Clean Planet . Better Life . Live Longer

By: Sandhya Prakash
Founder-Director MEVEG

Some blame the current problem of pollution on growing population. Demographers at the United Nations tell us that world population, 6.8 billion people today, could grow to 9.2 billion by 2050. That's actually a middle-range projection. It could be as high as 10.5 billion or as low as 8 billion. A balance between the growth of population and utilization of resource is the need of the hour. The causal chain of the deterioration of the environment is easily followed to its source. Paul R. Ehrlich, a biologist said " Too many cars, too many factories, too much detergent, too much pesticide, multiplying contrails, inadequate sewage treatment plants, too little water, too much carbon dioxide-all can be traced easily to too many people."

Today, large-scale consumerism and urbanization has brought the mankind to a stage where our needs have gone beyond the means to fulfill them. In our desire to reach the maximum production limit, we have started borrowing from the resources meant for future.

Firstly, let us consider "Air". Smog hanging over cities is the most familiar and obvious form of air pollution. But there are different kinds of pollution some visible, some invisible. Any substance that people introduce into the atmosphere that has damaging effects on living things and the environment is considered air pollution. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is the main pollutant that is warming Earth. Though living things emit carbon dioxide when they breathe, carbon dioxide is widely considered to be a pollutant when associated with cars, planes, power plants, and other human activities that involve the burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline and natural gas. In the past 150 years, such activities have pumped enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to raise its levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years.

Other greenhouse gases include methane which comes from such sources as swamps and gas emitted by livestock and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants until they were banned because of their deteriorating effect on Earth's ozone layer.

Another pollutant associated with climate change is sulfur dioxide, a component of smog. Sulfur dioxide and closely related chemicals are known primarily as a cause of acid rain. But they also reflect light when released in the atmosphere, which keeps sunlight out and causes Earth to cool.

A new study by the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has found a strong link between air quality and life expectancy. The researchers also looked at factors like socio economic status and demographic characteristics of the areas studied. What they found was a direct correlation between improving air quality and extending life expectancy; people lived about 2.72 years longer over that time span and at least 15 percent of that increased life expectancy was from a decrease in air pollution.

A decrease in air pollution amounting to 10 micrograms per cubic meter of particulates in the air led to an additional 0.61 years of life. Reducing particulate matter generated by factories, vehicles and power plants led to longer lives for the people living in those areas.

Following California's effort to get people to switch from fossil fuel powered cars to hybrids or electric cars not only cuts down on global warming but also adds to your life span. Cleaning up coal fired power plants and adding scrubbers to factory smoke stakes are also necessary for cleaning up the air quality of major cities and counties.

It's hard to get worked up over studies talk about the effect global warming will have on the planet in 2100 or 2500. More than likely most of us won't be alive by the time the dire predictions come to pass. However, when you know that switching the kind of car you drive, insisting on cleaner energy and cleaner factory emissions will add years to your life and your children's lives, it is hard to not to be proactive.

Secondly, Water issues affect us all. Worldwide, just under 900 million people lack reliable access to safe water that is free from disease and industrial waste. And forty percent do not have access to adequate sanitation facilities. The result is one of the world's greatest public health crisis: 4,500 children die every day from waterborne diseases, more than from HIV-AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

It's hard to imagine, but the truth is that human beings are living longer in the 21st century. In this modern age, life expectancy has increased by just over 30 years. There are lots of secondary reasons just why this is, but according to Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths of Tuft University School of Medicine, much of the credit for longer life spans can be attributed to clean water. Just what health effects are caused by clean drinking water?

Have a quick look at the list below to see:

  • Reduces daytime fatigue
  • Improves memory
  • Nourishes skin
  • Essential for digestion, nutrient absorption and chemical reactions
  • Helps remove toxins from your body
  • Aids circulation
  • Regulates your body's cooling system
  • May prevent kidney stones and urinary tract infections
  • Improves muscle tone
  • Helps lubricate joints
So the answer is yes, drinking clean water can help you live longer. On a very basic level, your body cannot store up its own supply of water. It needs fresh intake of valuable water to hydrate cells and remove toxins through your liver and later kidneys. Without this vital replenishing of water, your body dehydrates, slows down and your blood literally 'thickens' as your body releases histamines in an effort to store water up in cells. This has a negative health affect as you are likely to experience headaches and lethargy among other generally negative health effects. A robust economy depends on water. So does a thriving ecosystem. Enter politics, fulcrum of the water issue, weighing the fate of economies against the health of individuals and of the environment as a whole. Balance has been elusive. One fifth of the world's population lives in areas where water is physically scarce- We in the Middle East form a major portion of it.

Lastly, Soil pollution is caused by the presence of xenobiotic (human-made) chemicals or other alteration in the natural soil environment.

This type of contamination typically arises from the failure caused by corrosion of underground storage tanks, application of pesticides, percolation of contaminated surface water to subsurface strata, oil and fuel dumping, disposal of coal ash, leaching of wastes from landfills or direct discharge of industrial wastes to the soil. The most common chemicals involved are petroleum hydrocarbons, lead, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (such as naphthalene and benzo(a)pyrene), solvents, pesticides, and other heavy metals.

The concern over soil contamination stems primarily from health risks, from direct contact with the contaminated soil, vapors from the contaminants, and from secondary contamination of water supplies within and underlying the soil.

While scientists generally concur that soil degradation constitutes a global threat, more research needs to be done on the relationship between depleted soils and the apparent decline in the nutrient content of crops. It's a situation that should concern all consumers because the effects of degradation often are irreversible, and technological advances tend to merely mask the severity of the underlying problem. So far, some governments have been slow to act, but consumers may be able to exert their influence by undertaking four relatively simple actions:

  • Purchase food as much as possible from local farmers and certified organic growers rather than huge factory farms where high yields and high profits take priority over sustaining the soil and the nutrient content of the plants.
  • Choose supplements made from certified organic plants and make sure the plants have been grown and harvested using sustainable methods that replenish the soil, rather than depleting it. Again, query the manufacturer.
  • Look for individuals and organizations that treat the soil as a living organism. Find out if they are conducting annual soil tests, using cover crops to help prevent erosion, rotating crops to enhance the soil, and generally focusing on creating a healthy ecosystem.
  • Demand more research and better information from government officials.

Looking to the future, Renewable energy is important in pollution mitigation because of the benefits it provides. The key benefits are:

1. Environmental Benefits: Renewable energy technologies are clean sources of energy that have a much lower environmental impact than conventional energy technologies.

2. Energy for our Future generations: Renewable energy will not run out. Ever. Other sources of energy are finite and will someday be depleted.

3. Jobs and the Economy: Most renewable energy investments are spent on materials and workmanship to build and maintain the facilities, rather than on costly energy imports. Renewable energy investments are usually spent within the country, and often in the same town. This means your energy dollars stay home to create jobs and fuel local economies, rather than going overseas. Meanwhile, renewable energy technologies developed and built in the country can be sold overseas, providing a boost to the country's trade deficit.

4. Energy Security: After the oil supply disruptions of the early 1970s, many nations have increased its dependence on foreign oil supplies instead of decreasing it. This increased dependence impacts more than just the national energy policy.

Urban Forests and Tree planting exercises in large numbers can sow the seeds for mitigating air pollution. Waste recycling, city and home based composting in local areas can ensure it returns and revitalizes the soil in the same area. Water harvesting, conservation and recycling combined can ensure retention of the freshwater. To fuel the above usage of renewable energies powering energy efficient systems is the solution moving forward. There has to be a top down approach to evolution of strategies in every country and cities Urban Planning departments and the goals have to be in unison.

In conclusion, quoting Wangari Maathai The Nobel laureate, says, if we destroy our natural resources, it becomes scarce and we fight over it. But why does the need to destroy natural resources arise? Because of overpopulation, i.e., more births than can be sustained by existing resources, natural or otherwise. If people are born without money, nations will have to over-use natural resources to sustain their lives. To provide for those who don't have money, we will first look to natural resources that are the cheapest. We will look to coal because it is the cheapest, though it is the most polluting. We look for the cheapest because of the lack of money. We will not be able to be environmentally friendly because presently being environmentally friendly is costly".

On a larger scale, governments are taking measures to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. One way is through the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement between countries that they will cut back on carbon dioxide emissions. Another method is to put taxes on carbon emissions or higher taxes on gasoline, so that people and companies will have greater incentives to conserve energy and pollute less. On a personal level, driving and flying less, recycling, and conservation reduces a person's "carbon footprint", eating plant based diets and local production decreases water footprint and movement to organic living ensures cleaner soil. Working towards a cleaner planet ensures a better and longer life.

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