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?

Life Expectancy vs. Quality of Life

A new issue of the Atlantic Monthly came out this week, and it is all about aging and life expectancy. The main article is called “What Happens When We All Live to be 100” by Gregg Easterbrook. There is a detailed graph (see Figure 1 below) showing life expectancy in the United States. The graph starts at 1880, and goes until today. At first, the life expectancy in the U.S was under 40 (39.4) The graph immediately reminded me of the Demographic transition chart we constructed and annotated in class last week. In 1880, the United States had a much higher birth and date rate, but a lower population than today. The graph shown in the article also projects ahead to the year 2080. If the average rate of growth that we’ve had in this country since 1880 continues, life expectancy will pass 100 by 2080. This figure would be lower if we continued at the growth rate of the last twenty years, but it will still be over 90 years old. The article then goes on to list all the areas of research that have grown in this country around preventing or slowing down the effects of aging. The author, Gregg Easterbrook, is somewhat skeptical of most of them. For example, near San Francisco is a company called the “Buck Institute”, founded by a family of wealthy oil industrialists who wanted to find out why we age. Researchers at the Buck Institute experiment with DNA modification: if a gene can be found that is responsible for telling cells to slow down and begin to die, then a mutation of that gene may stop aging from occurring. Easterbrook interviewed a scientist at Buck, who never eats any bad foods, runs roughly 20 miles a week, and takes all kinds of supplements that may have extended the life of lab rats. The scientist, however, still looks as though he is aging at a normal rate as someone who isn’t taking these precautious measures. Another trend that the author of this article critiques is caloric restriction. Mice, who are fed very low calorie meals may live longer, but are in a state of near hibernation. Easterbrook wonders if living to 100 means we will be hungry all through the day. One idea keeps coming up again and again in this article: if we live so long, will it actually make our lives better? From the standpoint of evolution, an organism that has gotten too old to reproduce anymore is no longer important in the big picture. An aging organism cannot contribute to a changing and evolving gene pool anymore. This means that the changes in CBR, CDR, life expectancy, and other Demographic trends are new in human history and in the history of life on Earth. These are questions raised by the class, but also something we will have to deal with in the future.

Figure 1: (picture was found in same article on “Atlantic Monthly”) 

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Bibliography: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/09/what-happens-when-we-all-live-to-100/379338/

“What Happens When We All Live To Be 100” by Gregg Easterbrook.