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City Smog City Smog
Drastic Protection from Smog

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Smog

What is this?

Smog is a type of air pollution that accumulates in the lower atmosphere over towns and cities, emanating from vehicle exhaust pipes, factories and especially where a great deal of coal is burned. The word “smog” was coined and became fashionable in the early 20th century. It is a so-called “portmanteau” word. This means two words have been conflated to form a new word. The two root words in this case are smoke and fog.

Although this might have accurately described London smog early last century, today the word is a misnomer as smog commonly is a mixture of smoke and sulfur dioxide, not smoke and fog, which is simply moisture in the air. Modern smog is not as visible as smog of coal-burning origin but mainly from vehicular and industrial emissions that are acted on by sunlight to form secondary and less visible pollutants that also combine with the primary smog to form photochemical smog. The sum total of smog on earth is causing the ozone layer to degrade, leading to global warming and climate change, with inevitable consequences for life everywhere on the planet.

What impact does it have?

Smog constitutes a major health problem in most large cities. Ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide are especially harmful to the old and the young, and those suffering from heart and lung conditions. It is well-known that people with conditions such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis are susceptible to the ill effects of smog. The lungs are simply unable to cope with the pollution in the air. Smog also causes eye and nose irritation and interferes with the body’s immune system, increasing the risk of illness. There is a proven link between the number hospital admissions and the ozone levels in the air, especially in warm summer weather.  Some government agencies have estimated that the number of premature deaths caused by the presence of smog number in the thousands in large cities.

What has been done about it?

The Kyoto protocol, an agreement made under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), has since1997 when it was introduced to 2008 been signed by 182 nations.  This was the first international attempt to global co-ordination to reduce the amount of photochemical pollution, which is alleged to have created and to be widening the hole in the ozone layer. The nations that have ratified the treaty committed themselves, with effect from 2005, to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and five other so-called greenhouse gases (GHG), namely methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, CFCs and water vapor, or to engage in emissions trading if they maintain or increase emissions of the GHG.

Is this action working?

The United States has not ratified the treaty and the other main culprits namely Mexico, European Union, China and South East Asia have had little success in trying to reduce the amount of smog produced in their industrial cities.

Why is this?

Politics and economics have hampered governments from reaching their emission reduction goals.

Should it continue? On one side, there are those who are against

On one side, there are those who are against the entire notion of the Kyoto protocol and who say that global warming arguing that it has not been scientifically proven, although admittedly this a minority. Others see the Kyoto protocol as a scheme to slow the growth of the world’s industrial democracies, or a kind of global socialism initiative. Other critics of Kyoto are environmental economists who say the costs of implementing the treaty will outweigh the benefits. They see the protocol as fatally flawed -- too optimistic, unfair or impossible to implement. Some critics argue that 1990 should not have been used as a base year for all the signatories. Other critics are simply lobbying to protect their vested interests in heavy industry.

Should it continue? On the other side, there are those who are all for it

On the other side, there are those who are all for it, the 182 governments that ratified the treaty in particular. They had clear mandates from their electorates, in the case of the democracies, to accept the treaties. However several signatories, such as India and China, did not commit themselves to reducing emissions but merely to monitoring and reporting them. Some of the signatories, small countries such as Niue, the Cook Islands and Nauru, actually felt that Kyoto did not go far enough. It is worth noting that a UK government sponsored report (Stern Report) into the economic effects of climate change said that one percent of all global GDP was needed to counter the effects of climate change and the consequences could be a recession worth up to a quarter of global GDP. Green organization and NGOs are vociferous about Kyoto. Friends of the Earth have even taken countries to court for failing to reduce emissions. That being said, it is probably desirable, in the absence of anything else, that Kyoto’s ideals be pursued and developed as a global initiative.

References

  • Stern Report Executive Summary: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/30_10_06_exec_sum.pdf
  • NASA Study Links Smog To Arctic Warming: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2006/troposphere_ozone.html

Notes

The world recession that began to bite in mid-2008 was linked mainly to the oil price. In contradiction of the Stern Report, no mention was made of air pollution and its consequences as being a root recessionary cause.
Submitted by Justine on Aug 5, 2008