Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Was fog in the forecast today? Smog and Solutions

            Smog is a hot-button topic for several countries around the globe as the world continues to burn fossil fuel.  There are reports of dangerous smog occurring in France, Indonesia, and most recently China to name a few.  The term “smog” was first coined in 1905 by Dr. Henry Antoine Des Voeux by combining the words “smoke” and “fog” to describe the hazardous haze (3).  Normally, the acceptable level of air pollutants, including smog, is around 25 to 30 micrograms before it becomes dangerous (1).  Likewise, based on the air quality index, anything over 200 is considered to be unhealthy (4).  Both Delhi and Beijing have violated the acceptable level of air pollutants with numbers exceeding 300 micrograms of smog and Indonesia has a number of 983 on the air quality index (1, 4).  As a part of the Global Burden of Disease Project, scientists say more than 5.5 million people worldwide are dying prematurely per year due to the smog (1).  Breathing in the smog at unsafe levels can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancers, and respiratory irritation (1).  Smog causes severe and lasting effects on the ecosystem but can also cause drastic economic losses due to countries having to shut down production to prevent people from being exposed (2, 3). The elderly as well as children are the most vulnerable to the smog’s often deadly effects (1).
There are several case studies to examine where the smog has gotten out of control. In Indonesia, plantations have farmed over peatland and when the farmland is dried out, it is burned for the next planting season which is outlawed by the government (4).  However, plantation owners who part-took in it this season caused a thick haze that spread across Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia (4).  The haze is augmented by this year’s El Nino which has created drier conditions for the fires to continue to burn (4).  In Paris, smog has affected the quality of air. A prediction was made by air quality control monitors that the smog would reach unsafe levels in March of 2015 (5). In China, there was a week-long epidemic of smog which shut down the country due to unsafe levels in 2013 in Beijing (3). In 2015, China issued its first “red alert” because the air quality index was 308 (2). Due to the alert, schools, businesses, and factories were shut down and motorists were forced off the roads to wait for the smog to clear (2).  China has among the world’s worst air due to the perpetual burning of coal from the industry (2).
Comparison of a smoggy and clear day in Beijing, China 
More can be done but these countries in each case study have been putting forth effort to clean up their act.  In Indonesia, personnel worked tirelessly to put out the flames by dropping water over the inferno and coercing rainfall by using chemicals (4).  In addition, seven executives of plantation companies were arrested for starting fires and face a fine of roughly $700,000 and up to ten years jail time (4). In France, drivers were temporarily banned from the roads, barring emergency vehicles and electric cars (5).  Furthermore, all public transportation was free for the period in curb the possible air pollution (5).  Although precautionary, France has been actively trying to combat the on-going smog by discouraging motorists.  China is beginning to battle smog after issuing a red alert unlike earlier in the year when an orange alert, meaning limited exposure to the outdoors, was issued (2). China’s code system, which is a part of their plan to reduce the smog, was strengthened in 2013 to hopefully gain a grasp on the situation (2). 

The research article by Shi, et al, 2016, offered some options for the world to decrease smog.  Firstly, monitoring the air and scientific research are invaluable to assess the problem (3).  Next would be creating and implementing policies, similar to Indonesia and China, and then evaluating if the policies are aiding (3).  The authors also suggested economic incentives such as carbon taxes or tax breaks for clean energy and educating the public to lessen emissions (3).  Finally, advancements in a cleaner technology should be implemented as well as change societal norms through less consumption of conventional livestock and greener celebrations (3). There is support from people globally for more aggressive policies to prevent the smog from worsening (1, 5).  Despite this, people globally need to change their attitude towards smog to correct it.  Education is needed and incentives would easily complement the cause.  The “airpocalype” can be stopped only if everyone pitches in and reduce emissions (2).

No comments:

Post a Comment