Monday, February 26, 2007
Air that you can see, smell and taste
Last night, a film starring former Vice President Al Gore talking about global warming won the Academy Award for best documentary feature. If someone would have told you six years ago that the losing presidential candidate would make people care about climate change through a film titled "The Inconvenient Truth," you would have probably thought it was a bad joke. Global warming has become a hot topic (pun intended) over the past few years due in part to Gore's efforts, but also because the effects can no longer be ignored. I am currently in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. It is one of the most polluted cities on Earth. It is a place where the inconvenient truth is painfully self-evident.
The air is thick here. It sticks to you. The temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit/32 degrees Celsius with 60 percent to 70 percent humidity. I can see a black, smoky haze as I walk on the crowded sidewalk. The layer of grime on the streets is proof that the pollution has caked into the environment and the people themselves. I begin to think of my own skin, my own pores. The bad air is slowly seeping through them. My lungs are acting as a filter for the exhaust fumes that surround me. The cars, jeepneys and trucks chug along spewing black coughs of smoke in the never-ending traffic jam.
The health effects of pollution don't affect only developing countries. The impact on health is well documented. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that women who live in cities with the most air particles, such as Los Angeles and New York, are at a 75 percent increased risk for fatal heart disease. Why women? According to the researchers, air particles are harmful to both men and women, but women may be more vulnerable, because they have smaller coronary arteries.
It doesn't stop at heart disease. According to scientists at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, rising carbon dioxide levels go hand in hand with a long list of ill-health risks, not to mention a large role in global warming. An increase in death rates from heart and lung ailments has been linked to high smog days. There are now stronger, longer, more virulent, allergy seasons. Did you know that mold attaches itself to diesel particles? The diesel/mold combination is deadly. The pair embeds itself more efficiently deep inside your lungs.
The Harvard researchers also point to dust clouds rising from drought-ridden African deserts making their way across trade winds. Those traveling dust clouds result in skyrocketing asthma rates, even in places such as the Caribbean, where asthma has never before been a problem. Coincidentally, asthma rates have quadrupled in the United States since 1980.
If there is one thing that Gore's film preaches, it is the interconnectedness of the planet. The United Nations reports that global temperatures will increase 3.2 to 7.1 degrees Fahrenheit (1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius) by 2100. The main cause? Human activity - specifically, carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Last night, Gore told Hollywood and 1 billion television viewers to care about global warming because it's "not a political issue, it's a moral issue."
Do you care about global warming? Do you think you suffer any ill health effects from global warming and pollution? Do you have any tips on how each individual can fight global warming? Or do you think that global warming and it's impact aren't real?
Editors note: See "Gore defends energy saving efforts" on The Ticker blog for Vice President Gore's response to allegations that he wastes energy at his Tennessee mansion.
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