.

co2-emissions-by-region-and-year

Increased Abortion Rates in Asia and Africa

The rapid rise of the global population has led several countries to panic. This increase has prompted several demographers to predict that by the year 2050 the global population will have grown to about 9-10 billion people. Among the estimated 10 billion individuals, 62% will live in Africa and Asia. This rise in the population has put tremendous stress on the governments of the developing countries within these regions. In Asia, increased abortion rates are influenced by the desire to have a son rather than a daughter. In Africa increased abortion rates have occurred because women are fearful that other contraceptives will make them infertile[1]. As a result, Africa and Asia are responsible for about 50% of the global abortion rate.

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China was the first Asian country to begin abortion practices 30 years ago. Abortion was the middle class communities way of responding to China’s 1 child policy[2]. As technologies in developing countries were made more available, abortion became very popular among the middle class. Middle class families were forced to limit their family size through abortion, or pay monetary penalties to keep a second child. Individuals within this financial bracket are too poor to pay a monetary penalty however, they can afford the price of abortion. In many cultures, Males tend to be more valued. In Asian and African cultures males take care of their parents, maintain the household, and carry the family name. Women in Asia and Africa are seen as less valuable based upon cultural traditions. As a result, a several families have chosen to, abort their child if it is female. This trend, has now spread across other Asian and African countries and has created a new problem of excess abortion. In addition to complying with government orders, several families also want to limit the size of their family because of the burden that children are both economically and health wise.

The trend of aborting babies has had ramifications on the population of Asia and Africa. In several countries such as India, the TFR (total fertility rate) has dropped from and average of 6 to 2.51[3] children. This drop is a result of abortion, family planning, and sex education[4]. Although the drop in TFR is looked upon as positive by the government, it has taken a large beating on the women of Asia and Africa. The women whom were previously having several of children are generally of extremely low income. These women tend to be uneducated and do not use contraceptives. Several women fear that contraceptives will cause infertility therefore, they resort to abortion. Although TFR rates have decreased, low-income women find themselves resorting to abortion. Because of their low income, they are unable to afford an abortion as a solution to terminate their unwanted pregnancies. Often these unwanted children are a direct result of lack in education. In Kenya, several uneducated women resort to prostitution to try and earn a living. In these situations, majority of the women have unsafe sex, which leads to unwanted pregnancy. As a result, it has led to women trying to self-abort their children. Women have used self-aborting using tactics such as using bleach, hangers, and consumed dried henna powder in hopes of terminating unwanted pregnancies. This endangers the women in underdeveloped countries and it has led to an increased mortality rate within females between the ages of 15-49.

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Personally, I believe that abortion is not the solution to curbing population growth. In terms of those who are aborting females, I believe that this is a tactic that is creating a new problem and masking the real problem at hand. The gender imbalance will cause new issues. These issues have already begun to surface, as several men in Asia are unable to find women of marrying age within their own regions[5]. Some countries in the Middle East have begun to resolve this issue by I think that this is a positive step in the direction of solving this issue. In terms of women self-aborting their children, I believe that educating them will completely resolve this issue. Organizations such as Women’s Education Project have taken efforts to educate women on contraceptive use and family planning. This organization has also taken the time to teach women different trades so that if they do have multiple children, they can work to financially support themselves. Both of these methods set forth good models for the rest of the world to follow. If this situation isn’t solved, then the rate of abortion will continue to rise. By educating women on contraceptive use it will negate the belief that contraceptives cause infertility. By continuing to send the message that gender balance is a positive thing,I believe that gender selectivity will become less of an issue. Taking these steps will decrease the number of abortions and it will begin to resolve the problem of excess abortions in Asia and Africa.

[1] http://www.charismanews.com/world/40883-unsafe-abortions-on-the-rise-across-africa

[2] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/06/21/gender-selection-abortion-crisis-in-asia-india-u-s.html

[3] http://www.indexmundi.com/india/total_fertility_rate.html

[4] http://www.jstor.org/stable/1964745

[5] http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20120528000069&cid=1103

[6] http://tvnewslies.org/tvnl/index.php/news/editorials/19646-asias-163-million-missing-girls.html