Saturday, May 5, 2012

Changing Chemistry of air,water and earth- recipe for disaster

Those who studied chemistry and conducted laboratory experiments in universities will be familiar with precautionary measures we take to avoid accidents. Aprons, gloves, goggles and fume cub-boards with exhaust fans are some few examples of protective measures from flames, hot plates and fumes. The blue color of the flame represented the degree of hotness of the flame from Bunsen burner; the pungent smell pointed to the ‘Gas plant’ that generated ‘water gas’ for Bunsen burners. The familiar smells of chemicals would bring ‘nostalgic memories’ of collage days. Each bottle of chemical would display a sign of warning ‘Danger or Poison’. We could recognize and identify even traces of gases or fumes or chemicals immediately. Those memories embedded deeply in our memories and I vividly remembered even after few decades I left university. I could smell traces of Chlorine in the air at a distance of 20 miles from a Chloroalkali plant in seventies, when air pollution controls were not stringent. People who lived around the factory probably were used to live with that smell for generations. Many families had not breathed fresh air in their life time, because they have not breathed air without traces of chlorine.They lived all their lives in the same place because agriculture was their profession. Many people developed breathing problems during their old ages and died of asthma and tuberclosis.The impact of these fumes cannot be felt in months and years but certainly can be felt after decades especially at old ages, when the body’s immune system deteriorates. Bhopal gas accident in India is a grim reminder of such tragedy of chemical accidents and how they can contaminate air, water and earth and degrade human lives. Bur have we learnt any lessons from those accidents? During experimental thermonuclear explosion in the desert of Australia by then British army, people were directly exposed to nuclear radiation. Many of those who witnessed this explosion developed some form of cancer or other later in their life .They were treated as heroes then. After several decades of this incident, many exposed to this experiment are now demanding compensation from current British government. But have we learnt any lessons from those incidents? Many politicians still advocate ‘Nuclear energy as a safe and clean energy’. Yes, until we meet with an another accident! We human beings identified the presence of chemicals in Nature and used them for our scientific developments. We identified fossil fuels as ‘Hydrocarbons’ and burn them to generate power and to run our cars. We emit toxic gases and fumes every second of our lives, whenever we switch our lights on or start our cars.Imagine the amount of gases and fumes we emit everyday all over the world by billions of people for several decades. It is a simple common sense that we are responsible for these emissions and we contaminate the air we breathe. Nature does not burn Hydrocarbons everyday or every month or every year. In fact Nature buried these Hydrocarbons deep down the earth like we bury our dead. Can people who breathed Chlorine for decades and died of asthma or tuberculosis establish that they died due constant inhalation of Chlorine emitted by the Chloroalkali plant? The Court and Authorities will demand ‘hard evidence’ to prove that Chlorine emitted by Chloroalkli plants caused these diseases. We use science when it suits us and we become skeptics when it does not suit us. They know it is almost impossible to prove such cases in our legal system and they can get away scot-free. The same argument applies to our ‘Greenhouse gas emission’ and ‘Global warming’. We contaminate our air, water and earth with our population explosion, industrialization and our life styles. Yet, major industrialized countries are not willing to cut their emissions but want to carry on their ‘economic growth’. But these countries got it completely wrong. In chemical experiments, one can draw conclusions by ‘observations’ and ‘Inference’. Inference is a scientific tool and not a guess work. From overwhelming evidences of natural disasters occurring around the world one can ‘infer’ that human activities cause these disasters. Nature is now showing this by devastating ‘the business and economic’ interest of nations because that is the only way Governments can learn lessons. They don’t need ‘harder evidence’ than monetary losses. According to recent reports: “The monetary losses from 2011’s natural catastrophes reached a record $380 billion, surpassing the previous record of $220 billion set in 2005. The year’s three costliest natural catastrophes were the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan (costing $210 billion), the August-November floods in Thailand ($40 billion), and the February earthquake in New Zealand ($16 billion). The report notes that Asia experienced 70 percent, or $265 billion, of the total monetary losses from natural disasters around the world—up from an average share of 38 percent between 1980 and 2010. This can be attributed to the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, as well as the devastating floods in Thailand: Thailand’s summer monsoons, probably influenced by a very intensive La NiƱa situation, created the costliest flooding to date, with $40 billion in losses.”