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Beating the big smoke

Erik Solheim

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Londoners are used to inhaling poison. In Victorian Britain, the sickly brown smog that blanketed the capital was known as a “pea-souper”, so thick that on bad days it was impossible to read a book. But it wasn’t until the Great Killer Fog of 1952, which lasted a week and killed as many as 12,000 people, that the government finally decided to tackle the miasma that had immiserated Londoners for centuries and earned the city its nickname, “The Big Smoke”. 

London has struggled to shake off this “badge of dishonour”. While air pollution may be less visible today, it is no less deadly. Each day, more than eight million Londoners breathe air that is considered unsafe by the World Health Organization. This means that thousands of the city’s residents die prematurely every year because of the nasty cocktail of toxins that have fouled the city’s air. 

This won’t make for pleasant reading, but the reality is that these noxious gases and tiny particles of poison penetrate deep inside our lungs, permanently damaging our bodies. From Ealing to the East End, babies across London are being born earlier than normal, children are growing up with weaker lungs and adults are more likely to die prematurely from heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and other lung diseases as they age. Studies show that air pollution steals an average of two years from the lives of every child born in London in 2010. This terrible blight, which seeps insidiously into our schools and homes, must be stopped. 

Once again, London is in the throes of a major pollution emergency. This time there is a plan to tackle its root causes. We already know what needs to be done to clean up the capital’s dirty air. Vehicles cause roughly 50 per cent of the city’s air pollution. To improve the health of Londoners, the capital must transform its transport system, removing from its roads the vehicles that are spewing out the most damaging fumes. 

This is exactly what London has started to do with its new toxicity charge on the most polluting vehicles comes. As the previous congestion charge has already proved, this should dramatically cut the number of big polluting vehicles and their harmful fumes. 

However, this is just the beginning. The mayor has doubled the amount of money the city will spend on tackling smog. He also plans to retrofit 5,000 of London’s older buses and introduce new hybrid and electric buses to further cut emissions. The mayor aims to phase out diesel taxis and invest in electric charging ports across the city as part of plans to introduce an ultra-low-emission zone in central London. 

These are bold steps that will help London hit its most ambitious target: achieving the WHO’s Air Quality Guideline Goals by 2030 – the “gold standard” for air quality. London is the first capital city in the world to commit to this target as part of its pledge to the BreatheLife Campaign, launched by WHO, UN Environment and the Climate and Clean Air coalition. This places it at the vanguard of a growing coalition of cities seeking to combat the devastating impact that air pollution has on our health, our economies and our environment. 

Over the last year, more than 100 cities, including Manchester, Washington DC, Medellin and Tshwane, have joined the BreatheLife campaign with public commitments to reduce air pollution, which kills about 6.5 million people around the world every year. The campaign gives cities the tools that are needed to clean the dirty air that plagues their citizens. But we urgently need more cities to join the coalition. This is a global epidemic – and many of the same pollutants that harm our health are also driving climate change. 

Never has it been more important for cities to unite to fight the smog. By investing in cleaner forms of transport, improving the way cities are built and switching to greener forms of power, we not only boost the health of our people. We also slow down global warming by reducing “short-lived climate emissions” of black carbon from vehicle emissions and methane from sources like waste dumps. By tackling the key sources of urban air pollution we also reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which persist for centuries and threaten the long-term health of our planet. If the world is to keep warming below the levels set out in the Paris Climate Agreement, then it is vital that cities follow London’s lead and immediately move to tackle the pollution in their air. 

London’s history teaches us that in crisis there is huge opportunity for change –provided we act together. In 1854, British physician John Snow improved the health of millions around the world when he discovered that a single well pump had triggered a cholera outbreak in the city. Now renowned as the father of epidemiology, Snow’s findings dramatically improved water quality in London and, as cities began to follow suit, the world. Today, we already know where to find the sources of air pollution and we already know how to tackle them. It is again time for cities to follow London’s example to defeat this menace. The need to do so is as clear as the air that all of us deserve to breathe. 

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Water logging and Salinity: A threat in the face of barrenness

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The Annual cost of crop losses from the problem of water logging and salinity has been estimated between Rs 15bn and Rs 55bn

Currently, different areas in the world have face the issues of water logging and salinity but they are intensified due to number of factors including unsuitable pattern of cropping, floods and heavy rain falls and uncontrolled drainage.

Water Logging and salinity are the most devastating effects of the irrigation development. Though, both of them are entirely different problems but still they are discussed as twin problems with reference to Pakistan. As we know that Pakistan has alluvial soil means when less amount of water is given to the land all those salts that are present under the soil start gathering on the surface near the roots and if such land are not properly leached with the passage of time those lands will lose their fertility turning into barren lands.

According to the report published by the United Nations food organization out of total 20.8 m hectares cultivable land in Pakistan 1.55 m hectares are affected by water logging whereas 5.33 m hectares affect by salinity. We are losing our cultivable land at very fast rate especially in the areas of Punjab. It is very important to understand the concept of water logging and salinity. Basically, water logging represents the phenomena in which underground water comes to the surface and also gathers on the ground surface of the land. In water logged areas for plants very few spaces are present for air that’s means there is deficiency of oxygen

Whereas in case of salinity the ground water does not reach the desired level casing accumulation of land salts near the roots so in a nut shell one can say that both of these processes decreases the efficiency as well as productivity of cultivable lands. Let me say that all those areas that fall in Indus basin system like Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Jhang have been devastatingly affected by water logging and salinity. Pakistan has been its victim since many decades but it has drastically affected the farmers because of increasing in the percentage of uncultivable land causing major cuts in the incomes of farmers leading to small scale famines and poverty.  In this regard there is no significant role of provincial governments and due to their negligence and lack of planning the farmers are facing low quality production and no subsidies from the government side. Actually the problem of salinity is not natural its man made because of our method of irrigation. River water or canal water is widely used for irrigation that contains high amounts of salts and when the water evaporates large amount of salts remain behind causing salinity. I would like to share some suggestions in order to curb these menaces.

A question is always raised from the farmers side that how to overcome the grave problem of salinity? Simply the application of gypsum into affected lands and soil salinity control by salivation and reclaiming the affected lands. In order to curb water logging the most effective method is biological drainage in which role of trees, bushes and crops is of significance importance to control water logging. It is obvious that selection of crops in water logged areas is important like grain legumes and canola have more power of tolerance against the menace of water logging as compared to beans or cereals. Another question needs to be addressed that can we do anything to mitigate the effects of water logging before it happens? Yes this could be done by following methods increasing nitrogen level of crops before water logging even occurs.

On the other hand nitrogen fertilizers can also be applied at the end of water logging season but it should be done soon after seeding process. The Proper Lining of canals and closure for a temporary period of time is necessary so water will only be used when needed. Installing of tube wells in those areas where we have high underground water tables and plantation of eucalyptus trees in water logged areas. Eventually, both of these problems could be addressed in a proper way if the efficiency of irrigation system gets improved and more and more such crops are cultivated that needs less water in arid and semi arid regions. Moreover improving drainage system should also be prioritized as we receive massive rainfalls and floods during monsoons so incase of inappropriate drainage system the rain water will seep into the soil increasing the water table leading to water logging. If we don’t act soon in the coming next 5 to 10 years nearly half of the cultivable land of Pakistan will become victim of water logging and salinity. Nevertheless it is the responsibility of the government to create awareness among the masses regarding drainage, water logging and salinity and how to curb this menace.

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WWF Launches Activation Hub to Help Prevent 10 Million Metric Tons of Global Plastic Waste

MD Staff

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The global plastic pollution crisis is threatening the natural environment on which we depend – impacting oceans, communities, wildlife, and people at an unprecedented rate. While many companies and organizations are committing to curb plastic pollution, some lack a roadmap to follow when implementing these commitments. Today WWF launched a new activation hub, ReSource: Plastic, to help solve this problem.

WWF estimates as few as 100 companies have the potential to help prevent roughly 10 million metric tons of the world’s plastic waste pollution – If done through industry, private sector and government collaboration. Even more, this number could triple by inspiring a ripple effect across supply chains and industry sectors.

ReSource seeks to tap into this massive potential by helping companies align their large-scale plastic commitments from aspiration to meaningful, measurable action. ReSource will collaborate with industries to ensure a systems-based approach to addressing plastic production, consumption, waste management and recycling as a single system.

ReSource is designed to identify the concrete changes that will make the biggest impacts in reducing a company’s plastic pollution footprint,” said Nik Sekhran, Chief Conservation Officer, World Wildlife Fund. “To get closer to our goal of no plastic in nature will take nothing short of transforming the entire value chain. With ReSource, companies now have access to more advanced tools to maximize, measure and multiply their commitments to make this a reality.”

Six of the world’s leading companies, including Keurig Dr Pepper, McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Starbucks, Tetra Pak and The Coca-Cola Company have signed on as Principal Members.

“Addressing the plastic problem in our oceans, rivers and land is everyone’s responsibility – including the companies that use much of the plastic in the world today.  It’s a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all solution, and that’s why we’re so energized by the approach WWF is taking with the ReSource program,” said Virginie Helias, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Procter & Gamble. “ReSource will bring a systems approach in partnership with many stakeholders –  common metrics, best practices, accountability – that is much needed to accelerate progress on long-term solutions.”

A recent report by WWF, “No Plastic in Nature: A Practical Guide for Business Engagement,” examined the scope and causes of the plastic waste crisis and laid out a clear and pragmatic guide for businesses to lead the much-needed plastics revolution.  This guide provided the vision and foundation for the design of ReSource. Measurement and transparent reporting are paramount if this challenge is to be met. ReSource will track and publicly report progress on the amount of plastic waste prevented by participants on an annual basis.

“We are proud to join WWF as a Principal Member of ReSource,” said Francesca DeBiase, McDonald’s Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain and Sustainability Officer. “This partnership perfectly aligns with our ambition to use our Scale for Good and work with others to develop thoughtful, scalable solutions that will make a significant impact on the plastic pollution challenge.”

WWF is working to change the way the world sources, designs, collects and reuses plastic – taking the approach that no individual, organization, business or government can tackle the root causes of plastic pollution on their own. The complexity of the challenge demands collaboration and ReSource delivers on this demand by connecting companies with other key stakeholders to share discoveries and investments that will multiply the impact of these efforts globally.

Leading organizations tackling the plastic waste crisis, Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) and Ocean Conservancy, have joined ReSource as Thought Partners. EMF has already united hundreds of organizations around a set of 2025 targets through the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. EMF will work closely with WWF to ensure ReSource is aligned with their vision of a circular economy for plastics and to provide organizations with the tools needed to achieve these targets.  For years, Ocean Conservancy has convened scientists and businesses around solutions to the ocean plastic crisis through its Trash Free Seas Alliance®, of which WWF is a member.  Ocean Conservancy will help ensure ReSource is informed by deep ocean expertise, particularly as ocean plastic pollution has become a driver for change toward a circular economy.

“World Wildlife Fund is a key partner for Starbucks in our efforts to continue minimizing our environmental footprint,” said John Kelly, Senior Vice President of Global Public Affairs and Social Impact, Starbucks. “We look forward to being a part of ReSource: Plastic as we know it takes collaboration to find scalable, truly impactful solutions. We’re committed to learning and leading alongside other brands as we work toward our aspiration of sustainable coffee, served sustainably.”

ReSource is part of WWF’s global No Plastic in Nature campaign to protect the world’s oceans and biodiversity by tackling marine litter and unnecessary plastic consumption.

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Prevailing Plastic Pollution in Pakistan

Muhammad Usman Ghani

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In recent times our globe has trodden the path of development and advancement by leaps and bounds. This advancement and progress have taken place up to such extent that a lower class citizen finds himself besieged by multiple machines in his small home. The excess services of the technology have taken the world by storm because it has facilitated humanity with astonishing services. Advancement in technology has a direct link with that of globalization. With the advancement in globalization, the trends of people have altered their preferences. During the last decade, there is a glaring rise in the trends of shopping. The drifts of globalization with capitalism have enticed people to widen their demands. And obviously, one can witness that even a beggar seems to purchase some eatable or aught. With the augmentation in the trends of business and purchasing, there is rampant use of plastic bags and plastic commodities. But this wonder of plastic got a little out of hand.

However, in this technological, globalized, and capitalistic era, our biodiversity with worth trillion dollars is on a perilous verge. Overuse of technological accessories, industrialization, mobilization, and globalization from one perspective have posed a threat to our ecosystem. The one darkest commodity of this globalized and technologically sophisticated world is the menace of plastic. Yes, during these times when the advantages of technology and globalization are getting much publicity, they have posed threat on either side as well. Plastic is one of these perils and has saturated our environment. The invention of this commodity has completely invaded our lives. During these times, everything is at least partly fabricated from plastic. Our clothes, items of furniture, houses, bags, and several items that surround us possess a specific share of plastic in them. In short, our lives are turning into plastic.

Plastic is the biggest threat to biodiversity. The question that arises why it is a threat to the environment? The answer is obvious that plastic is non-biodegradable (not able to be decomposed). The plastic bags that we see on shopping centers usually take 10-100 years to decompose and normal plastic products take 450 years to decompose. According to the report, the world is currently producing nearly 300 million tons of plastic each year. Now imagine for a moment that such a prolific quantity of plastic that is being produced every year, how long it will take to decompose? Centuries of course.

Another question that rears is the plastic that has produced till date, created the perplexity up to which extent? The answer is that it has wreaked havoc in the environment. Particularly, it has harmed marine life. Since heaps of garbage are dumped into the sea, so that refuse involves plastic in it. As seafood is an important source of protein; pollution and damage propagated by plastic are immeasurable. Over 600 marine species are being harmed by plastic pollution every day. Aforementioned that plastic takes many years to decompose, so marine animals can’t digest it. When they ingest plastic bags, gills are wrapped by the plastic bags. In this way, suffocation occurs which leads them to death. Their death brings about further pollution to the sea. By this mean, we are squandering our sea boon.

The issue doesn’t end here, the life on the earth crust and in the atmosphere is also not safe from this menace. Many people inhabited in small towns and village burn plastic, in order to annihilate. The burning of plastic causes damage to the atmosphere as plastic comprises poisonous chemicals. The polluted air when inhaled by humans and animals affect their health and can cause respiratory problems. Likewise, when plastic is dumped in landfills, it interacts with water and forms hazardous chemicals. When these chemicals seep underground, they degrade the water quality. In these ways, plastic is damaging our globe.

Following analyzing the downside of plastic, the next question inevitably dominates the thinking that how much the government of Pakistan is serious to sort out this issue. The answer to this question is the government is iota interested in this matter. Almost eight months have passed yet the government seems uninterested in this matter. Around 55 billion plastic bags are being used annually in Pakistan. In my city or district, I see at every outlet the plastic bags hung. Every customer carries the eatable or necessity item in the plastic bag. There is no observance of the ban on the use of the plastic bag. On the contrary, many European countries have devised plans and passed the rules against the use of plastic bags. The incumbent government is just good at reprimanding the previous governments. Pakistan is among the top 10 polluted countries and doubtlessly plastic pollution is responsible for bringing at status quo. The government should impose a ban on plastic bag manufacturing factories. Also, it should abbreviate the use of plastic commodities.

Multiple convenient solutions have been proposed in combating plastic pollution. Switching to reusable bags would help a lot in reducing plastic pollution. Organic cotton grocery bags, canvas market bags, and, grab bags are the best alternatives to plastic bags. In 2016, after consuming five years searching through piles of waste, Japanese researchers found a strain of bacteria that naturally grew to eat away at polyethylene terephthalate, which is common plastic and known as polyester. This bacteria is known as Mutant Enzyme. The know-how of the proper way to recycle common plastics is necessary, can also do wonders. Arranging awareness seminars on the detrimental effects of plastic is yet another effective way.

Despite many proposed and effective solutions above the incumbent government is tethered to combat the menace of plastic. The government should be mindful that if we keep going on this trajectory, there will be more plastic than fish by 2050. The government, the NGO’s, social welfare organization, civil societies, and we as the unit should join hands together to fight that perilous issue lest it should late. 

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