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Air Pollution

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1 Air Pollution on Sun Aug 05, 2012 8:59 am

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With the recent realisation that mercury can transform itself in the stratosphere, then pollute the atmosphere below, we are finally coming to terms with the enormous extent to which we have (along with other sources) polluted ourselves out of house and home-planet. The extent of air pollution of course combines with terrestrial and aquatic pollutions, and even on to solar system and universal pollution. Of course it can't continue. If we ourselves are to stop it, government education would and could help a little.

The two main gases in our air are not pollutants at this time. Others are in small quantities and pose little threat until they upset ecosystems. The prime candidates are carbon dioxide, ozone and methane, although the latter is not sourced by humans, but instead lies beneath oceans as a rather benign, but massive threat. The many polluting "colleagues" of these gases are present in lesser quantities. We all know that some of them are lethal to us and other organisms. Carbon monoxide poisoning (mentioned later in car emissions) and the gases that governments have licensed so that we could harm each other are major threats despite their small volumes.

Global warming of course is the main threat from CO2 build-up, as well as methane and several others. Gases such as these and even nitrogen can kill oxygen breathers by blanketing a low-lying area (such as a camp site). Creating world-wide nuisance however is their claim to present notoriety, despite several coal-burning countries' efforts to pour scorn on their effects. It is however accepted, both scientifically and rationally, that, whatever your reigning ruler might say, global warming is just about to cause a greater menace than we have faced for generations.


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Carbon dioxide and several other gases cause a blanket effect on the earth. If we use a CO2 fire extinguisher, it blankets the flames, robbing them of vital oxygen. In the case of the atmosphere, the same gas allows heat entry but prevents the loss of heat that would otherwise be reflected from the earth back into space. Strangely, sulphur dioxide allows more heat to escape and therefore its prevalence in past pollutions could have helped to prevent global warming!

Pollution from carbon dioxide results from cars and other vehicles (hence the proscribing of high emissions), fossil fuel burning (largely in power stations) and from respiration, particularly bacterial. By far the major cause currently is Chinese, Indian and US power stations. Partly from international cooperation in this last case and also because we have no alternative, most countries signed up in 1992 to a great international agreement called the Kyoto Protocol. This is now outdated and it is hoped that soon, we can concoct a more concrete agreement, especially from those countries who failed to measure up at Kyoto. The follow-up conferences in Bali, Cancun, Copenhagen and last December in Durban did little to stir the major defaulters into action, but have prepared developing countries for their huge responsibility to cut back on CO2 emissions, just as their economies are growing.

Pollution from sulphur dioxide (and several other sulphurous gases) has also been traced to power stations, but such gases have been removed from emissions long ago in most cases. This is a classic case. Sweden began complaining to the UK and others 60 years ago that their forest loss and several other problems seemed to be caused by industrial pollution from British factories. It turned out that acid rain was caused by SO2 in the local atmosphere and that similar problems caused Canadian effects from US sources. The Black Forest in Germany was threatened for a time by the emissions from many countries to the windward. Buildings, lakes and trees, along with fish suffering from watery derivatives, were the main victims of a severe acidic reaction. Nitrogen dioxide has a similar history to SO2, as it also results from combustion. Cars emit a lot of NO2, along with the infamous carbon monoxide. The demise of cars built as we know them at the present time could lead to a great decrease in some of these major pollutants, alongside the carbon dioxide we already try to limit with emission controls in new cars.


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However lead and one or two other heavy metals have been carried by airborne pollution in the past and no doubt pose a threat alongside cadmium and several others at the present. Also present in the air are other solid particles, carbon being major among them. The health of humans is directly affected by such particles, but our remit here is less noticeable events. Photosynthesis is a feature process of all of our green plants we don't eat without photosynthesis. If masked by carbon or other deposits, plant leaves cannot operate and produce no carbohydrate. That means death, as it did when asteroids almost cut off this lifeline for years at a time in the past. Huge extinctions are a feature of the Earth's past, and this kind of air pollution seems mainly responsible. The Sun was blocked out, which was a major cause for deaths, but deposits on leaves could equally have caused a food chain failure when deposits covered the sky and the ground.

It is perhaps at the finale that we should add another of the less obvious, more insidious air pollutants. The POPs are volatile but relatively insoluble, hitching a ride on solid particles to travel enormous distances to countries that have never produced them. They are of course the Organic Pollutants that Persist in the environment. Their main feature is their toxicity, with even some carcinogenic properties, but there are a vast range of them from PCBs to Agent Orange. Their effects may still be very much in the environment but awareness of their presence in animal fats (many being fat soluble) is leading to a small decrease in their known effects on humans.

Other air pollution events have included CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons). They were used in fridges, but discarded when the ozone in the atmosphere was destroyed by them. Ozone is strategic in preventing ultraviolet light from entering the atmosphere and causing big increases in mutation rates. The legacy of the CFC pollution is our commitment to watching the two ozone holes at the Earth's poles, in case any gases start affecting their size again! There are many such candidates in air pollution.

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Phueng

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Tens of thousands of people's lives are in danger from air pollution, yet the Government is trying to cut safety standards, a Parliamentary watchdog has claimed. Rather than cutting levels of harmful chemicals and particulates in city air, the Government is trying to reduce safety standards so it can escape being fined by the European Union, according to the Environmental Audit Committee.

Its Chair, MP Joan Walley, says, "It is a national scandal that thousands of people are still dying from air pollution in the UK in 2011 - and the Government is taking no responsibility for this.

"It is often the poorest people in our cities who live near the busiest roads and breathe in diesel fumes, dangerous chemicals and bits of tyre every day.

"Ministers must clear the air in our cities - not lobby the EU to dilute pollution safety standards."

The pollution causes even more problems for those with existing health conditions, she adds. "If you have heart disease, asthma or other respiratory illnesses then living near a congested road like this can literally take years off your life.

"Despite a coalition pledge to meet European safety standards on air pollution the Government appears to be lobbying behind the scenes to water these rules down."

Research from 2008 showed that 30,000 UK deaths were connected to air pollution, but there is no mention of air quality issues in the latest business plans from Defra and the Department for Transport. This is even though the Government is claiming to be trying to comply with European Union guidelines on air quality.

The Government says that local councils can take measures to boost air quality and that it may pass on air pollution fines imposed by the European Union, as outlined in the Localism Bill. But the committee says that in order to sort of the problem, local authorities need help from the Government.

Joan Walley explains, "The Government should help local authorities remove the most polluting vehicles from our streets by introducing a national framework for low-emissions zones."

The Government should introduce a nationwide network of low emission zones to reduce pollution from traffic and make more people aware of the issue through more publicity.

Committee member, Caroline Lucas MP, adds, "Ministers must take urgent action to improve air quality across the UK - and step up efforts towards a greener transport policy to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport."

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3 TRAIN Wreck Bill Passes in the House on Sun Aug 05, 2012 9:03 am

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A train wreck of a bill, the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation act, might better be named the Freedom to Pollute act. The bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, would require the EPA to consider the economic effects of its regulations on industries polluting the environment and block new regulations on air and mercury pollution from power plants.

Proponents of the bill claim it will help to create much needed jobs. However, environmental advocates believe clean energy represents a more promising and sustainable source of jobs. Moreover, poor health due to poor air quality poses a threat to the economy, so even business wouldn't benefit from the TRAIN act.

A February 2011 study by the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts shows that meeting the EPA's new clean air standards will create close to 300,000 jobs per year for five years. This will hold true even for fossil-fuel dependent states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, say the researchers, Undoubtedly this will save countless lives in the process.

Pollution already affects at least 80 million people in the U.S. who live in areas that fall short of U.S. air quality standards, says the World Resources Institute (WRI). As the WRI says, tallying the effects of air pollution is difficult. However, air pollution inarguably poses a particular threat to children as well as elderly people, probably playing a significant role in the sharp rise in childhood asthma. Air pollution also leads to numerous life-threatening conditions such as bronchitis, lung cancer, and even heart disease. Mortality rates rise 17 to 26 percent in U.S. cities with the poorest air quality, when compared with the cleanest, says the WRI.

It's tough for people to show up for work when they're plagued with illness, facing life-threatening conditions, or watching their children suffer chronic coughing. The U.S. would undoubtedly incur an exhorbitant rise in health care costs, too, as pollution continued to threaten more people's health and lives. In short, the economy would likely suffer rather than benefit from the legislation. Only the higher-ups of industries responsible for the pollution would benefit.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has made false claims that certain environmental agencies support the bill. These agencies include groups that are clearly opposed to the bill, such as Clean Air Watch and Clean Air Citizen. "There is no way we would sign a letter in support of the TRAIN Act," said the Clean Air Task Force's communications director Stuart Ross, as quoted in The Hill. An hour and forty minutes after dispersing its press release, after much surprise and outrage, the House committee narrowed its list of "supporters" from 108 to 53.

John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council calls the TRAIN Act "The worst air pollution bill ever to reach the house floor."

The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, but President Obama has threatened to veto it if it does.

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4 Emission targets set to clean up rural China on Sun Aug 05, 2012 9:05 am

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China's rapid industrial growth over the last generation has come at a cost. Air pollution causes an estimated 400,000 deaths a year along with 75 million asthma attacks.

This year the Chinese government announced an ambitious programme to cut the country's pollution, embarking on a programme beginning in 2011 until 2015. It came on the back of a double digit drop in emissions from 2006 to 2010. However, criticism from environmentalists claimed the country had omitted figures from the rural population. It is estimated half of China's total emissions stems from its agricultural economy. Leaving the rural impact on emissions could have drastically reduced its figures.

Now, the Chinese government has announced it is setting targets to reduce emissions in rural areas.

The vice-minister for Environmental Protection Li Ganjie told China Daily, "Pollution from agricultural sources already contributes to more than half of the country's total emissions. It is high time that we addressed these problems."

Li estimates 100 billion yuan is needed from the government's central budget to clean up 200,000 heavily polluted villages, ten times more than the money allocated this year and next to improve the rural environment.

The main issues the government wants to focus on are protecting freshwater sources and the impact of air pollution caused by coal-fired plants. The over-use of fertilizers pollutes groundwater and rivers which ends up in the food chain or in drinking water. About 65 % of the 47 million tons of fertilizers and pesticides used every year are swept off by rainfall and end up in rivers and lakes, or in underground water, according to Li. Meanwhile carbon emissions from coal-fired plants cause sickness and disease in villages.

Although the need to tackle the problem has been highlighted, a solution has not yet been agreed. More than 60% of China's billion strong population lives in rural areas. Often some of the poorest communities in the world, the impact of environmental pollution is compounded by a lack of access to welfare and medical services. 2008's earthquake in the Sichuan Province only exacerbated the issue.

NGO's on the ground often lead public awareness campaigns to tackle pollution but restrictions in place by the Chinese Government make it difficult for them to lobby for changes and laws to be put in place.

Over the next five years, Li says there will be an increase in the numbers of environmental personnel at grassroots level, which aims to alleviate the problem.

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China overtook the United States as the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter in November and is beginning to introduce controls to limit the environmental degradation that accompanies its rapid industrialisation.

Already the planet's largest energy consumer and polluter, China has long taken the position that it is the industrialised nations who should be taking up the biggest burden of emissions cuts, so it is to be welcomed that the Ministry of Environmental Protection has announced plans to curb the growth in some major pollutants by 1.5% annually from 2011.

Zhou Shengxian, Minister for environmental protection announcing the 2011 to 2015 plan said, ' The country is facing increasing energy consumption and rising pollution, China will impose higher emission standards for heavy polluting industries like paper-making, textiles and chemical plants.'

The Ministry has added two nitrogen compounds, Nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas with an effect 300 times greater than carbon dioxide; and ammonia, to previous sulphur dioxide and water pollution targets. China's car ownership is exploding, with 75 million cars on the road expected in 2011, up 50% since 2008. The effects are evident in smog over major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. The World Bank estimates that almost half a million Chinese annually die a premature death, many due to respiratory problems caused by air pollution.

'China's environmental problems are far worse than many assume, but the country is doing more to try and solve them than people give them credit for.'

During the 11th five year plan running from 2006 to 2010, the government shut down over 7,000 paper plants, dye manufacturers and other heavy polluters in order to meet targets.

Zhou's ministry also announced a nationwide pollution survey, the results of which will be available to the public. He added, 'Local environmental protection departments will be punished if they fabricate data for the survey.' It seems clear that China is determined to tackle at least some of the worst of its pollution problems head on. Greenpeace China has described the current plans as inadequate

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6 COP 17 - Sabotage on Sun Aug 05, 2012 9:13 am

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It's not surprising that the US, the biggest culprit in terms of emissions. Noting China's per capita GHG emission level is much less, thereby making the US the greater polluter, with each person in China producing approximately 5.6 tons of emissions per year with a comparative per capita high from the US producing approximately 24 tons per annum (Carnie, 2011). One simply can't ignore this disparity of population-land statistics-GHGs; the US has a far smaller population but huge tracts of land, conversely China has a huge population occupying smaller land space. Calculating emissions by volume then both the US and China come close are about 20% each of global emission attribution. However, China's industry is labour-intensive, catering to the labour needs of its population.

It's the last day of COP, and there seems to be no movement from the US. Really is this surprising? This is a nation that has refused to be held accountable in spite of its global expropriation of fossil-fuels, the very basis of high emissions, a nation that has plundered, engaged in war, killed civilians, women, children under the guise of freeing dictatorship countries, but we all know it's about taking over the oil reserves of several countries. Fossil-fuel for the US equals profit, and their tradition of national resource colonisation throughout the third world is well documented by the press, academics and in the memories of its victims.


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At COP, they are behaving totally in character. This is a direct sabotage together with their lieutenant Canada and other gofers they have formed an even greater rift with those responsible nations fighting for legally-binding commitments and a second Kyoto Protocol commitment period.

Yesterday at a press conference, the Global Justice Ecology Project, condemned the Green Economy as another privatisation model to build the carbon market and see this as one of the many false solution. False solutions seem to be indicative of many of the COP so-called interventions fronted as geared to address the needs of climate victims but the reality of the programmes is profiteering off climate change mitigation and solutions.

The local steadfast grassroots environmental organisation, the South Durban Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), formed in the early 90s to give a voice to the countless pollution victims living side-by-side with two multinational oil refineries (Engen, US and BP) and over 200 support chemical industries. Desmond D'Sa of the SDCEA said this of COP, "this conference of polluters has been a failure. It's not going to assist communities in South Durban or anywhere. The decisions we see coming out of here are in the interest of greed and corruption."

Frustration looms as those most affected by climate change such as the island states are sighing with grief at the negotiations, as the deadlock continues. The US is hoping to delay until 2020; by then scientists say it is too late.

South Africa, the host country, is trying very hard to 'charm' the saboteurs into a buy-in on KP 2 and is willing to extend the negotiations to reach consensus aiming for the best scenario i.e. legal targets and KP2.

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