Fighting global warming without sacrifice
Ever since I used to ride my bike to work through the morning rush hour, I have been a fierce advocate of clean and renewable energy. It just does not make sense to inhale dirty exhaust fumes when we can drive clean cars. However grim the future of the polar bear may be because of global warming, more than 6,000 people die every day now as a result of air pollution, according to the World Health Organization.
No one disputes the need for clean energy sources, particularly in cities, where half of humanity lives. The problem is that clean energy is still more expensive, and despite the obvious long-term benefits, it is especially hard to tell developing nations to invest in more expensive clean energy when their first priority is to create better lives for their citizens. So the question is: Can something be done to fight global warming besides using less fossil fuel? And the surprising answer is: Yes!
The current issue of Science magazine contains the findings of a group of scientists that looked at ways to slow global warming while reducing the soot and smog–black carbon–that are damaging agriculture and health. Black carbon covers glaciers and snow in the Arctic and the Himalayas, limiting the reflection of the sun’s rays. As a result, the surface absorbs more heat.
The team found that 14 simple, practical measures—like switching to cleaner diesel engines and stoves, building more efficient kilns and ovens and reducing methane emissions from rice fields by draining them more often—clean the air, improve health and yields and slow climate change. And all that without moving away from cheap fossil fuel to more expensive renewable energy. The researchers calculate that if these strategies became widespread, global warming would be reduced by roughly a third of the numbers projected if nothing is done by 2050. At the same time, people would be breathing cleaner air, and up to 5 million premature deaths would be avoided each year. Finally, farmers would produce at least 30 million more metric tons of food annually.
Pollution control, it appears, is more productive than fighting global warming from a narrow environmental perspective. This approach makes particular sense in developing countries. But a recent program in the Port of Los Angeles, where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa introduced a Clean Truck Program, shows similar results. As of January 1, all trucks in the LA port meet the toughest environmental standards in the U.S., which reflects a reduction in harmful emissions by more than 80 percent. That is a substantial contribution to better health. “The American Lung Association (ALA) in California congratulates the City of Los Angeles for its continued efforts to reduce lung damaging pollutants in our air,” said Jane Warner, president and CEO of the ALA in California, according to a report from California Newswire.
The message is the same: Simple measures can go a long way toward making our planet cleaner and healthier. I still want to be amid cars without exhaust fumes while I’m on my bike for the morning commute, but it is important to note that we can take small steps now on our way to the big goal.
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By Jurriaan Kamp