“Most air pollution comes from energy use and production,” says John Walke, director of the Clean Air Project which is part of the Climate and Clean Energy program at the National Resources Defense Council. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is estimated that each year, air pollution is the major cause of the death of nearly seven million people on Earth. Air pollution has several causes such as:
Burning fossil fuels
CO2 and other greenhouse gases emissions
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, it is estimated that deaths due to the devastated air quality will continue to rise till 2100 and the economic value of the health benefits was estimated to be between $50 and $380 for each ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
Ever since the industrial revolution, there was an outbreak of industries in all fields ranging from mechanical production to electrical to technical. All these productions relied mostly on heavy machinery that in fact, combusted energy sources (such as fuel, oil, diesel…) and in a complex series of chemical reactions, released gases. One of those gases is Carbon dioxide (CO2). CO2 by itself is not bad because it is a needed chemical in nature. However, CO2 levels in the air have been increasing drastically to the point that they have become one of the major sources in air pollution, according to MDPI.
Carbon Dioxide from electricity production:
According to the World Nuclear Association, almost 40% of the energy-related CO2 emissions are due to burning of the fossil fuels for electricity production. Because a huge part of electricity production depends on burning fuels, there will be a mass of CO2 emitted to the air. This in turn leads to high CO2 emissions, especially from the countries that depend completely on burning fuels to produce electricity. The visuals below demonstrate and prove that the regions that had the highest CO2 emissions from electricity and heat production in 2014 tended to have the highest air pollution rates. The Carbon dioxide emission rates were highest in the middle east, east Africa and east Asia compared to the low numbers of North America and Europe. The same former countries had the highest air pollution rates (PM2.5) compared to the latter. Therefore, we can conclude that the higher the dependency on fuel combustion for energy production, the higher the CO2 emission rates, the higher the air pollution rates. On the long run, this can have devastating effects on the nature, climate and humans.
What can be done?
After governments realized the devastating effects of the gaseous emissions on the air quality and on humans in general, several attempts were done, such as awareness programs among the youth, restrictive laws and advertising. However, these attempts tackled the tip of the iceberg of the problem. A solution is needed to solve the problem deep from within the roots, to prevent it from happening in the first place. Producing energy from renewables could be a potential solution. The most common renewable power technologies are through Solar, wind, biogas, geothermal, low-impact hydroelectricity and biomass. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, generating energy from renewable sources reduces air pollution, diversifies energy supply and creates economic development.
To reduce the gaseous emissions and air pollution, several countries tried to develop their technological and scientific knowledge of renewable energy production as saw a promise in using renewables, that could one day, be substituted for fuel combustion to produce energy. In fact, developed countries such as USA and the EU countries took serious initiatives to use renewable energy production. The below figures show that countries that increased their electrical energy production from renewable sources over the time period of 2005-2014 had the least air pollution rates in 2014. The EU countries and North America had the highest dependency on using renewables to produce electricity compared to the middle east, east Africa and east Asia and the former regions in turn had air pollution rates that are much lower.
Renewable energy production, therefore, is a clean energy source that can reduce Carbon dioxide emissions and in turn lead to a better, sustainable and a healthy planet that has a rich and high air quality.
“It is the devil’s excrement. We are drowning in the devil’s excrement. —Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso, former Venezuelan oil minister”
The narrative fifty years ago A country discovers vast amounts of oil reserves. Leaders across the world are green with envy.
The underlying assumption Profits generated from exporting this natural resource, commonly referred to as black gold, transforms a nation from rags to riches.
The narrative today Rentier states are war-torn, corrupt, and led by dictators whose power is fueled by the sale of this precious commodity.
I invite you to read Michael Lewin Ross’ “The Oil Curse”. An excellent resource for those who want to understand why such a valuable commodity leaves its owners worse off than their counterparts.
Take Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. Two neighboring countries. Both rich in natural resources. One destroyed by war and conflict. Another a model for quality of life, political stability, and investment. Why are they so different?
The dependencies oil creates on an economy can be catastrophic in the sense that they create patronage systems between the state and its citizens, making it increasingly more difficult to create sustainable economies over time.
How? The notion that a state is responsible for extracting and selling oil to benefit the country is flawed. Upon exporting oil, Iraq has employed more and more government employees to “pay” its citizens what it owes. The creation of these governmental positions, most of which are redundant in nature, has caused high levels of bureaucracy within each governmental body, making it increasingly more difficult for businesses and start-ups to get their businesses off the ground. Iraq ranks 172nd in the World Bank “Ease of Business” scale. It takes 51 days to register property. It also takes 167 days to deal with construction paperwork and permits. This has had detrimental effects on other industries in Iraq. Iraq’s predominant reliance on oil revenue, coined with electricity shortages, a suffering educational and healthcare system, and an unstable geopolitical climate, makes it increasingly more difficult to wean the average citizen off governmental positions and rations and encourage them to work in the private sector.
In comparison, the UAE ranks 16th on the “Ease of Business” scale, and it takes 1.5 days on average to register property. It also takes 47.5 days to get construction permits, nearly a third of how long it takes in Iraq. Their government expenditure levels are half of what Iraq’s are, whereas the average worker’s productivity value is nearly double.
Where do we go from here? For starters, digitalizing the public sector, something that is already underway in the Kurdistan Region, albeit off to a slow start, can help lower redundant employment positions, all while increasing productivity levels. A digital transformation will also pave the way for a simpler business start-up registration process, making it easier for entrepreneurs and businesses to take off, attract foreign investment, and grow the private sector.
Another solution, which in my opinion is a byproduct of digital transformation of government processes, is the expansion of the private sector. Unless the average citizen acknowledges the dependency oil creates on the economy, and the finite (and frankly, volatile) nature of this resource, Iraq will not be better off than it is today.
It wasn’t too long ago that Wallstreet was on the roll, but in reality, that growth was fueled by careless risk takings by the big banks. In the early 2000’s, the Federal Reserve heavily lowered the Fed Fund Rate, thus, cheap credit and NLPs (nonperforming loans) started taking place, allowing many consumers to borrow far more than they could afford. To understand what happened, we need to go just a few years back.
Let’s say you were a home buyer at the height of the market. Before you could get the house keys, you would have had to fill out a pretty big stack of mostly unintelligible mortgage documents from a big bank. This mortgage is essentially a debt note for the cost of the house. Now you might think that your bank would just put that debt note in a safe place while you went about making your monthly payments. But instead, that debt note took a little detour. Those loans got sold to other investors, which made big banks lose all incentives to avoid risks.
And as often happens when gamblers play with other people’s money, or money they don’t have, the big banks bet big, and lost big. And since the banks were so big, the entire economy got affected when they lost. Interest rates started rising back again, many subprime borrowers could not afford the higher rate as a result, millions went unemployed, small businesses couldn’t get credit, and the middle class got squeezed.
That brings us back to your nice new home. If you lost your job, you couldn’t make your mortgage payments. Worse, because of falling home values, you wouldn’t be able to sell it either without taking a big loss; putting you at risk of foreclosure by the big bank.
How did it end?
Wallstreet’s risky behavior had to be stopped. That was the purpose of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010).
The Act worked on preventing Predatory Mortgage Lending by:
Restricting some of the riskier activities of the biggest banks
Increasing government insight of banks activities
Forcing banks to maintain larger cash reserves
After the Dodd-Frank act, the percentage of nonperforming loans (NPL) to total gross loans started decreasing (Data Source: WDI).
Banks have been prevented from growing so large that they put the entire economy at risk if they were to fail. And if some financial firm still gets itself in trouble, despite the strong regulations, it will get shut down. No more bailouts.
“I want people, when they realize they have been wrong about the world, to feel not embarrassment, but that childlike sense of wonder, inspiration, and curiosity that I remember from the circus, and that I still get every time I discover I have been wrong: “Wow, how is that even possible?”
― Hans Rosling, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think
Air pollution has always been an environmental health threat and a problem that countries suffer from until today. Our analysis starts with an interactive Gapminder followed by a brief discussion about Air pollution between two countries Sweden and South Africa .
Each caption will guide you to our main objective that is: Air pollution affects Life expectancies of countries like South Africa where they are subject to a less clean Air (nearly 1 million deaths in Africa are caused by Air pollution).As Hans Rosling stated: Yes we should be embarrassed .Solving this crucial problem remains a big challenge for all the countries. Therefore, a collective work from citizens and government is much needed to build cleaner, greener and sustainable cities.