Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Politics of Smog

Year in and year out, winter brings with it a situation where the  Nation's Capital and its surrounding region chokes on a toxic mixture of dust particles, toxic gases like Sulphur dioxide,  Nitrous oxide, and other unmentionable carcinogens like benzene and Chloro-Flouro-Carbons. The compounds form a deadly concoction of a heady smoke that can make everyone very very sick! While no doubt, nature might be blamed for the smog, for not sending in  the western disturbing, the harsh fact is that Smog is the result of human industrial activity driven by greed, callousness, and narrow-mindedness and a general apathy of state machinery.
Analysed from a scientist's point of view, smog is caused by convection, the rising air that carries with it particles of dust, carbon, and other gases into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. When the warm current of moisture laden air reaches greater heights, it starts to form into droplets of water which then bind the Suspended Particulate Matter into particles of dust that then fall down to the ground. Ideally winds might help to disperse this toxic cloud, a heavy rain might even help to wash away the dust from the atmosphere, but then in cases where the winds stop blowing and the rain is not forthcoming, the situation becomes really bad! Winters are worse because, the lower temperature might not allow moisture laden air to rise higher into the atmosphere and the cycle of convection and condensation becomes even more vicious.
Seen from the health point of view, winters bring a lot of health problems for the aged, children and those suffering from respiratory illnesses and this is further worsened with the advent of smog like conditions! The air carrying particulate matter is breathed into the lungs and it begins to coat the airways reducing the lung's capacity to supply oxygen. The strain on the lungs has a cascading effect on the heart. No wonder, a lot deaths of the aged takes place during the winter season, especially in times when smog like conditions have been reported! The adverse health impact of smog can be seen on almost all kinds of living creatures and this includes birds, animals and even plants. Recent reports have indicated that the reason why fewer migratory birds arrived at the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary this year could have been the smog like conditions prevailing in the National Capital Region of Delhi.
While decision makers, politicians and governments might debate endlessly about the causes of Smog and steps one should take to prevent it, the fact is that endless arguments can only lead to a further aggravation of the situation. This brings us to the preventive measures that need to be adopted. Urbanisation and development has resulted in the cutting down of tress, drainage of fresh-water areas, and the conversion of farmland into industrial  and residential  areas. Towns and cities that once had a fair enough green cover have now become denuded, dust bowls with nothing to trap the dust particles swirling in the air. What governments need to do is to plant more trees, even if they have to be planted along roads and highways. Such trees can act as dust traps or even dust breaks. Similarly, a lot of dust is created by building activities which include excavation of the ground, transport of raw materials, and preparation of concrete on the spot. The use of pre-fabricated sections, pre-mixed concrete, and construction of wind-break barriers might help in reducing the amount of dust emanating from construction sites. Also town planners and government agencies should ensure that construction projects are well well planned and that they do not disrupt the flow of natural streams, or even impact the Eco-system. Unrestricted construction of new buildings projects that do not take the environmental impact into consideration, filling up of fresh water bodies,blocking of fresh water streams, cutting down of forest areas, constructing building on mountains, flattening of embankments or 'bunds' have all made their contribution to Smog! The Aravali mountains support a very delicate Eco-system and when building are constructed on the mountains, a lot of the mountains are flattened. The Aravali mountains act as a barrier for dust-storms, but when they disappear, then there will be nothing to stop an advancing desert of dust and sand particles.The politics behind rampant construction of buildings deals with the process of acquiring land, from the farmers if it is agricultural land, and then converting it into free-hold land, this involves bribing people in positions of influence, in fact the whole machinery is involved in the uncontrolled construction of buildings that violate norms. 
Another very important step that we need to take is to stop people from burning plastics, rubber, tyres, paper and garbage throughout the year. People burn more fires during winters as a means to stay warm. Burning of plastics, and tyres release toxic gases and particulate matter into the air. A lot of people are unaware about how harmful burning of plastics and the rubber in tyres can be, but they do so and invite others to sit around the fire. To prevent people from burning plastics, rubber from tyres, and leaves, it would be important to educate the masses about the harms of inhaling noxious fumes from burning plastics and tyres and leaves. This is a problem that results from an ignorance that stems from habits that die hard. The winters in the country can be very harsh, and it is during winters that people enjoy sitting around bonfires nibbling on peanuts and toffees.
One rather well known blame game one of the causes of Smog is the burning of stubble from paddy after the harvest. The burning of stubble is a quick and easy way for clearing the land of unwanted vegetation and preparing the same for the sowing of seeds for the next harvest. Laws have been made to ban burning of stubble, however very few are fined for the same. Impending elections, lack of will power, greasing of palms, and an overall sense of apathy for the sufferers - all of these, are to blame for the occurrence of smog like situations over the National Capital Region.
Smog can also be seen as a metaphor for ignorance toward nature and the environment. It can also be viewed as a symbol for the apathy of government agencies, lack of will power, and overall laziness of people who want to defer decision making for other financially more lucrative matters. The Smog like conditions being witnessed these days can surely be tackled, if only we were to look at it as a serious problem, but first we need to change our attitudes and think holistically about how our actions could impact others, especially those we don't even know. Smog is about ignorance, it is about having the wrong attitude, and the procrastination of dull minds. Planting of trees,introduction of green zones, removing bottlenecks on roads, staggering office timings, repair of roads, and limiting of building activities, can help us tackle this problem.

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