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Showing posts with label EPA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label EPA. Show all posts

Friday, June 6, 2014

The science and politics of carbon and climate change


President Obama seized his ‘moment of truth’ when he announced his decision to cut carbon emission by 30% by 2030 in USA. His decision may not be popular in USA and in many parts of the world but it is the right decision. He was able to address to some extent ‘ the √≠nconvenient truth’ that has been nagging him during his second term in office. He introduced his decision through EPA (Environmental protection authority) effectively bypassing congress. In fact the whole purpose of creating EPA was to address the environmental issues but it failed in many ways and rest of the world followed such failures time and again. This has resulted in an accumulated carbon both in the atmosphere and in the sea in an unprecedented scale causing disease and environmental degradation world-wide. Air pollution is costing the world's most advanced economies plus India and China $3.5 trillion per year in lives lost and ill health, with a significant amount of the burden stemming from vehicle tailpipes, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In the 34 OECD member states, the monetary impact of death and illness due to outdoor air pollution was $1.7 trillion in 2010. Research suggests that motorized on-road transport accounts for about 50 percent of that cost. In China, the total cost of outdoor air pollution was an estimated $1.4 trillion in 2010. In India, the OECD calculated the toll at $500 billion. The costs were calculated based on survey data of how much people are willing to pay in order to avoid premature death due to ailments caused by air pollution. The methodology assigns a cost to the risks of emissions that decision makers can use in weighing public policy decisions. In addition to the health cost the environmental degradation due to carbon pollution includes global warming resulting in mass extinction of species, causing mega bush fires that are wiping out forests including rain forests, creating new bugs that are resistant to antibiotics, increasing sea level that erodes coastal cities and submerge remote islands in pacific displacing millions of people as refugees, acidifies oceans with massive extinction of species including fish stock. Such degradation is nothing but suicidal. When a food or drug is introduced in the market it is subject to scrutiny by FDA (Food and drugs authority), but when it comes to environmental clearance to set up a coal-fired power plant or to set up a seawater desalination plant it is relatively easier to get such clearance from EPA. When power plants emitted gaseous emissions initially EPA was able to limit the emissions of oxides of nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorous, soot and particulate matter , other organics including mercury and arsenics except carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide has been accepted as part of the air we breathe in; otherwise no power plant could have been approved because bulk of the emissions are only carbon dioxide. Had EPA acted timely in sixties or even in seventies to curb CO2 emissions an alternative energy would have emerged by this time. Industries and economics were high in the political agenda and the environment was overlooked. Many drugs were introduced during this period to cure diseases that were actually caused by environmental pollution such as carbon dioxide. Both power industries and drug industries grew side by side without realizing the fact that environment is degraded slowly which causes chronic diseases. Australia is the largest consumers of power in terms of per capita consumption in the world and yet the new Government in Australia is pushing a bill in the parliament to repel Carbon tax introduced by previous Government. They are also planning to raise revenue up to $ 26 billion for medical research over a period of time. On one hand politicians want to freely allow unabated carbon emissions into the atmosphere and on the other hand they want to introduce new drugs that can cure diseases actually caused by such pollutions. It is an anomalous situation created by politics of climate change. Unfortunately carbon pollution has turned into an energy related issue and attracted political attention world-wide. The high cost of cleaning carbon pollution has turned many politicians into skeptics of science on carbon pollution and climate change. “More than 170 nations have agreed on the need to limit fossil fuel emissions to avoid dangerous human-made climate change, as formalized in the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change .However, the stark reality is that global emissions have accelerated (Fig. 1) and new efforts are underway to massively expand fossil fuel extraction by drilling to increasing ocean depths and into the Arctic, squeezing oil from tar sands and tar shale, hydro-fracking to expand extraction of natural gas, developing exploitation of methane hydrates, and mining of coal via mountaintop removal and mechanized long wall mining. The growth rate of fossil fuel emissions increased from 1.5%/year during 1980–2000 to 3%/year in 2000–2012, mainly because of increased coal use.” (Ref : 1) The coal usage continues to grow especially in Asia due to expanding population and industrial growth and demand for low cost energy. USA is expected to achieve energy independence by 2015 which means more fossil fuels are in the pipeline. India and China are planning more coal fired power plants in the coming decade. Australia is planning for massive expansion of coal and LNG and Coal seam methane gas for exports. Fracturing and hydrocracking of shale deposits are adding to the fuel. Countries are more concerned with economic growth than the consequences of climate change. Despite recent warning from NASA that the depleting arctic glaciers have reached a ‘point of no return’ and the predicted sea level rise up to 10 feet is irreversible, there is a little reaction from countries across the globe. There is a clear evidence that shows GHG emission will continue to increase in the future in spite of growing renewable energy projects because renewable solar panels, wind turbines and batteries will require additional power from fossil fuels. It is critically important to reduce carbon emission with great urgency by substituting fossil energy with renewable energy. For example, concentrated solar power (CSP) can be used instead of large scale PV solar to reduce carbon footprint. Solar energy is the origin of all other energy sources on the planet earth and solar energy will be the solution for a clean energy of the future. But how fast solar energy can be deployed commercially in a short span of time is a big issue. The increasing growth of fossil fuel production dwarfs the growth of renewable energy exposing the planet to catastrophic climate change. The GHG emission can be contained only by an aggressive reduction of CO2 emission into the atmosphere as well as by drastic reduction of fossil fuel production. This is possible only by using renewable Hydrogen. The cost of renewable hydrogen is high but this is the price one has to pay to clean up the carbon pollution before the climate is changed irreversibly. The obvious method to reduce carbon emissions is to tax carbon in such a way that it will no longer be economically viable to emit carbon to generate power or to transport. Paying carbon tax will be cheaper than paying for diseases and environmental degradation and natural disasters. Clean environment is the key for the survival of our planet and life on earth and one cannot put a price on such a life. Ref 1: Citation: Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F,et al (2013) Assessing ‘‘Dangerous Climate Change’’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081648

Friday, June 8, 2012

Green Chemistry and Clean technologies


Chemistry has revolutionized human life and it has affected each and every one of us in some way or other for the past several decades. We were happily using these chemicals in our everyday life without really understanding their side effects.Individuls and companies who invented and commercialized chemical products were keen to offer end products to consumers often without explaining the side effects of such chemicals.They themselves were not fully aware of long term consequences of such chemicals. Classical examples are Chlorine and its derivatives. Chlorine is a common chemical that is used even today in many countries to disinfect drinking water in water treatment plants. Their usage is sill continued though they found that Haloalkanes, which are formed by the action of Chlorine on decayed organic leaves in water storage, causes cancer (carcinogenic). DDT is another chemical that was used widely as a pesticide, known as “atom bomb of pesticides”, until their side effects proved deadly for human beings and to the environment. It was officially banned in USA in 1972 by EPA, though it is still continued in some third world countries. Bleaching powder in another example of powder disinfectant ( a popular form of disinfectant used on roads in India when prominent political leaders visit municipalities; though they are only chalk powder with no traces of residual Chlorine). A whole range of dyes known as coal tar dyes derived from coal were used in many applications including ‘food colors’, later substituted by petroleum based organic chemicals. These ‘food colors’ are now substituted with ‘natural organic colors’ such as vegetable colors derived from vegetables and fruits. Industrial chemicals, both organic and inorganic have caused serious environmental damages all over the world for several decades, but Governments, companies and EPA did not realize the deadly consequences of some these chemicals for a long time. The ‘Bhopal Gas tragedy’ in India is one such grim reminder of such consequences. Chemicals are not natural products even though one can separate them into various organic chemical molecules but some of the consequences of such separation and usage are not fully understood. Many natural herbs have outstanding medicinal values and when consumed in a Natural form, it has absolutely no side effects and they show tremendous therapeutic values. But when you isolate certain molecules from such herbs (Alkaloids) and used as a drug, they can cure a disease but at the same time, they create many side effects. Nature offers such drugs in a diluted form that is quite compatible to human beings. One such example is ‘Vinblastine’ and “Vincristine’, anti-cancer drugs derived from a herb called ‘vinca rosea’. Of late there is awareness among companies, people and Governments about Green technologies that can help protect the environment. Greenhouse gas and global warming is one such issue. When Petrol or Diesel, an organic chemical known as Hydrocarbon is burnt, it not only generates power but also emits greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide and oxides of Nitrogen, that cause globe to warm. We were happily burning away such fossil fuels until scientists raised an issue on emission of ‘greenhouse gases’ in recent past. When we deal with chemicals and chemical reactions, the molecule is transformed into a new molecule and often such reaction cannot be reversed.It is not a physical change but a chemical change. When we convert water into steam, we can get back water by condensing steam; but when you convert Chlorine into PVC (Poly vinyl chloride) plastic, there are environmental consequences and reversing PVC into Chlorine gas in not easy, though it is technically possible with environmental consequences. One has to observe and learn from Nature what is good and what is bad when developing a new technology, because such development will not only affect the environment but also many generations to come. When Nature teaches how to turn sugar into Alcohol by fermentation using air borne microorganisms, we should follow Nature to make alcohol. We know how to turn Alcohol into PVC, but we do not know how to make biodegradable PVC from Alcohol. Companies call it ‘Green Chemistry’, but not until we can make a biodegradable PVC. Human knowledge is imperfect and we can only learn ‘Green chemistry and Clean Technologies’ from Nature and not by deviating from the path of Nature.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Carbon-free air is a Human right issue


Environment Pollution Authority EPA of US Government regulated the gas emission standards for power plants for oxides of Nitrogen and Sulfur in the past but not for GreenHouseGas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere. However, when President Obama took over power, EPA passed ‘Clean Air Act’ to regulate the emission standards of all gases including GHG for new stationary power plants. This act projected to prevent over 230,000 early deaths in US alone by 2020 due to Carbon dioxide. According to this act, 1. Starting in January 2011, large industrial facilities that must already obtain Clean Air Act permits for non-GHGs must also include GHG requirements in these permits if these increase are newly constructed and have the potential to emit 75,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) or more or modify and increase GHG emissions by that amount. 2. Starting in July 2011, in addition to facilities described above, all new facilities emitting GHGs in excess of 100,000 tons of per year CO2e and facilities making changes that would increase GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tpy CO2e, and that also exceed 100/250 tons per year of GHGs on a mass basis, will be required to obtain construction permits that address GHG emissions (regardless of whether they emit enough non-GHG pollutants to require a permit for those emissions.) 3. Operating permits will be needed by all sources that emit at least 100,000 tons of GHG per year on a CO2e basis beginning in July 2011. 4. Sources less than 50,000 tons of GHGs per year on a CO2e basis will not be required to obtain permits for GHGs before 2016. (Sources: clean technica) According to Stanford scientist Mark Jacobson, there is a definite link between the Carbon dioxide and increasing deaths. While the argument continues between believers of global warming and skeptics, it clear that Carbon pollution kills people without any discrimination. Any gaseous emission into the atmosphere will eventually spread across the borders of each country and becomes a global issue. EPA in each country in the world should pass similar legislation to curb GHG emissions, at least to protect their people if not to curtail global warming. What is most surprising is some scientists still want more ‘scientific data’ to accept whether GHG causes global warming or not. One need not be a rocket scientist to conclude that chemical pollution is slowly poisoning the air, water and earth. Hundreds of chemicals that we used in the past were abandoned due to their harmful effects. For example, Asbestos,DDT,Chlorine for disinfecting drinking water, coal tar dyes, Nicotine, Refrigerants like Fluorocarbons etc to name a few. We can choose to ignore the warnings of Nature and carry on the business as usual in the name of science. But we cannot ignore people claiming their legitimate rights to live and breathe a quality air to lead a normal life. It is a human right issue. It is not an issue that can be debated only by scientific community and decided. WHO should classify ‘Quality air’ as a fundamental human right with great urgency. Governments around the world can pass ‘Clean air act’ similar to US. They may not levy carbon tax or offer new incentives to promote green energy, but regulate the indiscriminate emissions of GHG into the atmosphere, which passively kills millions of people around the world. This is nothing but ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in a passive way, but on a grander scale. When ‘passive smoking’ is a crime Carbon emission too is a crime. It is the duty of industries to incorporate carbon pollution prevention measures by scientific innovations.