What attracted my attention this week was the haze problem in Delhi. More and more people in cities are suffering due to air pollution levels that are too high. Nowhere are these problems more serious than in Asia. While we in the West have gotten better in giving clean air to our citizens things have deteriorated in poorer countries and especially in developing ones.
The problem of Delhi is a familiar one; vehicle emissions have gone higher and smoke from burning crops have affected the people. At the level that emissions are in the city it is similar to smoking two pack of cigarettes every day according to specialists. In 2015 it was found that pollution levels in India were responsible for 2.5 million deaths, more than any other country.
Naturally the solutions to the problem are simple but hard to implement; control car emissions, perhaps by a system of alternate-day for people using cars and reduce the burning in agriculture. But the best way to curb pollution is for the people themselves to pressure politicians in making good air quality a priority. It has to become a political movement, the right to clean air.
I recently read an article that described how dirty the world’s major rivers were. It seems that more than two million tons of plastics are transported to the oceans by them. About 122 rivers contribute 90% of the plastic found in the oceans, and 103 of these rivers are in Asia. Twenty rivers in Asia contribute 67% of the plastic.
The problem of plastics in the oceans is such that the United Nations world conference on the oceans has decided to take a serious look at it. More than 80% of what is found in the oceans consists of plastics, most of which comes from the continents.
Because the use of plastics is a recent phenomena its influence on the oceans began to be scrutinize only around the year 2000 by scientists. It was then that continents of floating islands of plastics were discovered and are now well known.
That Asian rivers are heavily polluted is no surprise, especially considering the rapid pace of development since the 1970’s and 1980’s. Perhaps by pointing out the obvious at the United Nations world conference on the oceans solutions will be presented and the Asian nations will seek help as a lot of these countries are still too poor to embark alone on a program of cleaning up their rivers.
This is sad but true; a lot of our plastics are finding their way into Arctic waters. The world’s oceans are littered by these plastics coming from bottles, bags and others articles, most of which are mostly tiny particles of plastic.
The fault for this littering is due to an ocean current mainly from the North Atlantic that carries these bits of plastics and leaves them on the surface of the frigid waters and possibly even on the ocean floor.
Every year more than 8 million tons of plastic get into the oceans and scientists estimate that 110 million tons of plastic are in the oceans. This pollution has already made its way into the food chain and no one knows the effects it has on life, including on us.
Most of the plastic found in the Arctic waters is in fragments, and small at that. Other plastics were in the form of fishing line, film or pellets. Most scientist think that only an international agreement could solve the issue of plastic pollution. Good luck with that with an American president who thinks climate change is not true.
At the end of November President Obama signed and important called the Space Act, authorizing Americans of exploiting space resources for their own profit. Simply put, any material taken from the moon or asteroids can be exploited commercially by Americans and they will be legally protected. This spells the end of the idea that space belong to all and that it should profit to all as well. We are entering a new chapter of space exploration, a modern gold rush to exploit the resources of space.
Obviously for the ordinary American citizen nothing will change. Money is needed to exploit the resources found in space and this will not change anytime soon. The real change is for companies who now have some firm legal foundation to explore and exploit space for its resources. Already some companies have on their drawing boards the exploration of some asteroids to extract their nickel, gold and other minerals. One such company was formed by one of the founders of Google, Larry Page. The Space Act passed by the President will simply accelerate this exploration with a now firm legal foundation. Of the 1500 readily accessible asteroids surveyed by NASA a full 10% would have mineral resources.
The first resource to be exploited might not be a mineral at all but water, an essential element to life. Sending two tons of water in space costs about 100 million dollars. Finding asteroids with water or ice on the surface would make economic sense to exploit and already small probes will be sent to nearby asteroids who might harbour water.
I suppose the real question is this; is it desirable to have space
become the private domain of some private companies? Should we replicate the same capitalistic model that we have on earth in some countries? Or should we stick to the idea of space resources as belonging to all of humanity, not only to companies who have a vested interest?
One can possibly foresee a day when space itself will be polluted just as earth is. We have made a mess of earth, should we do the same thing in space?