The Melting Ice Caps and How They Affect Us

There is plenty of evidence to confirm that the polar ice caps are indeed melting and that global warming is to blame. The most noticeable evidence is the fact that the ice caps have decreased drastically in size over the past 100 years or so. Figure 1 displays this visually.

Figure 1 from enviromatters.wikispaces.com

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This poses an incredibly dangerous threat to polar bears and other inhabitants of arctic regions, as well as to the ecosystems of the biome. However, the ecosystem disruption in the ice caps is only one of many drastic repercussions of the melting ice caps.  An article published by the National Academy of Sciences’ Research Council lists two other majorly destructive consequences of this crisis.

Growing scientific research heavily suggests that changes in the arctic regions are leading to changes in the weather of the mid-latitudes. The increasingly warmer air in the arctic regions is leading to a greater persistence in abnormal weather conditions such as intense snow, intense heat, intense cold, intense rain, essentially any other extreme types of weather, including dangerous storms. “The basic idea is that a warmer Arctic plays games with the jet stream, the stream of air high above us in the stratosphere that carries our weather and that is driven by temperature contrasts between the mid and high latitudes,” writes Chris Mooney of the Washington Post. “If the Arctic warms faster than the mid latitudes do, then the jet stream could slow down, goes the theory. It could develop a more elongated and loopier path, leading to a persistence of particular weather conditions.” Figure 2 shows the elongated, loopy jet stream patterns.

Figure 2 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/16/the-arctic-is-unraveling-due-to-global-warming-and-the-consequences-will-be-global/

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Another destructive side-effect of the meltdown of the ice caps is that it releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, thus increasing global warming. The ice and permafrost (frozen ground) in arctic regions contains massive stores of frozen carbon, “some 1,330 and 1,580 gigatons worth, and that may be a low end estimate,” says The Washington Post. How did carbon get inside the ice caps? The National Research Council explains that dead plants, which are essentially made of carbon, freeze and lock their carbon in place if the climate is cold, but decompose and release their carbon into the atmosphere in warmer climates. Should the ice caps melt and lose their freezing climate, “the volume of carbon emissions could be enough to set back worldwide efforts to reduce emissions from fossil fuel burning by adding an entire new source of greenhouse gases beyond the usual suspects, like fossil fuels and deforestation,” says the Washington Post.

Sources consulted:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/16/the-arctic-is-unraveling-due-to-global-warming-and-the-consequences-will-be-global/

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/PolarIce/polar_ice2.php

enviromatters.wikispaces.com

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India’s Worst Air Pollution is Inside Its Homes

airpollutionindiaAir pollution in India is mainly comprised of Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5, PM 10, ozone, and CO__; outdoor air pollution, that is. India also struggles with indoor air pollution, an issue that does not necessarily produce the massive clouds of smog that are so iconic of outdoor air pollution. Yet indoor air pollution is actually an even larger problem than India’s outdoor air pollution. For perspective, Delhi, India is now the most polluted city in the world, tied only with Beijing. India’s outdoor Air Quality Index (AQI) measures at 153, well into the Unhealthy range that is highly dangerous to inhabitants’ health. For indoor air pollution to be even worse means that Indians are being exposed to extremely dangerous air pollution at all times every day.

Indoor air pollution can come from appliances such as toasters, refrigerators, and air conditioners; substances like asbestos, formaldehyde, and lead; and smoke from tobacco and cooking, among other sources. In most countries, indoor air pollution is regulated, appliances are required to be within certain standards, and clear guidelines are given for what levels of indoor air pollution are healthy and unhealthy. India, however, has none of these, which leads to the monstrous indoor air pollution plaguing the country. The chronic air pollution that Indians are subject to can lead to respiratory issues and even cancer.

In a recent study, outdoor air pollution is the fifth largest killer in India, while indoor air pollution was the second, behind only high blood pressure. In 2010, 1.3 million Indians died of indoor air pollution. Globally, indoor air pollution killed 4.3 million people. The issue is especially poignant in India, as there is very little public concern for the issue while it obviously continues to be a major health risk. In India, 27.5% of all infant deaths can be attributed to indoor air pollution. The WHO norm for indoor air pollution is 20 unit grams per cubic meter of air. India’s indoor air pollution is at 375 unit grams per cubic meter of air, almost 19 times the standard. indoorairpollution

India’s government has made no move to combat the serious problem of indoor air pollution. Most Indian women and children spend the majority of their time indoors, leading to these massive health risks. Like China with the Under the Dome documentary, India needs something to spark public attention and make a move towards change. India is still developing, so it has the opportunity to be the first country to develop in an environmentally friendly way.

Secondhand Smog

If you were to check the tag on your t-shirt or the manufacturing label on something on your desk, chances are it would say “Made in China”. Nowadays, people are at least cognizant of the poor conditions of Chinese sweatshops or the famous smog largely resulting from manufacturing emissions and choose to stray away from certain clothing brands. But their manufacturing pollution isn’t contained under a Chinese dome, or even a Southeast Asia one. California is affected by Chinese smog.

Ian Faloona, an associate professor at UC-Davis, led a three-year study of California’s atmospheric pollution by studying the composition and origin of the particles collected from the air. The particles inspected were shown to have Asian dust mixed with heavy metal particles and fossil fuel combustion, showing that a large amount of ozone is blown over from Asia rather than natural sources.

10% of Californian air pollution is sourced from Asia, but they are not solely to blame. About 20% of China’s air pollution comes from the manufacturing of goods that are meant to for exportation, and the US is one of their top trading partners. The export sector contributes to approximately 25% of all Chinese emissions including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and black carbon. Figure 1 illustrates how much Chinese exports contribute to US sulfate pollution, especially in the west coast. And now we know that those emissions are not going to dawdle in China; like karma, what goes around comes around, whether it’s black carbon or a pair of sneakers.

Figure 1.

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Now we have evidence that we can’t just expect another country to fix up their issues, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help them. We are pretty used to hearing pollution reports related to our own country or even our own state. The Real-Time Air Quality Index Map can even give indexes as specific as a minor district. But the earth lives under one ozone layer; the air I breathe is also the air respired by an infant, dignitary, or tree miles and miles away. Alternatively, the smog Asia produces is the same smog people in other countries far away will breathe. A clean environment is not a local responsibility; it’s a global one.

For the First Time in 40 Years… Economic Growth Hasn’t Lead to an Increase in CO2 Emissions.

On an average, people tend to commonly associate CO2 emissions with the economy. So, what I am trying to get at is that many people think that if there is a global economic growth, in correlation, we expect to see an increase int he CO2 emissions as well. However, for the first time in over 40 years, we are seeing that this is not the case. This my friends is amazing news for all of us who care about the environment. While this is great news, the question still remains; what has triggered this trend to finally changed? Well, there are several factors and the International Energy Agency has evaluated all of the reasons that they believe that there hasn’t been an increase, but rather a decrease in the CO2 emissions, even though there was an increase in economic growth.

China is the worlds largest CO2 emitter and it is also the country where a majority of the worlds industrial work takes place. Over the past two years, China has taken an initiative to reduce the amount of CO2 that they emit by shifting towards using renewable sources of energy, rather than using non-renewable sources of energy. In China’s case, they have led the world in the amount of solar installations with the hope of cleaning up the countries polluted air. In figure 1, you will see that by the end of 2015, China hopes to add as much as 15 gigawatts of solar energy, which will power around 16 million houses. They want to accomplish this task by installing cheap solar panels on top of commercial buildings, rather than just confiding panels in the rural areas.

Figure 1.

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Additionally, the second factor that has attributed for there to be a decrease in the amount of energy used is the idea that awareness causes people to change their behaviors. People are greedy. Unfortunately,  this is the hard truth. If you tell them that they will save money by buying certain types of technology, they will be willing to do it. This has been happening all over the U.S. The more aware people become about the energy that they are using, the more willing they are to change their behaviors and their electronics. Over the past year, home energy efficiency has decreased drastically, causing there to be an overall decrease in energy. In figure 2, you will see that there is a decrease in the amount of energy in a per capita basis as well as a GDP basis. 

Figure 2.

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The third, which can be overruled, but it is still just as important. The IEA has reported that one of the reasons there is a decrease in CO2 emissions is because transportation has become more efficient. Cars are now being made in order to be more efficient.

Now, the final reason that CO2 emissions have decreased, while the economy prospers, is due to the fact that there was a natural gas boom, due to fracking. Robert Starvins, a leading environmental economist said, “This has, in turn, led to significant increases in dispatch of gas-fired electricity generation, relative to dispatch of coal-fired generation, as well as increased investment in new gas-fired electric generation capacity, and cessation of investment in new coal generation in the United States.” 

Now, lets rejoice. While the world still needs to make huge strides to bettering the environmental conditions, the progress we are making is incredible. China, the worlds leading CO2 emitter has come to its senses and so is the rest of the world.

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?

Are American Wind Farms Helping the World?

To someone who may not know, American Wind Farms are exactly what they sound like; they are large patches of land in America with wind turbines as tall as a 30-story building.  These wind turbines have blades, which are rotating at a speed of 200mph, and provide hundreds of homes with clean and renewable energy. The difference between renewable and nonrenewable energy is that nonrenewable energy cannot be used again, while renewable energy can be recycled as well as used again. Some examples of nonrenewable energy are fossil fuels, natural gas, and coal, while some examples of renewable energy are solar energy, wind energy, and geothermal energy. The importance of using renewable energy is that even though it can be considered to be the most expensive source of energy, it is beneficial to the planet because it is clean. As I mentioned before, wind energy is one type of renewable energy and it is doing wonders around the world, especially in the United States. Over the past four decades, we are using more wind energy and it is providing an increasing amount of energy. Now a days, an average wind farm generates around 50,000 megawatts of energy. Figure 1 is a picture of a American Wind Farm that generates enough energy to support over 100 homes in its neighboring communities.

Figure 1.

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Not only do these Wind Farms help provide the world with clean energy, but they are also helping the economy. While building these wind turbines can be expensive, they are helping save several thousands of dollars in local energy bills. The Wind Farms are also providing 75,000 americans with jobs. These wind turbines are providing a chance for workers from American communities to prosper. American companies are providing more than 65% of the parts needed for each wind turbine. Figures 2 and 3 show the factories where the parts are actually created.

Figure 2.

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Figure 3.

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In addition to this, as wind energy becomes more popular and the demand increases, a uprising worry is if congress will continue to support an important wind energy incentive, known as the Production Tax Credit. The Production Tax Credit provides financial support from the federal government for the development of renewable energy sources. If this incentive expires, then that means that several individuals will be out of jobs. It also means that there will be no chance that wind energy will cover 20% of Americas total energy used by 2030.  Furthermore, if the incentive is passed, then there will be a projected growth in the number of jobs as well as the amount of renewable energy that is used. Therefore, it can be determined that not only is wind energy good for the environment, but it is also good for the economy.

Justice is Justice

The University of Minnesota conducted a study analyzing the relationship between census data and nitrogen oxide concentration.   The study showed that race was the most important factor in who is affected by air pollution in America. “The difference in exposures to nitrogen dioxide (N2O) between whites and nonwhite was 38%.” (theeconomist) In order to understand the implications of this study, it’s imperative to understand the effect of N2O on the human body and the racial disparities within American society today.

In the United States, urban areas are “disproportionately non-white, with over 52 percent of blacks and 21 percent of whites residing in central-city neighborhoods; while suburbs are disproportionately white, where 57 percent of whites but just 36 percent of blacks reside.” (nhi) Basically, more Blacks than Whites live in urban areas. These urban areas are heavily polluted, because they are generally in closer proximity to highways and power plants; which are large sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and keep the earth warm, this is called the greenhouse effect. When sunlight reaches the earth, land and water absorb it. Sunlight not absorbed is reflected back to space. The earth’s surface warms up and gives off infared radiation, greenhouse gases trap some of these infared rays in the atmosphere making the planet warmer. Figure 1 illustrates this process.

Figure 1

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The University of Michigan Study focused on nitrogen dioxide, a common greenhouse gas, as the polluting agent.  Nitrogen dioxide moves throughout the nitrogen cycle, a “natural circulation of nitrogen among the atmosphere, plants, animals and microorgnaisms.” (epa.gov) Figure 2 briefly illustrates this process.

Figure 2

nitrogen-cycle

Fossil fuels include oil, coal and natural gas. The burning of fossil fuels, also called combustion, is used industrially and residentially for electricity and heating. In urban areas, fossil fuel combustion releases nitrogen dioxide.  This pollutes breathing air and adds nitrogen to the nitrogen cycle. The result of this is climate change attributable to the greenhouse effect and health issues for the people exposed to the nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide causes health afflictions ranging from airway inflammation to asthma and heart problems. For instance, in New york the admittance rate for asthma is 1.8 per 1000. However, in the South Bronx, a predominantly Black and industrial neighborhood, the admittance rate for asthma is three times that rate. (nihl)

The correlation between race and exposure to pollution is tied to the prevalence of poverty in urban areas. Pollution and climate change are issues seemingly tied only to environmental justice. Environmental justice and social justice, however, are undoubtedly connected. The problems that pollution and climate change wreak on the globe leave the disadvantaged more vulnerable, even within the boarders of the U.S.  Tamara Rodriguez Reichberg articulates this idea when she says:

“Racial and environmental injustice are linked to the same systemic problems of our society…both manifest in disease, and both are concerns to public health. Racial injustice as we know it is expressed through institutional racism and structural violence that affect the health of Black and Latino patients. Environmental injustice, too, disproportionately impacts Black and Latino patients.” (nhi)

Recognizing that environmentalism reaches the heights of social justce is motivation enough to become more energy efficient.  Think about it this way, turning off a light is not only an act of environmental activism but also a step towards civil justice.

Sources

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/04/17/3427918/why-air-pollution-is-a-racial-issue/

http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21602735-air-getting-cleaner-less-so-non-whites-colour-pollution

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/04/study-people-of-color-breathe-air-that-is-38-percent-more-polluted-than-white-peoples/

http://grist.org/climate-energy/how-to-set-aside-your-anxieties-and-join-the-black-lives-matter-movement/

http://personal.ce.umn.edu/~marshall/NO2_white_nonwhite.php

http://www.swac.umn.edu/classes/soil2125/doc/s13chap3.htm

http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/n2o.html

http://www.epa.gov/climatestudents/basics/today/greenhouse-effect.html

http://www.kidsgeo.com/geography-for-kids/0161-the-nitrogen-cycle.php