Thursday, September 27, 2007

More food for thought......

A number of articles which we were given to read for our environmental science, law and policy classes this week, were focused on air pollution. The law reading was about the National Environmental Policy Act of the United States (NEPA). Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We have been examining the intricacies of policy enforcement through the clean air act (CAA).
More disturbing are the readings from our organic chemistry class that talks about the six primary sources of pollution. These are termed criteria pollutants by the US, and the level of emission allowed for each chemical substance is carefully regulated by the CAA. I won't be able to give you all the gory facts but suffice it to say that after reading the Global Mercury Assessment by United Nations Environment Programme, you will be afraid to breathe in air or eat fish.
The six main criteria pollutants are nitrogen oxides (NOx), Sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), and lead (Pb). Mercury is another very problematic pollutant and is found in very high levels in certain species of fish. There are also other highly volatile and reactive chemical substances which together are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that cause havoc in the atmosphere.
Our policy reading was a very interesting paper on coal pollution in China, and the ways in which the Chinese government is struggling to implement policy to reduce the significant air pollution through new technologies. Asia has the highest levels (through coal burning industries) of air pollution followed by Africa. Unfortunately, particulate matter (mainly flyash and soot) can be carried very far by wind action, which is why pollution is a global issue. Air and water cannot be demarcated or restricted to any one country, hence there is cross-boundary pollution from continent to continent. The current severe state of pollution in China is affecting states on the West coast (US), like carlifornia and Los Angeles causing thick hazy fogs known as photochemical smog.
It is interesting that industrialisation which led to the creation of new more efficient technologies, is a major source of pollution. Technology is also a necessary, and some might say crucial tool to finding solutions to air and water pollution, which are major sources of environmental degradation. It is certainly impossible to turn back the hands of time, it is also not practical to think that humanbeings will give up the efficiency and comfort that cutting edge technology represents. This is the dilemma that governments face in terms of environmental policy formulation and implementation -economic advancement versus environmental stability.
On which side of the debate are you?

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