Pollution Scorecard – WIF Environment

1 Comment

Countries Causing

the Most

Pollution

If we humans were to have a collective hobby, it’d probably be ‘polluting the heck outta stuff’. As a species we chuck so much stuff into the atmosphere that there are arguably no pollution-free places left on Earth. Every year car exhausts, coal plants, forest fires and cow farts (seriously) wind up choking our atmosphere and heading the planet towards what we’re gonna call Climate-ageddon.

 But who’s really to blame for this planet-sized catastrophe? Well, it’s hard to tell, exactly. If you measure pollution per capita, then Canada is far and away the biggest emitter. On the other hand, if you measure environmental impact in terms of those killed by pollution, then the tiny nation of Georgia outstrips even China. On the other hand, if you look at it in terms of actual greenhouse house gas emissions, then there is one clear winner… scroll down to see it. But first, the 10 worst polluters in real terms, according to the Global Carbon Atlas.

10. Canada (557 mtCO2 emitted per year)

The second biggest nation on Earth, Canada is essentially an icy wilderness ringed by a tiny human population clinging desperately to its slightly-less frozen parts. It’s a land of virgin forest, desolate mountain ranges, crystal blue lakes, and enough pollution to suffocate a herd of buffalo. Sorry, what?

Yep, despite its squeaky-clean image, Canada is actually kind of dirty. And we don’t mean in the way yo momma is. Like the weed-addicted younger brother of America’s beer-swilling older sibling, Canada is puffing out more clouds of smoke than even the biggest bong-addict. Want the numbers? In 2015, Canada sent 557 mtCO2 (million tonnes of CO2) spewing into the air, from a population of 35.9 million. For comparison, the 11 th biggest polluter, Indonesia, sent 537 mtCO2 into the atmosphere from a population of over a quarter of a billion. And these guys have deadly annual smog that have killed 100,000 people.

Yet Canada may not keep its less-than-coveted 10th ranking for long. In October 2016, the government signed up for a carbon tax plan that could put the country on a path to a cleaner economy. Failing that, Indonesia’s pollution output is increasing like mad, so they’re probably about to overtake North America’s answer to Denmark pretty soon anyway.

9. South Korea (592 mtCO2 emitted per year)

On a peninsula half-occupied by the country of a demented fat man armed with nuclear weapons, South Korea can seem like a breath of fresh air. It’s clean, safe, modern, rich… and very, very dirty. Yeah, that ‘breath of fresh air’ we just mentioned? That was only metaphorical. Visit Seoul in spring, and it can feel like you’re trying to outdo your uncle’s four-pack-a-day habit with a single breath.

Partly, this is China’s fault. The neighboring super-polluter sends its toxic gunk spewing over both Koreas like an annoying kid repeatedly chucking his carcinogenic death-ball into your yard. But the Global Carbon Atlas doesn’t track pollution caused by other countries. Plenty of Seoul’s clean air problems come from the Republic of Korea itself. As NPR has pointed out, the country is powered by 50 coal plants, with more on their way. Then there’s the sheer size of their capital. Seoul has a bigger population than New York or London, and everyone’s driving cars. For comparison, dystopian nightmare LA recorded 7 days of air ranked ‘unhealthy’ in 2015. Seoul recorded 53.

So what’s South Korea doing to tackle this problem? Umm, nothing actually. They’re one of the few countries in smog-choked Asia Pacific that are increasing their carbon output.

8. Saudi Arabia (601 mtCO2 emitted per year)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the Saudi capital of Riyadh is one of the most polluted cities on Earth. Even Beijing doesn’t rank so highly in terms of horrifying stuff that’ll get into your lungs and make you feel like you’ve swallowed a cheese grater. While some of this is thanks to stuff beyond human control – namely, the region’s terrifying sandstorms – plenty can be laid squarely at the feet of the ruling classes. Across Saudi Arabia, industrial waste is let into the environment like it’s going out of fashion.

Part of this may be to do with the fact that the Wahhabist kingdom is a petro-state that bungs its 31 million citizens subsidized gas. Until recently, you could fill-up a medium-sized car from empty for about $7. While prices have gone up, that’s still a massive incentive to drive everywhere. Add lax rules with industrial waste and plenty of oil flowing, and it all adds up to a state where ‘environmental concerns’ are ranked by the government as a slightly lower priority than ‘literally anything else’.

Like South Korea, Saudi Arabia is not interested in cutting its current output by much. Although they signed up to a 50% clean energy target a while back, this was recently reduced to only 10%.

7. Iran (648 mtCO2 emitted per year)

A short hop over the Persian Gulf from Riyadh, and you arrive in one of the planet’s other super-polluters. The Islamic Republic of Iran is home to Ahvaz, a city with the unfortunate claim to fame of being literally the most polluted place on Earth. Air quality is so poor in this city of a million that the WHO can’t even measure how dangerous it is. Their official scale calls any place with over 20 micrograms of tiny, health-destroying PM10 particles per cubic meter of air a hazard. Ahvaz has over 372 micrograms of PM10s per cubic meter. You might as well just wire your lungs up to a sewage pipe as breathe this stuff.

But it’s not just Ahvaz. All across Iran, from Tehran to Qom, blankets of smog severely screw with people’s lives. In November 2016, all the capital’s schools had to be shut down due to clouds of killer fumes strangling the city. We aren’t using the word ‘killer’ lightly. Over 400 people died from the pollution in just 23 days.

Aside from a reliance on petrochemical industries, one big reason for Iran’s bad air is the sanctions placed on it following the Islamic Revolution. Fume-belching cars and low-grade fuel were all anyone could afford for decades, contributing to the current situation.

6. Germany (798 mtCO2 emitted per year)

So, we’re probably all pretty surprised to see Germany on this list. The economic powerhouse of the EU, Germany is also supposed to be unfailingly clean and efficient. Which it totally is… provided you just concentrate on visible dirt. Focus on those pesky invisible PM10s, and wandering through Germany’s cities is like stepping into a blizzard of flying death.

 Stuttgart, for example, has been called “Germany’s Beijing”. While you won’t get the same clouds of smog you get in China, you’ll still get pretty unhealthy air. Hazardous particles exceeded the legal limit for 64 days in 2014, more than Seoul and Los Angeles combined. Elsewhere, things are just as bad. 28 areas of Germany, including Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, have levels of air pollution considered dangerous. In 2013 alone, hazardous amounts of nitrogen dioxide were estimated to have killed over 10,600 Germans.

Things have gotten so bad that the EU recently threatened to hit Germany with a hefty fine if it didn’t clean up its act (literally). Not that they can really talk. Taken as a single nation, the EU would be the 3rd biggest polluter on Earth.

5. Japan (1,237 mtCO2 emitted per year)

Leaping upwards a few hundred million tonnes of CO2 per year, orderly Japan emits enough bad gas per annum to make it Asia Pacific’s 2nd biggest polluter. Man, what is it with these supposedly clean countries and terrible air quality?

Actually, we’re being pretty unkind here. Japan may be a high-level emitter today, but it’s a squeaky-clean utopia compared to what came before. In the 1960s, Japan was what China is now: a smog-choked industrial powerhouse that was raking in billions, even as it killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens with horrifically unsafe air. Some pollution-related illnesses, such as Minamata Disease, are still known globally after the Japanese cities where they were first identified. It was only after a massive push to curb emissions in the 1970s that Japan started its slow climb down from smog-filled dystopia to the relatively clean place it is today.

In fact, things would likely be even better, were it not for Japan’s recent reliance on coal fired power stations. 2014 was the country’s second-worst year for emissions on record. For that, you can thank the Fukushima disaster of 2011. The only nuclear disaster in history to come within touching distance of Chernobyl, it resulted in nearly all of Japan’s nuclear plants being shut down and replaced with coal fired ones.

4. Russian Federation (1,617 mtCO2 emitted per year)

If you need an illustration of how polluted Russia is, look no further than the town of Karabash. A small town 100 miles north of Kazakhstan, Karabash is home to only 13,000 people… possibly because no one else is fundamentally insane enough to live there. The river water is orange. The lake is dead and red. A mile-long ridge of black slag runs through the town. The air is so nasty it causes your eyes to sting and your throat to burn. Children have multiple birth defects. In 1996, the government declared it a disaster zone.

Of course, most Russians don’t live in a city even remotely approaching this bleak state. But even in the richer, western cities, things can still get bad. Moscow occasionally records pollution at ‘especially dangerous’ levels, and, in 2010, was hit by a suffocating smog more like something you’d see in Beijing. Still, it’s the Siberian industrial towns that are really to blame for Russia’s impact on climate change.

Interestingly, the Kremlin doesn’t seem too bothered about combatting this. Although Moscow announced a recent carbon reduction plan, some analysts have said it’ll actually increase emissions in the long term.

3. India (2,274 mtCO2 emitted per year)

When you’re emitting as much gunk into the air as Russia and Iran combined, you know you’ve got a problem. At least, you probably should. But India is something else. Home to five of the world’s most polluted cities, its insane population levels are contributing to an ecological bomb that could threaten the entire region. It’s estimated that up to 1.2 million people die in India each year due to air pollution. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Prague dropping dead every 12 months.

Although India has signed up to cut emissions and move towards clean energy, economists are asking whether this will be possible in a practical sense. India’s economy is booming, but it’s still a long, long way behind even China in terms of supplying a decent standard of living for its poorest citizens. Hundreds of millions still lack electricity. Tens of millions are stuck in poverty so dire most of us can’t even imagine it. Central to India’s recent economic gains have been its reliance on cheap, atmosphere-destroying coal. Take that away, and Delhi worries it will be condemning its citizens to an eternity of moneyless misery.

On the other hand, India is also one of the countries that will be most affected by climate change, with its coastal cities being flooded and crops destroyed. Huh. Some choice.

2. USA (5,414 mtCO2 emitted per year)

Sorry to any frat bros out there hoping to start up a chant of “USA! USA!” when America snagged the top spot. The good ol’ US-of-A ain’t even close to being the planet’s number one emitter. That’s not to say they’re a slouch, though. With over 5,000 million tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere each year, the USA is laying into the atmosphere with more gusto than nearly any other country on Earth.

“But hang on,” you may be thinking, “the US doesn’t have any of the post-apocalyptic pollution wastelands you’ve written about for most other entries.” Well, no, maybe not. But that doesn’t mean bad stuff isn’t happening. A 2016 report by the American Lung Association found more than half the country’s population lives at risk of breathing in dangerous air pollution. That’s 166 million Americans at risk of asthma, cancer, heart disease and reproductive problems, all thanks to the air they’re breathing.

To be fair, the US’s air problems don’t all start in Washington. The smog in Western states frequently starts life in China and India, before drifting into the USA and causing misery for millions. Still, America isn’t totally innocent. According to the Global Carbon Atlas, it’s still one of the biggest emitters, however you cut it. Yet even this pollution behemoth has nothing on…

1. China (10,357 mtCO2 emitted per year)

Be honest: you saw this coming, didn’t you? No other country on Earth emits as much smoggy nastiness as China. If the USA, India, Russia and Japan were all to suddenly decide to conglomerate into a single state (we’re not exactly sure why or how), that new super-nation would still only be emitting the same amount of greenhouse gas as China. If polluting was an Olympic sport, China would bring home gold every single time.

You hardly need us to repeat all the stories of China’s toxic air. The deadly smog that suffocate entire regions. The impenetrable haze that makes seeing more than a few meters in front of your face an impossibility in Beijing. The studies that have compared breathing the country’s air to being as bad for you as smoking. It’s all grim stuff that’s pretty well known.

But hey, at least China signed up to the Paris Agreement, right? And Beijing seems pretty down with combating this whole ‘toxic air’ thing. Not quite. Recent data has shown that China’s air crisis is actually getting worse as time goes by. Expect them to stay at #1 for some time yet.


Pollution Scorecard

WIF Environment

Climate Change For Dummies – WIF Mad Science

1 Comment

Bizarre “Solutions”

to Climate Change

Fighting climate change – a widely-used euphemism for the ongoing climate catastrophe – is humanity’s biggest priority at this point. Or at least it should be, as most governments of the world are simply not bothered with something that may as well be the end of our species. It’s not even like we have to do impossible things to stop it; many scientists are of the opinion that if we just come together and take certain measures (like stick to treaties like the Paris agreement), we could avert the worst effects of it.

Though in usual human style, we’re busy thinking up other creative (and often outlandish) ways of trying to prevent this calamity, rather than actually joining hands and fixing what we’ve collectively broken. Here are some of the most bizarre potential solutions we’ve come up with to the biggest question facing humanity right now: how do we tackle climate change?

10. Blot Out the Sun

There are some definite reasons as to why things have gotten as bad as they are when it comes to ever-rising global temperatures. One of the biggest is greenhouse emissions. Nearly all industries around the world are responsible for it, and if countries like China look like major contributors to it right now, it’s only because the polluting stages of most developed countries are already in the distant past.

There are other culprits, too, though something that’s definitely not responsible is the existence of the sun. In some weird leap of reason, however, some scientists have concluded that it’s the sun that’s the whole problem, and are now looking for feasible ways to block it in order to cool the Earth down. They’re already planning experiments to inject chemicals into the atmosphere to dim the intensity of its rays, and while many other experts have warned against the adverse effects of literally dimming our primary source of energy, it looks like they’re going ahead with trying it out anyway.

9. Smaller Children

Even if the majority of the pollution and global warming is caused by industries, we all contribute to it in tiny ways. Every one of us has a carbon footprint, no matter how many plastic bottles we give up or online petitions against climate change we sign. Of course, our individual footprints aren’t nearly as large as, say, the oil industry, so as long as we do our part in living sustainable, things should be fine.

For some scientists though, the best way we can reduce our carbon footprint is by reducing the size of people themselves. In a research paper, some scientists argue that genetically engineering our babies to be smaller will go a long way in helping the environment. It seems that they came up with this by solving the incredibly complex ‘big people = big pollution’ equation. It may even work, though we think that there might be better ways of doing this without the whole eugenics vibe.

8. Cow Farts as Fuel

Vegans may be annoying, though they aren’t entirely wrong. The meat industry is actually quite a huge producer of greenhouse emissions, and cutting down on our meat consumption may really help with global warming. Some of the animals bred for consumption produce particularly harmful gases like methane, which is much deadlier than your usual carbon dioxide and such. Take cows, who account for 25 percent of all methane emissions in the world. Instead of cutting down on meat consumption, though, some scientists have come up with what they think is a better way: collecting their farts and using it as fuel.

Despite how ridiculous it sounds, it may just be one of the more sensible options on this list, even if we’re yet able to fully figure out the logistics of how it would work. Argentina has come up with a way to equip its cows with backpacks that collect the farts and convert the methane into fuel powder, which can then be used to power various things on the farm. It may be some time before this plan may actually start yielding results, but it may just be crazy enough to actually work.

7. Build Massive Underwater Walls

The oceans are the focal point in our fight against global warming, as they’re consistently growing warmer due to the rising temperature on the surface. What happens underwater affects us in more ways than we realize, or even yet understand. If we had to find a solution to restore the health of our oceans, we’d probably find ways to dump less plastic and oil into it, and limit our greenhouse emissions to cool the Earth down and stop the now-consistent rise in sea level. Though for the scientists who have given up on those solutions entirely, there’s another possible solution: build enormous walls of concrete underground.

We aren’t just talking about walls you build to keep water out of your farm; these would be gigantic underwater structures – starting from the ocean floor – to stop warm water from going near glaciers to halt their melting, and generally isolate the effects of warming to certain sections of the ocean. Who would build those walls? Robots, of course, as humans still aren’t the best at building structures at the depths we’re talking about.

6. Artificially brighten clouds

One of the most alarming parts of the whole climate change debate is how little time we have to be sitting around and having debates about it in the first place. Scientists have given us till 2050 to cut down our carbon emissions to zero if we’re going to even have a chance at reversing its worst effects. And we have the solutions, suggested by those same scientists, if only we could stick to them.

As we can’t really come together to do that, some scientists have more drastic solutions for the problem, one of them being artificially brightening clouds to reflect more sunlight back into the sky (as dark surfaces absorb the heat). There are many proposed ways to do it, like injecting salt into the clouds, or making whole new clouds of our own.

Yes, we’re talking about the same huge floating things found in the sky around the world, and yes, they realize the enormity of the task. It’s a part of a new type of potential solutions to global warming known as sunlight reflection methods (SRM). This is actually one of the more sensible plans, as others include painting the mountains white – instead of, you know, doing something to maintain the natural white of the ice currently melting off of them – or launching massive mirrors into orbit.

5. Cover Buildings with Slime

Even though industries – like oil and mining – are hugely responsible for climate change, they’re only a part of the problem. Modern civilization is inherently built to take from the Earth to thrive rather than coexisting with it, even though there have been many civilizations in the past that knew how to combine sustainability with economic development. Of course, we can take notes from them and start rearranging how we plan our cities and architecture, or we can find ways to keep them as is, with some modifications.

According to researchers from U.K.’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, one of those ways is covering our buildings with algae. It’s not a bad idea per se, as it’s not like they’d just throw algae on the side of buildings and hope it sticks. It would be contained in huge tubes running throughout the length of the buildings, and could help by reducing CO2 levels in the air with photosynthesis. It’s obviously too expensive to do right now, and they’re looking into ways they could make it cheaper.

4. Sin Tax on Meat

As we said above, the meat industry is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse emissions in the world, and if something could be done about it, it’d go a long way in our fight against climate change. We’re not exactly asking everyone to go vegan overnight, but rather collectively coming up with more sustainable practices that could help reduce that.

Some of those solutions are more radical than the others, though — one of them being a sort of a sin tax on the consumption of meat, similar to what we have on products like tobacco and alcohol. An investor group called Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) thinks that governments would start considering this sooner than we expect, and has already started taking measures to invest in more sustainable meat-producing ventures.

Other studies have also suggested a similar tax on meat due to its overwhelming contribution to global warming, and we can’t argue with their reasoning: they tried asking us nicely first.

3. Kill the Camels

Different countries have come up with their own solutions to global warming, each according to how rich they are and how they’re contributing to it. Where countries like India and China are drastically reconsidering the way their industries work, other countries at a higher risk of drowning due to rising sea levels – like Malaysia – have taken to being nicer to other nations, in the hopes that we’d do something about the problem a bit faster.

Australia’s assessment of the situation, on the other hand, is rather focused – they think it’s all because of those pesky camels. In case you didn’t know, yes, Australia has camels. It actually has so many that it sends some to Saudi Arabia whenever they’re a bit short. According to an increasingly-popular opinion in Australia, eradicating camels should solve climate change for the foreseeable future, as they’re one of the biggest producers of methane, and are generally looked down on as pests. While that may be true, if we go by that, we should just kill all the animals in the world, as most of them produce methane. The camels need protection from changing climate as much as we do.

2. Turn CO2 into Rocks

Iceland – and Scandinavia in general – has been particularly worried about climate change, as it’s one of the few countries that will feel its worst effects before most other nations due to its proximity to the Arctic. It’s also one of the more technologically advanced countries in the western world, and has been trying to come up with creative solutions to tackle the problem with the tech that it has.

It may sound a bit weird, though from all the items on this list, it may just end up having the most impact. The University of Iceland – along with a bunch of other researchers – has come up with a way to turn CO2 emissions into rocks, and store them underground so it’s never released back into the air. If you’re asking ‘well why don’t we just do that then’, you should know that it’s not easy to do. It takes CO2 emissions from an industrial facility, mixes it with water and sends it to another facility, which in turn dumps it deep into the Earth. The fizzy liquid mixes with the basalt in the ground, and turns into rocks within a few months, and the technology that can do it is expensive and only proven to be effective at one facility.

1. Resurrecting Animals

If a lot of our efforts to stop climate change are focused on saving the Arctic, it’s because of a more pressing reason beyond maintaining the natural ice cover. It’s believed that a lot of greenhouse gases – worse than what we already have in the atmosphere – are buried deep beneath the Arctic permafrost, and its thawing could release them in the atmosphere, further accelerating global warming.

According to a group of scientists at Harvard, the best way to do that would be by resurrecting the woolly mammoth. The ongoing theory is that the mammoths will do regular mammoth things – like running around, trampling trees and shrubs and generally having a good time – which would help increase the grass cover. Grass, as we know, absorbs less heat than other plants, and could theoretically stop the thawing of the permafrost over a long enough period of time. Though to be honest, we really don’t think we have that long, as mammoth resurrection is still quite a bit in the distant future.


Climate Change For Dummies

WIF Mad Science