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.

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A Green Antarctica?

There’s a bit of a dilemma happening in the Antarctic. That is, besides the fact that the glaciers are melting at a rate of 49 billion tons of ice each year. 

The issue is more of a moral one. Scientists largely agree that global warming is real, and it is a problem that will have catastrophic impacts on our world if left unchecked. The glaciers in Antarctica are certainly melting: it is entirely possible that in the next 200 years, the sea levels could rise up to 10 feet. In the past 200 years, sea levels rose by only 7 inches, and that was considered drastic. Coastal cities such as Venice, Boston, Miami, New York, and Mumbai would incur significant economic and physical damage, mostly stemming from a chronic flooding issue that would be difficult to control. Global warming, and therefore the melting of the glaciers, is caused by the greenhouse effect. The two major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO₂) and methane, and they form a layer of our atmosphere. As the light from the sun hits Earth, it reflects as infrared Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 10.02.40 PMradiation. Most of this then exits the atmosphere, but some of the energy is contained by the greenhouse gases and continues to warm our atmosphere. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the more energy is contained and the warmer our atmosphere becomes. Obviously the concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has become overwhelming, as the glaciers in Antarctica are melting at a pace over five times faster than was predicted by scientists, when they should not be melting at all. The glaciers melt from the bottom up: first the water beneath them warms from the general temperature increase in the atmosphere at large. This, in turn, warms the ice and causes portions to break off, which then continue to melt in the water. The newly exposed ice then makes contact with the warmer water, and the glacier continues to melt.

So what is the dilemma? Surely all scientists would prefer that the glaciers stopped melting, even refroze. However, for botanists and plant biologists, the melted glaciers and warmer climate have some other affects that might even make global warming a bit alluring: plants are growing more, and better. This provides an opportunity to study the plant life of Antarctica in a way that has been previously impossible. Therein lies the conundrum: melting glaciers would increase the plant and animal life in the Antarctic, an exciting prospect for scientists in that area. The repercussions, however, would devastate many heavily settled cities as well as the ecosystems of both the ocean and the coastal areas.

Antarctica Glacial MeltingI think that while the prospect of finding out more about the ecosystems that could arise in the melted absence of the Antarctic glaciers, the damages to our civilization and other ecosystems would be too great a blow to justify even hoping that the glaciers continue to melt. The fortuitous discovery of further information on the Antarctic plant life is possibly something to ease the pain of the devastation of global warming, but it certainly does not justify perpetuating our current cycle of CO₂ emissions and pollution. We must continue to work towards a greener, healthier, less melty world.

Just Green Enough: A Compromise of Equality & Sustainability

The lack of environmental justice in American society is now being linked clearly to an issue prevalent in urban areas: environmental gentrification.

Environmental gentrification is the process of affluent populations moving into low-income neighborhoods and therefore changing the culture and demographics’ of that neighborhood.   This change generally leads to the displacement of the low-income population, as the neighborhood is no longer affordable.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a guiding document detailing the organization’s intention to “incorporate environmental justice into its decision making processes.” (PERC) Meaning, the EPA is now taking into account the way in which pollution generally impacts the poor more significantly than the affluent. A disturbing example of such is illustrated in a “1983 study showing that hazardous waste landfills in the Southeast were almost entirely located in low-income, minority communities” (PERC)

This ruling of the EPA seems like a good thing. It means making low-income and historically disenfranchised neighborhoods cleaner and more environmentally friendly. It means upgrading low-income neighborhoods with things like LEED-certified green buildings, and bike lanes.” (Grist) LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. There are different levels of LEED certification based on a point system. Any LEED certified building, is to a certain extent, energy efficient. A LEED certified building could have solar panels, harnessing sunlight to create electricity or heat. Essentially, the building’s design is geared to use the least amount of energy possible. Bike lanes would contribute to the fight against climate change, as it offers an alternative to driving or public transportation. Climate change is in part attributable to greenhouse gas emissions. Cars, when in use, emit greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases range from carbon dioxide to methane. They build up in the atmosphere and block infrared rays from leaving, effectively heating the earth. This process is called the greenhouse effect.  Figure 1 illustrates this occurrence.

Figure 1:

greenhouse-effect

Upgrading these neighborhoods would not only be environmentally friendly but also aesthetically beneficial to the community. Unfortunately, these improvements can lead to the displacement of the population it was geared towards helping.

Sprucing up a neighborhood with nifty environmentally friendly upgrades can trigger gentrification. Logically, if a historically “bad” neighborhood becomes cleaner and more “green” it will attract a new population. A population that can afford to take into account these upgrades. H. Spencer Banzhaf describes this occurrence aptly when he says:

“Residents who moved into dirtier communities tend to place a higher priority on low-cost housing than on the environment. Cleaning up the environment may increase those costs by more than their willingness to pay, as wealthier households bid up property values. As poor residents are more likely to rent their housing, they stand to lose from these increased housing costs.” (PERC)

Though environmental gentrification may be excellent for the environment, it’s not always ethically right. For example, in the 1990s, Pilsen, Chicago was an unsafe and predominately Hispanic community. “In 2012, however, the Chicago Department of Transportation finished upgrading two rundown streets by rebuilding them with recycled materials, permeable pavers, green streetscaping and sustainable stormwater runoff solutions.”  in Pilsen, Chicago. The neighborhood is now considered to be one of the ‘greenest in America’. (governing) Unfortunately, the rent prices are now soaring, displacing the low-income population that once resided there. Figure 2 shows a street in Pilsen, Chicago.

Figure 2:

gentrification-pilsen-illinois-tropic-of-meta

Fortuitously, a compromise between both displaced inhabitants and the environment can be found in the idea of making neighborhoods “Just Green Enough.” Meaning, “to make a neighborhood more livable, without triggering gentrification.” (governing) There are two main components to this idea, the first being to make environmental improvements to the neighborhood without disturbing the identity of the neighborhood. The second being, allowing the community to be involved in making the neighborhood more sustainable. In addition, when a neighborhood is undergoing improvements, taking certain precautions, including local job training and rent subsidies, to prevent displacement. (governing)

Environmental justice is inevitably tied to issues of social justice, as the environment dictates the circumstances of its inhabitants.  The “Just Green Enough” initiative is a perfect example of the connection between the two. More importantly, however, making neighborhoods “Just Green Enough” means a more sustainable and equal environment and society.

Sources:

http://thehigherlearning.com/2014/10/13/nasa-confirms-that-huge-methane-cloud-in-u-s-southwest-is-real-deal/

http://perc.org/blog/environmental-justice-or-gentrification

http://perc.org/sites/default/files/ps42.pdf

http://grist.org/cities/can-we-green-the-hood-without-gentrifying-it/

http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-green-gentrification-series.html

http://www.wilderutopia.com/sustainability/land/green-urbanism-balancing-evironmental-justice-with-gentrification/

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

GreenhouseEffect-1

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

The Duality of Science and Religion

Science and religion are often times considered to be far apart on the spectrum of academia. Nevertheless, the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI, also known as the “Green Pope” have effectively linked Catholic faith with working towards a more energy efficient world.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI installed over 1,000 solar panels in the Vatican. Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into solar or thermal (heat) energy. Figure 1 shows the highly efficient roof of the Vatican.

Figure 1

the-green-pope-solar-panels_64811_990x742

Solar power is a clean energy source, meaning it’s efficient and renewable. Solar panels are “large flat panels made up of solar cells.” (seia) These solar cells are made of materials that, when struck by light, turn the energy within sunlight into an electrical current.  This electrical current can then be harnessed as electricity. Figure 2, illustrates this process.

Figure 2

solar-panel-diagram1

The most important thing to understand about solar energy, and all sources of clean energy, is that it generates electricity with little to no pollution or contribution to climate change.

The Catholic’s church journey to energy efficiency isn’t limited to the actions of the “Green Pope.” Last month, a group of Catholic Bishops from all over the globe “called on the world’s governments to end fossil fuel use…citing climate change’s threat to the global poor.” (thinkprogress) Climate change is any notable change in temperature, precipitation or wind patterns. It is attributed to large amount of carbon dioxide and other green houses gases entering the atmosphere. The majority of these greenhouse gases are emitted through the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy. The greenhouse gases that build up in the atmosphere “act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm.” This process is called the greenhouse effect.  This resulting change in climate is dangerous to the health of ecosystems and humans. For example, through changing the consistent climate of a region, the population’s ability to obtain water and maintain agriculture can be disturbed.

The bishops also called for a global agreement to lower carbon emissions. They argued that in doing so “the immediate needs of the most vulnerable communities” will be prioritized. The globe’s most impoverished populations are particularly vulnerable to droughts, floods, storms and other extreme weather attributable to climate change. The Catholic Bishops called attention to the moral side of energy efficiency by connecting the use of fossil fuel to victimizing impoverished populations.

The way in which the Catholic Church is able to relate an issue rooted in science to a question of morality is articulated when Daniel Stone notes, “Benedict (the Green Pope) is able to “inject morality into environmental debate. Changing light bulbs or saving a wild animal by protecting the habitat wasn’t about saving money… but was a religious obligation.” (nationalgeographic) Making clean energy the scrupulous choice is an excellent way to spread awareness of energy efficient practices.

Often times when people think of saving energy, it’s simply to save electricity.  Usually saving energy isn’t a a question of the right thing to do.  When Pope Benedict says, “If we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us, “ he makes saving energy a question of being morally right or wrong. Furthermore, he connects Catholic faith to preserving the environment through energy efficiency. I’m not religious, but, to me, tying energy efficiency to being ethically “good” is more affective than knowing that I save X amount of energy when I turn my light off or recycle. The key to getting anyone to do something is getting him or her to care. The actions of the “Green Pope” and the Catholic Church are a step towards doing just that.

Sources

http://www.seia.org/about/solar-energy

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/12/11/3602596/bishops-end-fossil-fuels/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/green-pope/

http://cleantechnica.com/2015/01/02/pope-francis-tip-balance-fossil-fuels/

http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basics/#everyone

http://www.totalsolarsolutions.com.au/solar-information

Eat Less Meat to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

Cows

I only know a few people who do not appreciate a good hamburger. However, did you know that eating meat constantly worsens the health of the earth? Global warming is caused by a surplus of greenhouse emissions in the atmosphere. Each day with more and more greenhouses gases being released, the temperature of the earth continues to rise. Global warming is severely affecting the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect makes sure that the earth maintains a manageable temperature by blocking some UV rays. (See Image Below) There will be serious consequences if humans do not limit the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Due to global warming, the earth’s temperature has started to rise rapidly. One source of the problem is meat production. [2] Since there are a lot of nonrenewable resources used to produce meat, greenhouse gases are increased. Essentially, humans’ meat consumption heavily contributes to the global warming issue.

This image shows how the Greenhouse Effect works. When there is a surplus of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, or methane, this causes the earth to get hotter.

This image shows how the Greenhouse Effect works. When there is a surplus of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, or methane, this causes the earth to get hotter.

.                When growing crops to feed cows and other animals, most conventional farmers use fertilizers; these fertilizers release nitrous oxide and other pollutants in the atmosphere[4]. Not only do these fertilizers increase greenhouse gases, according to the UN Environmental Program, fertilizers also threaten human health.[5] Additionally, manure is another source of the problem. Mass producing animals means that there is lot of poop. Unfortunately, manure releases the greenhouse gas methane. With steadily increasing demands for meat, methane and nitrous oxide continue to fuel global warming.

In a study published in the Environmental Research Letters warns there will need to be drastic changes in food production in order to stop a disastrous global warming.[6] Developed countries are the main sources of the issue. In many first world countries, eating meat is expected at every meal; according to Eric Davidson, director of the Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts says that eating meat,”… is part of our culture right now.”[7] This new study suggests that countries like the US would have to cut consumption by 50% to avoid horrific environmental problems by 2050.[8] Also, according to Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts, developed countries will have to reduce fertilizer use to 50% as well.[9]

In conclusion to help stop global warming, people have to stop eating so much meat. I have fully committed myself to the cause by becoming a vegetarian to help the earth keep its cool. Global warming could easily be solved if developed countries were not so in love with their hamburgers and steak dinners. What will you choose to eat next?

 hamburger

Works Cited

Clarke-Billings, Lucy. “‘Stop Eating Meat and Save the Planet’ Says United Nations.” Express. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. <http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/378484/Stop-eating-meat-and-save-the-planet-says-United-Nations&gt;.

Cows. America Aljazeera. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. <http://america.aljazeera.com/content/ajam/watch/shows/techknow/blog/2013/10/6/waste-from-thousandsofcowscreatesenergyforanentiredairyfarm/_jcr_content/blog/mainpar/adaptiveimage/src.adapt.480.low.jpg&gt;.

Goldenberg, Suzanne. “Eat Less Meat to Prevent Climate Disaster, Study Warns.” The Guardian. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/apr/13/less-meat-prevent-climate-change&gt;.

Greenhouse Effect. Zhibocc. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. <http://www.zhibocc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/greenhouse-effect-definition.jpg&gt;.

Hamburger. Wikimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Oct. 2014. <http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/NCI_Visuals_Food_Hamburger.jpg&gt;.