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Socioeconomic implications of air pollutionAir pollution is commonly understood as an environmental issue. In the U.S., pollution is most commonly tested using the Air Quality Index. The AQI measures air pollution based upon ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide levels. Air pollution causes a number of health risks such as cancer and respiratory infections. In 2016, an estimated 4.2 million people died prematurely due to air pollution. Often, the effects of environmental issues have more consequences for the poor. Thus, concerns stemming from air pollution are not just environmental but also socioeconomic.

Who is affected?

About 90 percent of premature deaths by air pollution occur in low-middle income areas. This issue disproportionately affects lower-income households for many reasons. For one, impoverished homes are often dependent upon energy sources such as coal and wood. The burning of these fossil fuels contaminates the air with carbon dioxide emissions and creates indoor pollution. A lack of finances can also result in the absence of healthcare. Without early treatment, people dealing with infections related to air pollution are more likely to suffer fatal consequences.

Research shows that this disparity supports social discrimination. A study in 2016 reports: “The risk of dying early from long-term exposure to particle pollution was higher in communities with larger African-American populations, lower home values, and lower median income”. Minority groups often face prejudice in places such as employment. On average, a black woman makes 61 cents per dollar earned by a white male counterpart. In sum, minority groups ordinarily earn lower wages. This prohibits them from buying more expensive renewable resources.

The largest effects of air pollution take place in the World Health Organization’s South-East Asia and Western-Pacific regions. These regions are primarily occupied by developing nations. With a lack of financial resources, these countries resort to cheap and environmentally unsustainable practices. For example, the slash-and-burn technique is a method used by farmers and large corporations. This technique involves clearing land with intentional fires, which raises carbon dioxide levels.

What are the implications?

When considering the socioeconomic implications of air pollution, it is important to note all of the key facts. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The WHO has declared air pollution as the number one health hazard caused by environmental degradation. Air pollution can cause ischaemic heart disease, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.
  • Worldwide, 1 in 8 people dies due to the effects of air pollution. In 2018, 7 million people passed away because of infections relating to air quality.

Who is helping?

Air pollution should not be overlooked as a serious issue. Fortunately, in recent years there has been a significant movement to combat poor air quality. For example, China has a reputation for being heavily polluted. However, in 2015, the Chinese government was the world’s lead investor in renewable energy. The government invested $26.7 billion in renewable resources, which was twice the amount that the U.S. invested that same year. Furthermore, between the years 2010 and 2015, particle pollution levels in China decreased by 17 percent.

Organizations such as Greenpeace have advocated for better policies surrounding environmental degradation. In 2013, the Chinese government released the Clean Air Action Plan which set forth the initial progress in combating air pollution. Nevertheless, in 2017, Greenpeace recorded that while particle pollution levels continued to decrease, progress had significantly declined. Greenpeace is now urging the government to produce a new plan to further challenge air pollutants.

Air pollution is harmful to the global ecosystem but it also has a profound impact on society. In order to fully understand the consequences of this issue, one must consider the ways in which environmental degradation targets specific groups. The contamination of the environment, or more specifically the air, often affects minorities and the poorest people. Thus, air pollution should be a top priority not only for environmentalists but also for social activists. Luckily, governments are already seeking plans to prevent the outcome of air pollution. By contributing to organizations such as Greenpeace, everyone can advocate for better policies and regulations against the socioeconomic implications of air pollution.

Photo: Flickr

Pollinate EnergyIndia is a country that is home to 1.3 billion people and counting. Despite rapid innovation and expansion in the country, a significant portion of the population lives in slums.

In fact, as of 2014, 24 percent of the urban population of India resided in slum housing. Slum housing is any housing that may lack structural integrity or space, access to clean water or sanitation or where residents do not have the security of tenure.

With such a large population living in slums, there is a serious need for affordable energy. Yet electricity from the power sector in India is very unreliable and power outages of 20 hours or more occur often. As a result, many people who reside in India’s slums rely on kerosene as fuel. While kerosene is an effective substitute for an unreliable power sector, it is not cost-efficient and can cause household and environmental air pollution.

To improve access to sustainable energy in India’s slums, one organization called Pollinate Energy has implemented a unique business strategy. In what Pollinate Energy calls “social business,” a salesman or “pollinator” builds connections with locals in Indian slums.

The pollinator may teach the locals about the benefits of using renewable energy and the potential negative effects of using kerosene for light or cooking. If the community members want to purchase sustainable energy products from the pollinator they can buy them at an affordable price.

Plus, if the customers are satisfied with the products, they may act as “worker bees” that refer other community members to the pollinator in return for products or commission.

This business model encourages the adoption of reliable, sustainable energy products in India’s slums and allows consumers to become entrepreneurs in their own communities.

According to their annual report, in 2014-15 Pollinate Energy sold over 9,000 products to nearly 43,000 individuals in India. These products helped save 43.7 million Rupees and eliminated 2,000 tons of potential CO2 emissions for consumers who would have bought and used kerosene for light and cooking.

For at-risk individuals like those who live in slums, any money that can be saved could be used for other essential goods like food, water or medicine. Though systematic change is necessary to fully help those who reside in slums around the world, Pollinate Energy is making a positive difference by providing clean energy products and job opportunities to those in need.

Weston Northrop
Photo: Flickr

MDG Failures MDGs
As 2015 comes to a close and the world takes a look at the progress that has been made, it is clear that while much has been accomplished — with more than a billion people having been lifted out of poverty — many of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were not complete successes, and some failed outright. Discussed below are the MDG failures and their implications.

Shortcomings: Assessing the MDG Failures

One of the major MDG failures is the fact that the success of the goals was not experienced equally across the globe; this in itself is a major defeat. Consider a few of these statistics from different countries concerning the same MDGs.

Extreme Poverty 50 Percent Reduction Rate:

  1. Southeastern Asia exceeded the goal for extreme poverty reduction by 16 percent
  2. Southern Asia exceeded the goal by 12.5 percent
  3. Northern Africa scraped by at about 1.2 percent
  4. Sub-Saharan Africa was by far the most behind. It did not even meet the goal for extreme poverty reduction and was 12.5 percent away from doing so.

The extreme poverty reduction goal of at least a 50 percent reduction in those living on $1.25 a day arguably had the best statistics for each country; from there it goes steadily downhill. This trend can be seen throughout the different Millennium Development Goals. Sub-Saharan Africa was far from reaching its goals, and not one country achieved the goal set for maternal mortality rate reduction.MDG_failures

Gender inequality was also a focus of the MDGs, but unfortunately, according to the United Nations, “gender inequality persists in spite of more representation of women in parliament and more girls going to school. Women continue to face discrimination in access to work, economic assets and participation in private and public decision-making.”

Although there were huge successes achieved through the MDGs, it is important to note that more than 800 million people continue to live in extreme poverty.

According to the U.N., “children from the poorest 20 percent of households are more than twice as likely to be stunted as those from the wealthiest 20 percent and are also four times as likely to be out of school. In countries affected by conflict, the proportion of out-of-school children increased from 30 percent in 1999 to 36 percent in 2012.”

In addition, the numbers for global emissions of carbon dioxide as well as water scarcity are disheartening. There has been a 50 percent increase in carbon dioxide emissions and water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the world in comparison to 1990 statistics.

Although there have been failures in trying to implement the goals, all hope is not lost. Progress in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals is already being made.

Global leaders are regrouping, and as the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says, “The emerging post-2015 development agenda, including the set of Sustainable Development Goals, strives to build on our successes and put all countries, together, firmly on track towards a more prosperous, sustainable and equitable world.”

Drusilla Gibbs

Sources: IRIN News, UN
Photo: Flickr, Pixabay

National Climate Assessment
Recently, a Green Iowa Americorps member informed me that farmers in the state of Iowa have lost four days of field time since 1896. Due to an increase of approximately 8% in rainfall across the state, farmers now face very rainy springs and drier autumns, both of which threaten the hydrologic balance necessary for crop production.

For Iowa farmers, these changes affect their livelihood from year to year. More rain during the planting season could equate to a season without a harvest, or at least lower yields. These changes also incur anxiety for the state’s residents, many of whom were affected by the large-scale flooding in 2008 and who now look to spring with apprehension.

The Third National Climate Assessment released by the White House on May 5 takes note of the climate changes taking effect across the country, like the ones observed in Iowa, and chastises the definitive changes humans have brought to the world.

The report informs, in detail, how climate change will adversely affect the American water supply, agriculture, human health and ecosystems, among other things.

Despite the report’s thorough and informative nature, as well as its website’s appealing layout, it fails to stress the global impact of American culture on the rest of the world. While the report was created to address the problems of climate within the U.S., it only just addresses the U.S.’s prominence in creating it around the world, thereby creating a blind spot in any discussion of climate and limiting the report’s effectiveness.

Warmer air and higher ocean temperatures, melting ice and snow and an increased presence of diseases spread by mosquitoes and other vectors could disrupt food production and foster global poverty and hunger.

The U.S. itself plays a major role in climate change, a reality this report skims over lightly. While global concerns are mentioned, such as how “global temperatures could cause associated increases in premature deaths related to worsened ozone and particle pollution,” the U.S. isn’t named as one of the prime instigator’s of this trend. Instead, the U.S. is treated as one of the victims.

The Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2008 that the leading CO2 emitters were China, the U.S., the European Union, India, the Russian Federation, Japan and Canada. For third world countries attempting to catch up with the U.S. and other world powers, energy efficient manufacturing means are out of reach, something the U.S. should confront and have a greater hand in supporting.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency reports that the U.S. consumes 11.65 barrels of petroleum oil per person every single day, and consumes 205,824 Kilowatt-hours of energy per person. In comparison, Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, only consumes one thousandth of a barrel per person and  21.6 Kilowatt-hours of energy per person.

Instead of addressing climate change in order to look after the U.S.’ own domestic interests, the U.S. government and its citizens need to be more responsible for how their actions impact the rest of the world.

— Emily Bajet

Sources: Houston Chronicle, U.S. Global Change, The White House, EPA, The Guardian, Green Alliance, The Guardian(2), EIA
Photo: Flickr