Dr Himmat Singh
The Environment is a fundamental requirement for the well-being, healthy and economic prosperity. It is the source of our food, water, air and minerals and it encompasses the solid, liquid and gaseous components of the planet (e.g., Earth’s ocean, land and atmosphere). The different species of forests, the tundra and fauna interact in a complex way in the environment and naturally balance for optimal survival of the species. However, recently, disturbances created by the human species have resulted in the extinction of a wide range of both animals and plants species. The air and water are polluted, forests are cleared and our environments are no more secure for future the generation. All this can be attributed to the following five megatrends that present major global threats for planet Earth — problems that must be solved if the world is to remain a supportive habitat for humans and other species.
Air Pollution and Climate Change
Problem: Overloading of the atmosphere and of ocean waters with carbon. Atmospheric CO2 absorbs and re-emits infrared-wavelength radiation, leading to warmer air, soils, and ocean surface waters – which is good: The planet would be frozen solid without this.
Unfortunately, there’s now too much carbon in the air. Burning of fossil fuels, deforestation for agriculture, and industrial activities have pushed up atmospheric CO2 concentrations from 280 parts per million (ppm) 200 years ago, to about 400 ppm today. That’s an unprecedented rise, in both size and speed. The result: climate disruption.
Carbon overloading is only one form of air pollution caused by burning coal, oil, gas and wood. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently estimated that one in nine deaths in 2012 were attributable to diseases caused by carcinogens and other poisons in polluted air.
Solutions: Replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Reforestation. Reduce emissions from agriculture. Change industrial processes.
The good news is that clean energy is abundant – it just needs to be harvested. Many say a 100 Percent Renewable-Energy Future is feasible with existing technology now.
But the bad news is that even though renewable energy infrastructure – solar panels, wind turbines, energy storage and distribution systems – are already widespread, and getting cheaper and more efficient all the time, experts say we’re not applying them quickly enough to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. Barriers in policy and finance remain to be overcome.
Major Cities plagued by air pollution are:-
1. Ulan Bator, Mongolia
Air pollution in Ulan Bator is seven times higher than what is considered safe by the WHO.
2. Beijing, China
The Chinese capital has been suffering from smog so heavy that scientists say the city is almost uninhabitable – although it is home to 20 million people.
3. Lahore, Pakistan
Air pollution is one of Pakistan’s main environmental concerns. The smog is caused primarily by the high volume of road traffic, rubbish incineration and dust from the surrounding deserts.
4. New Delhi, India
In the over 10 million-strong city of New Delhi, the number of cars has increased from 180,000 to 3.5 million in the last 30 years. They contribute to around 80 percent of the total air pollution in the city.
5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Sandstorms, like here, can contribute to smog forming because they increase the amount of particles in the air. In addition, the intense ultra-violet rays also transform transport and industry emissions into ozone.
6. Cairo, Egypt
The poor air quality in Cairo causes a number of illnesses among city residents, like chronic respiratory problems and lung cancer. The reason for the air pollution is an increase in road traffic and the booming industrial sector.
7. Dhaka, Bangladesh
According to a study by the Max-Planck Institute in Mainz, some 15,000 people die every year in Dhaka due to air pollution. Researchers found the world’s highest concentration of sulphur dioxide there.
8. Moscow Russia
Even if it looks the same the world over, smog is different, depending on the city. Smog in Moscow, for instance, is characterised by high amounts of hydrocarbons. The westerly winds which regularly flow across Moscow mean that the western part of the city generally has better air quality.
9. Mexico City, Mexico
The smog in Mexico City is made worse by the geographical location. The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains. Due to the high levels of sulphur dioxide and hydrocarbons in the air, Mexico City was long considered one of the most polluted cities in the world. The situation has now improved due to new transport policies and certain factories being shut down.
Problem: Species-rich wild forests are being destroyed, especially in the tropics, often to make way for cattle ranching, soybean / palm oil or other plantations, or other agricultural monocultures.
Today, about 30 percent of the planet’s land area is covered by forests – which is about half as much as before agriculture got started around 11,000 years ago. About 7.3 million hectares (18 million acres) of forest are destroyed each year, mostly in the tropics. Tropical forests used to cover about 15 percent of the planet’s land area; they’re now down to 6 or 7 percent. Much of this remainder has been degraded by logging or burning.
Not only do natural forests act as biodiversity reserves, they are also carbon sinks, keeping carbon out of the atmosphere and oceans.
Solutions: Conserve of what’s left of natural forests, and restore degraded areas by replanting with native tree species. This requires strong governance – but many tropical countries are still developing, with increasing populations, uneven rule-of-law, and widespread cronyism and bribery when it comes to allocating land use.
Case sited: Burning down the Amazon that lead to:-
In 2013, clearing practices were intensified again in Brazil’s rainforest. At the World Climate Summit in Warsaw, Brazil’s environment minister Izabella Teixeira admitted that by November this year, some 5,843 square kms of forest had been cut down. 2012 saw a loss of 4,571 square kms. In 2004, some 27,000 square kms went up in flames – a global negative record.
Trading wood for wheat
Intensified soy and wheat cultivation are partly to blame for the destruction of the rainforest. Brazil’s Para state saw the heaviest clearing. Destruction there rose by 136 percent between August 2012 and June 2013, according to the Amazon Institute. Near the city of Novo Progresso alone, some 400 hectares of forest were torched.
Dams for the cities
Even though only about five percent of Brazil’s 200 million inhabitants live in the Amazon region, dam construction is on the rise there. The Teles Pires hydropower plant on the Amazon tributary of the same name is due to start operation in 2015. So far, only one percent of the region’s hydropower potential is being used. Brazil’s national energy plan foresees a considerable rise by 2030.
Once it is cleared, the timber is sold. The illegally cleared areas in the Amazon region are often used by cattle breeders as pasture land. According to Brazilian law, they can become the rightful owners if they use the area ‘productively’ for five years in a row. The costs of clearing a forested area are estimated at around 3,000 euros (4,040 US dollars) per hectare.
Where trees are products
Last year, the Brazilian government announced it would limit the destruction of the rainforest until 2020 to less than 4,000 square kilometers per year by increasing patrols. But an ever-growing number of trees is lost to lumberjacks, gold diggers and agricultural companies. The illegally felled jungle giant pictured here was discovered near the city of Novo Progresso in Jamanxim National Park.
Swath of destruction
The 3,000-kilometre ‘Transamazonica’ highway was supposed to connect Brazil with its Latin American neighbors, Peru and Bolivia. But forty years after the ground was broken on Brazil’s famous federal highway BR 230, the gigantic project is still not finished. And environmental groups don’t want that to change.
Humble bars along the ‘Transamazonica’ are the first port of call for truck drivers and those seeking their luck in the jungle. In the rainy season, the highway often turns into an impassable mud track. Small farmers and gold prospectors have settled along the gash cut through the jungle, pushing out the original inhabitants from their traditional areas of settlement.
Fleeing the gold-diggers
The gold rush is threatening their lives. Hundreds of Yanomami have died from diseases brought into their areas by prospectors. Settlers invade the area regularly because the Yanomami’s reservation hosts big gold reserves. In June this year, the Brazilian army destroyed illegal airstrips in the nearly 9.5 million hectare reservation on the border with Venezuela.
Origin of barbecue charcoal
Black gold: In the middle of the ‘Alto Rio Guama’ reservation, jungle giants disappear in round ovens. The illegally felled trees are turned into charcoal. The reservation belongs to the ‘Nova Esperanca do Piria’ community in Brazil’s Para state.
(To be continued)