Posts Tagged ‘environment’

The commons fight against big oil.

December 11, 2016

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Standing Rock.

A small but mighty blow was dealt last week to the big oil industry. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe had protested for months against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. A multi-billion pipeline of 1,200 miles that crosses four state was intended to slash the cost of crude transport. A section of the pipeline was planned to run right under Lake Oahe, a reservoir on the Missouri river. The Local standing rock Sioux tribe and thousands of Native Americans have protested the oil pipeline project as they believe the project threatens sacred native lands and has a great chance of contaminating local water supply from the Missouri river (the longest river in North America).

Going by the name “water protectors”, these activists are adamant that the pipeline poses a similar threat surrounding area. Also, the tribal leaders say the initial decision by the US army corps of engineers for the pipeline to run within half a mile of the local reservation was done without consultation of tribal governments and a thorough impact study. The pipeline project clearly violates federal law and native treaties. The news of the permit not been granted for the Dakota Access Pipeline is a major win not just for environmental activists but also native American rights.

It is interesting to notice how there was little to no coverage of the protest on mainstream media. It took the arrest of Shailene Woodley (celebrity) whom was protesting the North Dakota oil pipeline to bring in any mainstream media attention. Also, credit has to be given to online news network TYT and their political reporter Jordan Chariton for bringing attention to the water protector’s peaceful protest. One reason for the mainstream media blackout is down to the non stop reporting of the 2016 American presidential election which saw Donald Trump win against Hillary Clinton.

While the victory at standing rock demonstrates how a common and commoners can peacefully protest a big corporation and win. The fight may have been won but the war is not over. The oil pipeline company can appeal the decision taken by the US army corps of engineer and also the Obama administration in court. Also, the incoming Trump administration can try to overturn the decision as it is in favour of the pipeline. Some have attributed the recent victory to the Obama’s administration while a majority of people have criticised the government for its slow reaction to the dispute.

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Bodo community.

In 2008 and 2009, two oil spills devastated the fishing residents of the Bodo community in the Niger Delta. Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell agreed to a $84 million settlement with the residents. The two oil spills which were among the biggest oil spills in decades resulted in 15,600 Nigerian fishermen that depended on fishing for feeding their families and work lose their way of life. Due to the oil spill, the price of fish, a local staple food sky-rocketed as much as tenfold. With so many fishermen abandoning their way of life in search for other to provide for their families.

Each year, there are hundreds of oil spills in Nigeria caused by leaks and others by sabotage as local people steal oil to refine locally and sell to generate a livelihood. The settlement by the oil giant comes as a great victory for the local people after years of protesting oil exploration in the Niger Delta which has affected thousands of hectares of mangrove. Shell explained that both spills were as a result of operational failure of the pipeline.

The law firm that represented the Bodo community Leigh Day described the settlement as one of the largest payout to a community after a devastating environmental damage. This victory by the Bodo community came after a three year long legal battle setting a precedent. It is a disgrace that it took so long for the situation to be taken seriously. The clean-up of the oil spill does not reverse the damage done to the ecosystem.

Fight for survival.

 

These two examples are just drops in an ocean of a global movement of commoners fighting back the oil industry and other big multinational industries that pose a danger to their way of life. Across the world, a lot of ecological disasters are occurring as a result of the actions of industries, governments and people. For the commons to survive, it will not only need the commoners as activist but people around the world to join the movement.

EU Food waste/Energy waste.

December 5, 2016

food-waste

According to the United Nations food and agriculture organisation, food waste is a global issue that sees a third of global food production lost or wasted annually. This is as the global population is set to rise to over 95. Billion by 2050. This is inevitably going to put a massive pressure on the world’s food system.

Food that go uneaten or discarded is referred to as food waste or in some cases, food loss. There are various causes of food waste or loss and they occur at the various stages of food system (production, processing, retailing and consumption). Global figures on food waste shows that each year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food produced is wasted. This includes about “45% of all fruit and vegetables, 35% of fish and seafood, 30% of cereals, 20% of dairy products and 20% of meat”.

EU food waste.

The European Union throws away 89 million tonnes of food and the United Kingdom is one of the worst offenders. A House of Lords commissioned inquiry into the cost of food waste across the EU expects the figure to rise to around 126 million tonnes by 2020 if there is no significant action taken. This will have a tremendous impact on the environment, economy and society. From the inquiry, food waste across the EU-27 was broken down into 4 sectors. The household had the highest share of food waste at 42%. This is followed by food/drink manufacturing with 39%, food service/hospitality at 14% and retail/wholesale at 5%.

Between the big UK grocery market (accounting for around 87%) such as M&S, Morrisons, Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Co-operative food, they were responsible for the disposal of around 200,000 tonnes of food in 2013 alone. These supermarkets contribution of 1.3% in the UK in 2013 add up to the overall 5% retail and wholesale sector waste in the EU. On the other hand, the biggest contributor to the EU food waste is the household. Some of the waste generated are as a result of unnecessary strict sell-by dates, promotions (buy one get one free), cosmetically perfect food and poor storage of food.

All the food waste equal to waste of energy that was used to produce them. These energy come in the form of water to grow crops, land nutrients and fuel for chemicals production and powering farming machines. According to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, they report that “about 550 billion cubic meters of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach consumer.” The production of meat increases the use of water as it takes 20-50 times more water to produce 1 kilogram of meat than 1 kilogram of vegetables.

Legislation against food waste.

In Europe, some countries are taking steps to combat food waste.

Under a set of laws brought in by the French government to crack down on food waste, French supermarkets will be banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Instead, they will be donated to charities or used for animal feed. Supermarkets are barred from deliberately disposing and spoiling of unsold food. They are to sign contracts with charity to give unsold food or face fines and years in jail. This move by the government is a way of tackling one of the contributions of waste in the country but they also have to reduce the household food waste with a proper campaign.

The move by the French parliament to combat food waste has also led to pressure on the UK government to introduce legislation to restrict supermarkets from sending tonnes of unsold food to landfill sites.

Some of the key proponents of tackling food waste are charities and people of the commons that are putting pressure on governments to implement laws to combat food waste as they have a great impact on the world and the resources used to produce food worldwide.

Resources:

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/uk-tops-chart-of-eu-food-waste
  2. http://www.edie.net/news/5/Supermarket-food-waste–Combined-figures-revealed-for-first-time/
  3. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/the-obscure-reason-why-supermarkets-are-allowed-to-send-food-waste-to-landfill-a6861196.html
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jan/10/half-world-food-waste
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/france-to-force-big-supermarkets-to-give-away-unsold-food-to-charity
  6. http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-committees/eu-sub-com-d/food-waste-prevention/154.pdf
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/ng-interactive/2015/aug/12/produced-but-never-eaten-a-visual-guide-to-food-waste
  8. https://www.food.gov.uk/news-updates/campaigns/food-waste

Two years later, Flint is still without drinkable water

December 1, 2016

flint

It has been over two years since the residence of Flint, Michigan started complaining about the quality of the water. This began when the city of Flint switched their water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River due budget cuts. The water that services tens of thousands of homes is heavily polluted with lead and other corrosive water agents.  The level of pollution is due to the fact that the Department for Environmental Quality was discovered to not be treating the water with anti-corrosive agents, which is violation of the federal law.

The city of Flint is an extremely marginalized community with 41% of the population living under the poverty line and 56% of the population of African American descent. The town use to be home to one of the largest General Motor’s plants but has been in decline since GM started closing it’s plants in the 1980’s.

The residents are now having to use bottled water and water filters that are being delivered by government officials. The city is now having to replace the water infrastructure which includes miles of aging pipes. The repairs are estimated to cost $60 million and take around 15 years to complete with over 30,000 homes needing service lines replaced. The residence of Flint have consumed unsafe levels of lead and are now facing major health issues. 

The fight continues with Dakota pipeline

November 3, 2016

There are talks that the controversial Dakota Pipeline may be re-routed. Will this solve the issues? I think not. BBC News

Main concerns regarding pipeline:

Construction likely to damage Native American artifacts and pollute local drinking water

Oil spills International Energy Agency found that pipelines spill much more in terms of volume

Expropriation of land – “Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, granted ETP that right for its for-profit private pipeline, a practice that is not uncommon, in order to purchase 475 parcels from resistant landowners. This has led to numerous pending lawsuits” (Mother Jones)

Peaceful protests led by Standing Rock Sioux, have now been in action for weeks. However, the police have come with force, arresting 150 activists.

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Will developing countries agree that the Paris climate deal was the “best chance we have” to save the planet?

December 14, 2015
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Campaigners take to the street of Paris to warn that failure to act to curb temperature rises will cross a red line. Source: BBC News online

Saturday 12th December 2015 marked the climax of the world’s first climate deal to limit global warming to no more than two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, 196 countries attending the COP21 talks in Paris made the ambitious agreement to “endeavour to limit” the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, and beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100, to limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to no more than the planet can absorb naturally, therefore effectively “neutralising” CO2 emissions. Hailed by the US President as “best chance we have” to save the planet, how feasible is this [partly] legally binding agreement and how will the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to meet this goal be apportioned between the developed and developing countries?

First of all, the COP21 agreement hasn’t yet been signed and sealed. In order for the deal to go through, no less than 55 countries representing at least 55 per cent of global emissions now need to ratify the agreement. Beyond that, according to scientists, to meet these goals, the world would have to stop emitting greenhouse gases (that is, burning coal, oil and gas for energy) entirely within the next 50 years. This sizeable shift would require a complete reform on how people obtain energy which many critics argue most countries cannot afford and are not ready for. Climate researchers have also warned that even if all the initial targets set in preparation for COP21 were met, global warming would still exceed the two degrees threshold (see image below).

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UK Prime Minister, David Cameron posted on his Facebook profile that, “I said it would have to come with regular reviews; help for the poorest in the world; and a transfer of technology from the richest to the poorest nations. It does all those things.” So how have these “things” been met as part of the agreement?

It was agreed that each country’s proposed reductions in emissions would have to be reviewed every five years in order to establish their individual progress. Rich countries would also be required to help poorer countries by providing “climate finance” to help them adapt to climate change and adopt renewable energy. This figure was agreed at a conservative $100bn a year by 2020, which when put into context, is only equivalent to 8% of the worldwide declared spend on military each year. Direct compensation for developing countries taking the brunt of climate change was categorically ruled out.

With so few details on “climate finance” available at this stage, contrary to my previous blog, my view is that we should be a little sceptical about expanding the concept of such finance. Could this simply be enlarging an existing finance scheme governed by developing countries to rack up unmanageable debt in the developing world? How accessible will these “funds” be and with what strings attached, and who knows how much of the budget will be taken up by corruption failing delivery on the ground? As the system currently stands, there is no internationally consistent definition of what “climate finance” is or how it is tracked both in terms of monitoring outcomes and financial flows.

Specific targets for individual countries have been omitted from the agreement for the reason that certain countries which could be considered to be developing for example China, India and South Africa refused to sign up at the Copenhagen talks in 2009 for fear that the targets would stall economic growth and development, as discussed in my previous blog. Instead, the pledges are voluntary and although the obligation on individual countries to set an emissions-reduction target under five-yearly reviews is legally binding, the COP21 deal so far does not insist that the targets themselves will be legal binding but are instead in control of each individual country, which leads me to believe that the whole concept could be ineffective. How will the impact of climate finance be measured? Who will enforce the pledges that each country declares at the five year intervals? Quite apart from these and other issues, the pledges made prior to COP21 aren’t, according to Climate Change Tracker (see image above), enough to keep global warming below the 2-degree centigrade threshold (above pre-industrialisation levels), so the agreement to “save the planet” is already a fallacy.

Despite what feels to me like a new global trend for renewable energy and a patriotic approach towards the planet in which we all live, I believe the COP21 was an historical step towards protecting the earth for future generations to come. In practical terms however, I am convinced that substantially more needs to be done at the community and household level to sustain such ambitious and unpredictable goals. We need to fundamentally change the way in which we live and utilise energy for any of the COP21’s grand plans to become a reality. With the next progress report due to take place in 2018, it seems unlikely that the urgency of global warming has truly been appreciated on the world stage and could perhaps already be too late. As the co-founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben put it, “This didn’t save the planet. But it may have saved the chance of saving the planet.”

I believe that it is more likely that we will see the effects of climate change intensifying, particularly for those that have done little to cause it, than a global shift in the way we utilise energy. Rather than sitting and waiting to see what happens next, you and I, as individuals should take up our responsibility of global citizenship and investigate the ways in which we can play our part in taking on board 350.org’s message to look beyond the COP21 agreement and do as much as we can to strive for “a just and liveable planet” each and every single day. By being given more information, which must come from the world leaders, we can also all adjust our behaviours accordingly.

Will the COP21 negotiations in Paris on climate change really work?

December 12, 2015

The Paris negotiations started in mid-November and are expected to reach a conclusion on the 12th of December. What are they for? Who will attend? And who will influence the decisions that are made?

So far, the talks appear to have only been dominated by corporate organisations and world leaders. According to Democracy Now, “the U.N. climate summit has come under scrutiny for its unprecedented level of corporate sponsorship — more than 50 companies, with some of them counted by climate activists as being among the world’s worst industrial polluters. Last Friday [4th December], climate activists gathered at the Grand Palais in Paris protesting the COP21 “Solutions” exhibition, where businesses were pushing for corporate and privatised responses to climate change. Several protesters were evicted from the premises by the large security presence at the event.” What has been the reaction to this?

Global Justice Now, stated “We believe that what is needed is system change, not climate change. This change will not be made by corporations or world leaders. Rather it will be made by us as a global movement of citizens.” How is this possible when the communities which are affected aren’t invited and are evicted by the French police?

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350.org posters for COP21. Photograph: 350.org

With the Paris terrorist attacks so recent, does it make the climate protests more or less significant; and does this affect the agenda of global leaders? Have the series of protests and demonstrations been held back as a result? In absolute terms, the answer is yes; demonstrations have been banned and security has been tightened. However, over 130 heads of state and government that were due to attend have not pulled out. This is a positive. Environmental activists appear to be more mobilised than ever, stating that COP21 is “The Climate Games”. On the last day of the summit, thousands of people are expected to converge around the Le Brouget summit. “Red lines” have been set up, namely ten different blockades dividing the cause upon which protesters feel are the most important for example equitable climate finance for poorer countries, or meaningful emissions reductions.

“It is going to be the largest mass civil disobedience climate justice action that we have ever seen in Europe,” said Prayal Parekh, a campaigner with 350.org. “We’re sensing a lot of excitement and appetite. It’s going to be colourful.”

The goal of the talks is to achieve a new global deal to curb emissions from 2020 and prevent the planet from catastrophic overheating (that is, over two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels resulting in irreversible changes to the weather, including droughts, floods, heatwaves, fiercer storms and sea level rises). So far this decade, every year has been hotter than every year before 1998 (see image below).

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Climate change in graphics: The state of the planet (www.economist.com)

Do the COP21 invitees have an impact on the destiny of our planet? Let me briefly present the proposed situation and you can decide.

According to The Economist, the politicians have set an impossible task which is to persuade developing countries that controlling climate change is more important than, potentially, the economic growth of their country. Heads of state are gathering with what appears to be different agendas. On the one hand those that have been through industrialisation and emerged out the other side, and on the other those who are still experiencing that process. Why should developing countries buy-in to an agenda that suits those that have already experienced this? The argument of the developing world is that there should be a two-fold process: one for those that acknowledge the need to reduce their historical carbon emissions based on their industrialisation experience, and those that are now experiencing such levels of industrialisation. Who is correct?

Now is not the time to be cynical, but to acknowledge the differing economic pressures of the parties involved. Protests are coming exclusively from the developed world, and yet there would possibly be protests from the developing world if these carbon emission restrictions were to be applied across all jurisdictions leading possibly to restrictions on growth, for example power cuts. An answer needs to be found that is satisfactory for all those involved but only the stakeholders in Paris are currently in the position to decide the policies.

So what can we do? How can we influence policy on a global scale and prevent a continued myopic view of the position? Is putting an internationally-accepted price on carbon the answer when the developed world has already taken its fair share? Should we, those who truly care about climate change sit on the side-line awaiting the outcome? Well, yes and no. The real policy-makers in this field are the developed world governments that are voted in by us. We, and those of the populace of the developing world, have a voice and an ability to influence, maybe not the meetings in Paris, but those meetings that follow. We have the ability, as a cross-jurisdictional voting group, to insist that carbon dioxide emissions will shortly reach unsustainable levels, and acknowledge that people, food sources and livelihoods are dying as a result. We that care about such issues have a responsibility to ensure that we at least inform ourselves as to the issues and the implications of doing nothing.

In my next blog I will be looking at how the decisions taken by COP21 impact those of the developing world.

MERRY CONSUMERISTMAS!

December 7, 2014

Black Friday Picture

Having just witnessed the madness of Black Friday sales here in the UK, where we don’t actually celebrate Thanks Giving, a day dedicated to gratitude, and instead simply jump straight into the ‘buying’ part, (now also followed by ‘Cyber Monday’, the online equivalent), it got me thinking about why we actually do this to ourselves and how this thirst for a ‘bargain’ can continuously be quenched in the long run.

How many more ‘sale’ days can companies actually come up with? Following Black Friday we have Boxing Day, when we can get all this rubbish for even less money. Then comes New Years, Valentines, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Birthdays, End of season sales, Mid-season sales, Halloween, Guy Fawkes etc…the list is endless. If retail companies could, I’m sure they would add extra days onto the year just to create more ways to shift their stock as quickly as possible. The Christmas month has long become a commercialised, frantic time of year when people stress about buying presents that nobody needs and take out pay-day loans to pay for it all. All simply because we are made to believe that this is normality and that it will make us and our children happy. Most children I know are happy playing with a cardboard box and don’t really care for the latest toy until, of course, they are presented with the idea on television.

In fact retailers are investing most of their time and money in keeping our society as ‘consumerised’ as possible. And let’s face it, it’s working! We as a society are brainwashed and always hungry for more cheap products we don’t need and probably shouldn’t buy. Constantly being confronted with adverts wherever we go is bound to have an effect on our behaviours. Believe it or not, there is actually a whole science behind this. “Watch your brain and watch your wallet,” says Ian Cook, professor of psychiatry at UCLA. It is estimated that the average American saw 560 daily advertising messages in 1971 and by 1997 this number increased to over 3,000 per day (Shenk, D., Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut, 1997). That’s 6 times the amount! I wonder what that figure looks like today, 17 years on? Thinking about it I now almost feel abused. I have to be honest, if I didn’t see that new pair of shoes in the magazine, I wouldn’t have wanted to buy them, because I don’t actually need them. Today we even have bloggers advertising for companies, seemingly for free, because people will actually read stuff about stuff. Ironically, many of these bloggers actually make money through…you guessed it…online advertising and affiliate marketing!

All of this doesn’t just affect our brains or our wallets, it also affects our environment. In fact, 99% of what we buy is thrown away within 6 months as highlighted by ‘The Story of Stuff’ project (check out their very informative video). Something’s got to give when we are living in a cycle of buying and discarding, buying and discarding. Most of the materials to produce this stuff are sourced from poorer countries because we have actually run out of them ourselves. For example the US has less than 4% of its original forests left (Brown, L., Renner, M., Flavin, C., Vital Signs, 1998) and according to the book Natural Capitalism (P. Hawken, A. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins), in the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s natural resources have been consumed. How could our planet ever sustain this? Plus, it’s not only the environment that is suffering. One of the main reasons that these products can be sold so cheaply and still make a profit is because companies are exploiting cheap labour from people who have no other choice but to work for pennies, people from countries where the average person simply can’t afford to ‘shop till they drop’. All this is called, Inequality of Consumption.

Inequality of Consumerism

These figures are shocking but who is to blame? I guess, people like me who allow themselves to be brainwashed not knowing or being ignorant of the effects it has on the rest of the world. On top of this, our own governments largely support and promote consumerism because they themselves depend on it in order to keep up this image of economic ‘growth’, promising us happier and better lives through increased consumption. But do you actually feel like you have a better life when you consume more? I can tell you that I myself do not obtain long term happiness by buying that pair of cheap shoes, especially when knowing that someone has been paid a fraction to actually make them and that the very thing I physically depend on, our planet, is being destroyed in the process. We hear so many people comment on how they long for a ‘simpler life’, yet in the end, most actually want to let go of the ‘luxuries’. But does a simpler life mean a worse life? We don’t have to go back and live in ancient times, surely.

What do you think the solution is? Here are some examples for why we should minimise our consumption. Can we change our society for the better and promote a more sustainable way of life? I would be really interested to know what you think about this and what the answer might be. So let’s share some knowledge (without making money!) and post your thoughts in the comments section below. Thank you!

Economic Development versus Atmospheric Changes: Air pollution becoming a greatest threat in the heart of Sri Lanka – An analysis

November 8, 2010

The atmosphere is a common resource which is enjoyed by all living organs.  The eco-system maintains the atmospheric system and adjusts spontaneously enabling the organs to have better environment and air quality.  But the great influence of human being in changing eco-system reflects negatively in terms of health and wellbeing of human and the rest of all living and non living organs.  Air pollution is one those and it could be described as an undesirable change in the physical, chemical or biological characteristics of air.  When the system is affected it has an adverse effect on all organs.

 Both developed and developing countries are experiencing both indoors and outdoors air pollution and its consequences.  Sri Lanka is not exceptional among those and air pollution is an increasing environmental problem in Sri Lanka and especially in Colombo city and other metropolitan areas.  The development of science, technologies, rapid industrialization and economic initiatives are the main contributory factors for air pollution.  The transport sector alone contributes about 65% of the air pollution in Colombo city.  In addition, highly polluting industries such as thermal power plants and other factory emissions with in the Colombo metropolitan area aggravate the existing situations by contributing by 33%.  While the rest is contributed by open burning of garbage and other things. 

 Approximately 2.4 million vehicles have been registered under the Department of Motor Traffic, Sri Lanka and only 1.5 millions of these vehicles are under operation.  Sixty percent of them are operated in Colombo city.  It comprises of 27 % of diesel, 14 % of 4 wheelers petrol, 10% of 3wheelers petrol and 49% of motorcycles.  In average estimated each vehicle emits 14,730 million carbon particles per square meter to the environment each year and it is a serious situation.  Soon after the war end, the purchasing tendency of new vehicles is very high not only in Colombo city but also in other places.  Therefore growing number of vehicles are expected to pollute more and aggravate the existing situation.

 Dust /soot are another source of air pollutant to a certain extent in Sri Lanka and this is mainly caused due to poor maintenance of roads.  Hourly PM measurements indicated that the highest dust exposure occurs at 8.00 a.m. local time in the urban area.

 Air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, is a major environmental health problem and affects people in many ways.  Although air pollutants are many, the most important are particle pollution often referred to as particulate matter (PM), ground-level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulphur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and lead (Pb).  They are found in the ambient air and known as “criteria pollutants”. 

 Exposure to air pollutants leads to a variety of health problems depending on the type of pollutant, amount of the pollutant exposed to, duration and frequency of exposure, and associated toxicity of the specific pollutant.  These exposures are associated with a broad range of acute and chronic health effects varying from sub-clinical effects to premature mortality. 

 The air pollutants, sources and its health effects are tabulated

Pollutant Source Health effect
Carbon monoxide -Product of incompleteCombustion of organicmatter Symptoms of Co (Carbon monoxide) poisoning are:-Dizziness, Headache, General fatigue.-Blocks the uptake of Oxygen by blood by forming carboxyhaemoglobin. This affects respiration and function of brain and heart.
Sulphur oxides -Burning of fossil fuels-Automobile exhaustIndustrial process – Irritation of the mucous membrane- Aggravate existing conditions especially bronchitis- Causes wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing
 Nitrogen oxides Automobile exhaustIndustrial furnaces – Irritates mucous lining of nose and throat, coughing, choking, headache, lung inflammation such as bronchitis or pneumonia
Suspended particulate matter (PM) -Automobile exhaust fumes.-Industry – smoke,mining and construction-Agricultural activities-Indoor cooking usingfirewood-Burning of organic matter –  Aggravates heart and lung Conditions- Irritates nose, throat- Particles less than five microns can pass throughthe lungs causing inflammation and scar toLung tissue
Heavy Metals – Pb Motor vehicle exhaustIndustry -. Accumulate in bones where it replaces Calcium- Lead intoxication will lead to brain damage- Low level of chronic exposure to Pb leads topermanent retardation inchildren

Though air pollutants affect all human beings, the age groups of 0-14 years old and 50 and up are more prone to health hazards and undergo serious chronic health problems. The population in Colombo city is 680,000 and out of them 200,000 are school children.  Many of schools are situated along busy main roads and schools children are more vulnerable and exposed to high level of pollutants.  Air pollutant such as NOx, SOx and TSP levels are significantly higher in the premises of the urban schools as compared to as remote schools.  Therefore prevalence of respiratory symptom such as cough, phlegm, wheezing among school children attending in the cit limit is higher that that of children attending a school in a rural area. 

 This hazardous and unhealthy environment not only affects Colombo city but also all main economical capitals/cities such as Galle, Kandy etc.  Hospital statistics at Gall district illustrate as follows:

Prevalence of Asthama

District Year 2008 Year 2009
Galle 21.90% 28.70%
Village Chandgarh 12.50% 10.40%

The table explicitly illustrates that the air pollutant has grater impact among children i.e., 21.9 % and 28.7 % respectively in 2008 and 2009 with in the city limit Gall.  Whereas it is low, i.e., 10.4% and 12.5% respectively in 2008 and 2009 in the rural area – Chandgrah of the same district.  It is also to be noted that the prevalence of asthma increase to higher level compared to the previous. 

 In another instance, the statistics of the government hospital for children –‘Lady Ridgeway Hospital (LRH)’ in the Colombo city illustrate that 30, 932 children received nebulizer therapy in the emergency treatment unit (the median daily attendance was 85) during 12 month period beginning in July 1998.  Further binomial test indicate that the highest number of episodes of nebulization occurred on the most polluted day with respect to SO₂ and NO₂. 

 Colombo Fort Monitoring Station used the software which was prepared by WHO to assess the air pollutants and the assessment findings state that occurrence of bronchitis, emphysema and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases had strong association with PM level.  Further it illustrates that 20% of asthma patients who got treatment at LRH, in Colombo in 2005 should have been exposed PM10. 

 Another assessment carried out among bus drivers, trishaw drivers, shop keepers and outdoor vendors to study respiratory condition through a questionnaire indicates that the highest prevalence of respiratory system was reported among bus drivers. 

 Another trend according to the health record of Sri Lanka states that since 1995 the diseases of the respiratory system have been ranged as the second leading causes of hospitalization.  The respiratory diseases were with in the first seven leading causes of death in all age groups except 15-24 and 25-49 years.  The statistics of hospitalization and hospital death from 1995-2001 shows that Asthma has become a major respiratory diseases. 

 The rapidly increasing vehicle population and fuel consumption particularly diesel, high proportion of old vehicles and poor vehicle maintenance; absence of clean fuel, and the high rate of urbanization are contributing to dangerous pollution levels in Sri Lanka.

 Conclusion:

The facts and figures clearly illustrate the seriousness of air pollutants in Colombo city, and other major cities and its negative impact on the human’s health.  It leads to chronic and deadly diseases.  Therefore it is the right time to take immediate action to control air pollutants through all possible means. 

 While the government of Sri Lanka takes a lead to mitigate these problems through policy reforms and adoptions and in ensures the policies to be practised, the private and public sectors could also actively be engaged in these initiatives.  We know that there were several policies were put forward to maintain air quality by the successive governments in the past, due to various constrains and priorities, they were not achieved fully or succeeded. 

 Some possible interventions for actions:

  1. Minimize numbers of vehicle usage with in the cities and core areas.  We do observe that many of private vehicles travel with only one person.  In addition to convenience, it is also believed in Sri Lanka that travelling in a personal vehicle could bring social status.  These attitudes should be changed.   
  2.  The public transport mechanism should be improved enabling the public to rely on the services.  It is important to increase the number of train and bus services.
  3.  Through CO₂ emission control practices are under effect, we could observe there are many more vehicles that supposed to be banned/ ceased are not happening.  The policy should be strictly practiced. 
  4.  The government as well as private sources should seek possible hydropower techniques for electricity and energy rather on thermal power plants. 
  5.  Road infrastructures should be improved.  While it reduces traffic congestions, eventually the fuel consumption and it will also reduce dust problems. 
  6.  On the other hand public should be taught about the importance of clean air and the mitigation methods at household and community level to minimize air pollutant.  While they are encouraged to plant trees, action should be taken to stop open burning.  

 As a Sri Lankan we all have the obligations to think about our younger and future generations and their safety and health.  They have rights to breathe clean and healthy air.  So we all have to join together for actions.

User Fee for the Global Commons?

November 8, 2010

The German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) suggests in its Special Report Charging the Use of Global Commons (2002) that a fee should be put on the usage of global commons, like the atmosphere or the seas. The report argues that airspace and the seas are natural common goods for which property rights are not sufficiently defined. Because of the lack of international regulations over their usage, these commons are overexploited and therefore the international community should take charge of their protection. The report shows that, for example, the CO2 emissions from international aviation or shipping are not included in the national emission listings and so they are also not subject to, for example, the Kyoto Protocol commitments. The liberalization of aviation leading to cheaper flights has also further added to the problem. The report suggests that this could be fixed by introducing user charges that could be the first practical step towards a global system for the conservation of natural goods. The charges would not only create an incentive to reduce the environmental impact but also the revenue collected could be then used for conserving these common goods. The report predicts that user charges might also be an additional incentive to plan and create innovative and improved technologies and lead to changes in behaviour when using the global commons. However, the report acknowledges the challenges and the scepticism that has surrounded these kinds of ideas. There are, for example, fears of unemployment and loss of competitiveness. Emerging countries have also been afraid that this might affect their tourism industry as well as increase transporting costs for exporting to the foreign markets.  

Philippe Douste-Blazy (2010) writes in his article, Millennium Development Miles, also about the aviation user charges but in a slightly different context. He mentions how a small fee introduced to air tickets have collected 1,5 billon USD since 2007 to the UN sponsored international drug purchase facility, UNITAID. According to Douste-Blazy, the money has been used to fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, to reduce child mortality and to improve maternal health – the three health related MDGs. For example, UNITAID can finance drugs for three-quarters of the children receiving anti-retrovirals in the world today. Douste-Blazy continues that UNITAID has now got together with the Millennium Foundation to create a fundraising mechanism called Voluntary Solidarity Contribution that gives the possibility for travellers to add an extra 2 USD to their plane ticket purchase and so make voluntary donation. Even though this only applies to 7-10% of all airline tickets, it has still managed to collect 400 million USD a year. Extending this programme would naturally, Douste-Blazy argues, increase the collected amounts even more.

The idea of a user charge does give us something to think about. Would a charge in air flights be a good solution to fight the climate change in one way at least? Surely this extra money collected and spend on a “good cause” cannot be a bad thing. Collecting a small amount of extra money (like that 2USD) probably does not make a difference to most of us. But when calculating together like Douste-Blazy shows, it does come up to a considerable amount. What to spend that money on, I cannot say. Would be great we could use it for developing new technologies that help us to fight the climate change, but are not the medicines important as well?

However, is collecting a user fee a sustainable solution? Would it really change our behaviour when coming to the usage of the global commons, like suggested in the report? Today people travel a lot and long distances. Which one of us is ready to change their habits and travel less in order to fight the climate change and is it even realistic to expect us to do so? And we have not even mentioned the needs for transportation in trade. As the hope of many is to see more economic growth and more trade, does that not imply more transportation, via air, oceans or even just roads?  If we keep travelling and transporting our goods to the same speed and amounts – or even faster and bigger amounts –  as before, can a small sum collected as an extra fee make that much of a difference? Or is this just another way to make us feel good about ourselves for doing ‘all this for a good cause’ – to fight the climate change with 2 dollars – and distract us from the real issue; the excessive and unsustainable usage of our global commons and our environment?