We all know about the damaging impact that Man has on the natural environment, but even some of the most pessimistic didn’t realise the extent of it. It has been found that some of the world’s deepest sea trenches have been polluted with highly toxic substances over the years. The presence of these man made chemicals in this remote area of the planet has shown the serious extent of the human impact on the environment.
The Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean, where the pollution has been discovered, is 10 kilometres deep and is the most inaccessible place on planet Earth. A robotic submarine discovered small crustaceans living in the trench, which contains 50 times more toxic chemicals than the most polluted rivers in China. However, the Far East isn’t the only place where the rivers have been significantly affected. Take a look at this story on salmon in Seattle on http://www.thealternativedaily.com/puget-sound-salmon-contain-drugs/. The results of the Mariana study were considered particularly startling as the toxins were discovered miles away from any industrial sources.
To get a scale of how deep the trench is, imagine Mount Everest flipped upside down and then add a further two kilometres onto the top. No sunlight can penetrate any of the trenches so all the surviving organisms have to rely entirely on dead organic material from above. It took a custom built submarine to reach all the way down to this area, which collected various samples to test and draw conclusions from.
Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University in the UK led the research, and commented on the “devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet.” Two of the types of chemicals that were discovered were banned in the 1970s, but stay in the environment as they do not break down. These persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been found in the deepest parts of the ocean, and are also water-repellent. Once substances flow into the trench, they cannot escape again which was the basis of this research being conducted in the first place.
It’s thought that the trench’s closeness to a large whirlpool known as the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is the reason that it has accumulated so many toxins. This whirlpool has accumulated huge quantities of plastics over the years, and POPs have been found to bind to this material.
Ultimately, this latest piece of research is ground-breaking as it has shown that no part of the Earth’s surface is completely protected from the activities of Man. This is something that will impact all of us, as well as future generations. Protecting the environment is one of the biggest challenges that remains for human beings to tackle. With a growing population and more nations joining in to become fully industrialised, this is a challenge that will only become greater in the coming years. This is something that should bind us all together as a species, regardless of political beliefs or any other affiliation.
Who Will Save The Planet: The People Or Big Business?
Are you worried about climate change and the general state of the planet? If you read our previous article on the subject, you certainly will be and if not, then perhaps it’s time you caught up. The shorthand version is that the world is slowly dying. American talk show host and political comedian, Bill Maher, recently questioned why innovators like Elon Musk are so fascinated by the idea of living on Mars. Instead, he asserted, we should be focusing on saving this planet and correcting the damage done to it. Scientists are constantly trying to warn us that we need to do more to save the planet, but who are they talking about here?
The question we want to answer today: who has the best hope of saving the world and fixing the environment? Is it big business or the individual homeowners? In other words, should we look to the ant or the grasshopper? As the old fable goes, ants may be small but in large numbers they might be capable of far more than the larger, strong Grasshopper. To answer this question we first need to look at the statistics.
The Maths Behind The Melt Down
Here’s an interesting statistic for you to mull over.One child per family, according to experts is the equivalent of 58.6 tonnes of CO2 carbon emissions annually. That’s right, just by having kids and growing your family you are causing the destruction of the world. Try not to take that too personally because actually everyone is guilty.
However, before you get too distressed about this, let’s shine a light on another stat. 100 companies in the world are causing 71 percent of the global emissions that are currently destroying the environment. Essentially, this sends the message that we shouldn’t be trying to change the minds and lifestyles of the individuals but rather the businesses that are slowly killing the planet.
Of course, it is worth considering that while that might seem like there’s just a few bad eggs we are in the age of the massive conglomerates where monopolies are common. Just this month we learned Disney was attempting to buy up Rupert Murdoch’s pride and joy while Warner Bros. continued their efforts to merge with AT&T. What does this tell us? Is it really that surprising that – in comparative terms – a few companies are causing most of the pollution. Absolutely not, but that doesn’t leave the random individual completely blameless. Indeed, it’s fair to say that most people these days own a car or two. A typical vehicle will create over 4 tonnes of carbon emissions per year. Imagine how much damage you’re doing by driving alone.
The Businesses Must Act
One train of thought here then is that it is the businesses that must make changes for us to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Believe it or not, that is starting to happen, at least in some areas of the world. In Denmark for instance, the government has set high stands for companies and the level of carbon emissions they can product. Infact, there is a heavy focus here on renewable energy which actually, all businesses should be looking towards now as a solution.
As well as this, businesses are in the perfect position to introduce innovative technology and processes that could make everything more efficient. Ultimately, this could start at the manufacturing level and we can take jet engines as an example here. So, during the manufacturing of turbine engines, producers now have the possibility of using Laser Light technologies to drill tiny holes into the engine, thus allowing it to cool more effectively. With this feature, the engine uses less energy and is a lot more efficient. For that to happen though, the producer has to use that method. The company creating the planes has to buy from that producer. But, if all this does occur then ultimately it impacts various different processes in the world. Flying from New York to London is suddenly a lot more eco friendly. So, perhaps the phrase should be ‘it starts at business’ rather than it starts at home.
After all, it is the businesses that are going to have to change to ensure that the impact of climate change and other environmental factors are reversed. One could even argue that if every business began to take a hard stance on correcting the impact that their model is having on the environment the issue would be resolved overnight. But, let’s take a closer look at the individual.
Power Of The Public
There are a few reasons why ultimately it is the public that has the power to change the impact we are currently having on the environment. First, of all, there’s that ant, grasshopper fable. There are a lot more people in the world than there are businesses. If everyone changed their energy usage the issues with carbon emissions wouldn’t disappear but they would be significantly reduced.
The public also have the power of the buyer. They can decide and determine who they want to buy from. If the public started turning their backs on businesses that continued to pollute they would have no choice but to act and to change their ways.
As well as this, we have now reached the point where small gestures won’t be enough. As the world population continues to grow, it’s clear that the biggest threat to environment is not carbon emissions but people. Governments need to act swiftly and start taking appropriate measures that may seem severe like limits on the number of children that people can have. While this might seem drastic we need drastic actions now, if the report by 15000 scientists is to be believed.
Perhaps then this is a trick question. The power to save us isn’t in the hands of the people or the corporations. The power to save us is in the hands of the governments around the world. But of course, governments work, at least they should, in the best interests of the people. As such, if you want to save the planet we really only have one question. How loud can you shout to make sure your voice is heard on this issue?
Saving the Planet: Where Will We Finish in Our Race Against Climate Change?
2017 will go down as yet another year in history with landmark changes in global warming and climate change. As estimated by the 2017 Global Carbon Budget, global carbon emissions this year are on course to touch a record high level of 37 billion tonnes. Also, 2017 is set to be among three of the hottest years ever recorded, the United Nations revealed earlier this month. Further, 2017 is also slated to be the hottest year ever on record which has seen no intrusion from the El Nino effect that results in heat being released from the Pacific Ocean about once in every five years.
“These findings underline the rising risks to people, economies and the very fabric of life on Earth if we fail to get on track with the aims and ambitions of the Paris agreement,” Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Patricia Espinosa said of the situation ahead of the Bonn Climate Conference that took place earlier this month in Germany. Her sentiment is widely accepted and shared by the representatives of almost every country in the world, by environmental experts across the globe, by the media, by me and probably by you as well. However, in the blitz of repeated warnings and fresh facts nearly every week of every month, the only aspect that seems to be a regular is the lack of action on the issue especially on national and international levels, and that is concerning, considering the vigour with which promises are made by the leaders of some of the largest countries on the international stage. Thus, in the wake of fresh warnings by scientists on climate change, the developments in the recently concluded Bonn Conference do not seem as satisfactory when billed against these same warnings. Let’s have a look at each of the two.
A second warning: are you aware?
Starting July this year, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries have issued a global warning to humanity in a letter calling for a change in both attitude and action to save our planet and ourselves from our own recklessness. Titled ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’, the letter puts light on key issues that threaten our survival: shrinking freshwater resources and marine fisheries, an increase in the number of dead zones, declining proportion of forests, a decline in many vertebrate species, increasing temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions across the world, and an increase in the human population towards unsustainable levels. The letter claims that with the current trends unchanged, many life forms will be extinct or headed towards extinction before the end of the century. However, it also credits humanity with one achievement of a decline in the presence of ozone depleting substances. The letter also lists the measures that are absolutely necessary to bring about the desired change. Some of these include restoration of forest areas, repopulating native species, reducing food waste and making dietary shifts towards plant based foods, and promoting education for women to reduce fertility rates. By the beginning of this month, the letter had received optimum attention from the media.
The movement, started by William Ripple of Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, marks the 25th anniversary of the first “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’ that was issued by nearly 1,700 scientists. “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated,” reads the original letter from 1992 under the sub-heading “warning”. It is a sad reminder of how little we have progressed in 25 years in our duty to make our home planet remain the home planet for the generations to come.
Bonn Climate Change Conference: Does slow and steady win the race?
In the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, world leaders pledged to ensure that their countries would do their best to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in this century. Since then, a Donald Trump led United States has backed out of the agreement, and climate experts worldwide have sounded alarms claiming that the goal is extremely difficult to achieve going by the current trajectory of the countries that are major contributors of carbon emissions.
The Bonn Conference on climate change or the COP23 in Bonn, Germany was held from November 6 to November 17 to further the negotiations between the involved parties on how the agreement is supposed to pan out 2020 onwards. Some minor yet positive developments at the conference included continued participation from the US delegation signaling their involvement despite Trump’s decisions to take a different course, the launch of the Powering Past Coal Alliance led by the UK and Canada the members of which seek to phase out existing traditional coal power in their jurisdictions, and a long awaited agreement between the parties to work on issues linking climate change and agriculture. That’s about it.
Many of the difficult decisions and issues to be tackled have been relegated to the following year. Negotiations took place on establishing a “rulebook” to govern the processes required to be able to move in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The deadline for this task is the COP next year in Poland, and a draft of the implementation guidelines was to be ready by the end of the Bonn conference. However, a lot of disagreements between countries on issues such as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) have resulted in the requirements of additional sessions to finish the draft in time.
The tussle between the developed and developing countries over the issue of climate finance arose throughout the talks and remains largely unsettled, again requiring additional sessions for a consensus to be reached among the parties. Further, leaders of island nations were left frustrated due to delays by wealthy nations in compensating these countries which are most threatened by the effects of climate change. “This means life or death for us”, said Tommy Remengesau, the president of Palau, saying that the issue “is a moral question, and it requires a moral answer.” The pace with which developments are taking place make it quite evident that we are still far away from the goals set during the Paris Accord. With the current trends, we are more likely to end up with a rise in global temperatures of 3 degrees Celsius this century, the results of which may be catastrophic. In the meantime, the warnings will keep increasing. They will keep increasing till the point at which they become regrets, a transition which it’s possible that many may not even live to see. “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home”, wrote Ripple in his letter in his bid to make anyone who comes across his piece aware of where we’re headed. Perhaps change will come only when we are made aware, albeit painfully, of what it is that we are losing, or that which we may have already lost.
A Choking City: What the Ongoing Toxic Week in Delhi Means for its People
A joke on the morbidity of New Delhi is circulating among Delhiites (people from Delhi) that while the lives of the citizens were disrupted in November last year due to ‘note-bandi’ (ban on currency), November of this year presents an even tougher test for the people with ‘saans-bandi’, a ban on breathing. The receding autumn or advent of winter was a once beloved season of a good number of people in the city who welcomed the change with a complete revamp of their wardrobes with colourful woollens. It is now characterized with bleak skies, an air of gloom and a little bit of grey in everything you see outside of your house.
For the past three days, I have been acutely aware of the air I am breathing, felt unproductive and apprehensive in spells for no good reason, and felt the need to confine myself to my house for as long as possible. These are some of the less apparent effects of the thick blanket of smog that has engulfed the national capital region. As a number of people donned with different types of masks on the roads and on Snapchat serve as a constant visual reminder of how the city is choking, a flurry of articles and news updates have presided over my feed. One of them included a horrifying viral video recording of vehicles ramming into each other due to poor visibility on the Noida-Agra Expressway as people scrambled to get themselves and their children out of the way, while some other articles argued about how currently breathing in Delhi for a day is the equivalent of smoking twenty cigarettes.
A sudden state of emergency
Less than two days ago, when the air quality in Delhi visibly worsened, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal likened the city to a ‘gas chamber’. The PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels in different parts of the capital have rocketed above the levels that are considered safe, and the Safar (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research) has declared the air quality as ‘severe’ for at least the next three days after which the level may drop to a not so safe either ‘very poor’ level. In some parts of the city, the AQI (air quality index) was detected on monitors at 999, the highest possible reading, which suggests that the level might be even higher. The visibility during the early hours has also dropped to very low levels. Among the different reasons for the observed level of pollution in Delhi, slow winds at this time of the year have been identified as the prime contributor along with stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Combined with the dust particles present in the air, omissions from vehicles that plague the roads in the region throughout the day, and those from factories and construction activities, these factors dictate a recipe for creating uninhabitable conditions.
Making amends: A scramble for order
The Indian Medical Association on 7th November declared Delhi to be in a state of public health emergency, urging the Delhi government and other bodies to take adequate steps to ensure minimum risk to citizens, especially young children and the elderly, who are most likely to suffer from the effects of pollution. After a worsening situation, the government has ordered all schools in the capital to remain shut till Sunday, and has rolled out plans to implement the odd-even scheme for vehicles in the city from next week. Parking fee throughout the city has also been increased fourfold and the prices for travel by the metro have been substantially reduced for the time being to promote the use of public transport. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also banned all construction and industrial activities till November 14 in a bid to provide the citizens of Delhi a breath of better quality air. Mr. Kejriwal has also approached his counterparts from Punjab and Haryana over the issue of stubble burning by the farmers but it remains to be seen how the move plays out in the coming days.
As the government battles against the situation, the public is taking measures to protect themselves in whatever way they can. An increasing number of doctors and specialists on the matter have advised people not to go out for morning walks or outdoor activities so as to not inhale excessive quantities of toxic pollutants. Some doctors have even advised their patients to leave the city for the time being if possible. Air purifiers for houses and masks for travelling outside have seen a huge rise in sales as nearly everyone has become an expert on the subject of filters and N95 and N99 have become trending words from pharmacies to WhatsApp conversations.
A year ago, while New Delhi wrestled with more or less the same conditions, UNICEF had called on the rest of the world to consider the situation as a wake up call. “It is a wake up call that very clearly tells us: unless decisive actions are taken to reduce air pollution, the events we are witnessing in Delhi over the past week are likely to be increasingly common”, it had said in a statement. If we are doing better than last year, it is still not enough, and all one needs is less than a minute in the open to be convinced of that. As the world battles with the effects of climate change, India’s bid to have a major global footprint in the coming decades is bound to take a serious hit if so many of its cities, and especially its capital follow a trend of being unlivable for a chunk of time at the end of every year.
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