pollution

"Electric Car" by MikesPhotos is licensed under CC0 Public Domain

On July 4, car giant Volvo announced its plan to suspend all production of non-electric or hybrid cars by the year 2019. This means that Volvo will not produce any new diesel or gasoline-powered cars in only two years. In reaction to this announcement, France’s new cabinet released an ambitious plan to ban all diesel and petroleum-fueled car sales by 2040. Though France is not the only country to take this approach to clean energy transition, regulating the sale of petroleum-fueled cars is still very rare. France’s ecology minister stated that the new standard was “a way to fight against air pollution.” Though this move is being applauded by many environmentalists, is the French government’s regulation of petroleum fueled cars really better for the environment? And how will this new regulation influence socioeconomic inequality?

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"Route 61 Crack in Centralia, Pennsylvania" by JohnDS is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

Centralia, Pennsylvania has been burning since 1962. Or rather, the ground beneath the town is burning: an underground coal seam fire that caused the town to be mostly abandoned has been burning for over 50 years, and will continue for at least another 250. The fire likely began when a trash fire ignited the coal seam in the network of old mines beneath the town. Gradually, a slow apocalypse took place: snow couldn’t always stick to the heated ground, vegetables could grow year-round, the main highway sunk eight feet, and residents began to pass out from carbon monoxide gas issuing from their basements. By 1991, the town was almost entirely government-owned under eminent domain, and in 2002 the ZIP code was revoked. The few residents that remain do so at their own risk.

"Volkswagen" by Mahal is licensed under CC0 Public Domain (via Pixabay)

It seemed as though the world had seen the end of Volkswagen after a massive scandal was uncovered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back in September 2015. One of VW’s major marketing campaigns in the United States was flaunting their diesel cars’ low emissions. It turns out, in fact, that they had been cheating on emissions tests for years by installing software in their cars to detect when an emissions test was being run. At least 482,000 cars were discovered with this “defeat device” in the United States, and the German car maker admitted to producing 11 million cars worldwide with this device as well. The crisis has even been termed “Dieselgate” by some. With society’s trend towards environmental consciousness, many were unsure how VW would recover from this.

"People's Climate March 2014 NYC" by South Bend Voice is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

Mere days away from The People’s Climate March in Washington D.C., at least 100,000 people are estimated to march in the streets. One quick Google search of “Climate March D.C.” turns up dozens of articles on why marching next Saturday is important. However, in terms of social activism, and specifically climate change, is protesting a true form of advocacy? Much of the climate march this year is focused on “fighting back,” specifically against the Trump administration. But is turning the environmental movement into a direct political one ethical? And what is the danger in turning a movement into a large-scale march?

"Half Dome Ropes" by Daniel Schwen is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

This past year marked the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS). Created in 1916, the NPS has had a long standing tradition of stewardship that has preserved many of America’s most beautiful areas from the threats of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism. However, the NPS must now deal with a new threat presented through overcrowding and the environmentally degrading practices that come with it. Taken to the extreme through the example of Zion National Park, where rising crowds resulted in six million people visiting the six-mile-long stretch of canyon last year, can result in major infrastructure changes to mitigate the anthropogenic effects.

"Ivinghoe Beacon seen looking north from The Ridgeway" by Pointilist is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikipedia)

A recent study by the University of Cambridge reported that the benefits of walking and cycling outside outweigh the risks associated with current air pollution levels in the UK . Approximately 40,000 deaths in the UK per year are attributed to exposure to outdoor air pollution, and outdoor exercise contributes to that exposure. However, according to the University of Cambridge researchers, the health benefits of exercise, namely lowering the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and several cancers, outweighs the harmful effects of air pollution to one’s body.

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"Sky Factory” by Taras Kalapun is licensed under CC BY 2.0(via Flickr)

On October 1, the Obama administration released a new environmental regulation concerning smog. For those of you that don’t know, smog is an air pollutant that gets its name from a mash-up of the words smoke and fog. It was first seen in London, where clouds of smoke and sulfur would mix with fog to create a thick haze that would hang over the city. While still associated with coal burning, it is now known that VOCs and airborne particulate matter called ozone can also be responsible. The recent law limits the amount of ozone that can be released from factory smokestacks and tailpipes with the intention of reducing smog.

 28th Anniversary, Bhopal Disaster. Women's rally. by Bhopal Medical Appeal (CC BY-NC 2.0)

One would certainly hope that, as far as environmental regulation goes, we are better off than we were fifty years ago. We would hope that novels like Rachel Carson’s ground-shifting Silent Spring, a work chronicling the dangers of the U.S. chemical industry, have made enough of an effect to prevent the author’s dystopian predictions from becoming a reality.