Author Archives: earthhist

The Deforestation of Madagascar and its Similarities to America- Matt Sargent

Madagascar is known for its extremely beautiful rainforests, but those same beautiful rainforests are quickly dying. 90% of the country’s original forest cover of the country is now gone (WWF). The main cause of this major deforestation is a method of clearing out land called Deforestation-of-TRF-a-case-study-of-Madagascar_img_3tavy. Over 64% of deforestation in Madagascar comes from this illegal method (Callahan). The impacts of deforestation in Madagascar are massive. They include climate change, loss of plant
life, but most importantly, and what will be focused on in this blog, soil erosion. What’s most interesting about deforestation in Madagascar is how similar it is to deforestation in America and how similar the environmental effects of abusing the land in Madagascar are to the effects in America.

Ted Steinberg, in his book Down to Earth, writes about how colonists used to cut down their forests, abuse the land by overgrowing crops, and then move on to new forest to cut down. While the word tavy might seem foreign, the meaning of the word is actually very relevant, Tavy is the method of cutting a forest and burning it, clearing out the land for further use. Farmers use this now cleared out land to plant crops and the wood that was cut down is sold as lumber. After one or two years of growing crops, the field is then left alone for a few more and then the cycle is repeated until the land is physically exhausted. Both of these styles did similarly clear out land, but also led to major problems with deforestation in both countries.
The methods that colonists and the people of Madagascar used were indeed very similar, but they also held similarities elsewhere. The massive deforestation of Madagascar had extreme effects on the environment, including the destruction of habitats. With over 90% of the country’s original forest cover being gone, 90% of habitats in the forest then go with it. That right there is a devastating blow to the environment because of how unique the animal life in Madagascar is. “Of more than 200,000 known species found on Madagascar, more than 80 percent exist nowhere else” (Butler) The aye aye, lemurs (which are now the most endangered species (Life Science), and countless other species are now considered endangered because of their loss of habitats due to deforestation (wildmadagascar.org). A very similar, yet downscaled,madagascartropicalrainforest.blogspot.com_.es_forestdestruction version of this also happened when Americans expanded, creating railroads and moving out West in the 1800s. This was especially the case in the Southern states where the forest cover declined by 40% (Steinberg, 110). Building these railroads and traveling with their horses, wagons, and livestock, they cut down trees and trampled vegetation. They cleared paths they could travel through and fed their animals with the food that was naturally there. Those trees they chopped down and that vegetation they destroyed happened to be home of countless lifeforms. “Deers, bears, and turkeys disappeared as the woodlands vanished. Ginseng, mayapple, and other plants, which mountaineers had collected and exchanged at stores for cash, met a similar fate.”(Steinberg, 111)

Soil erosion was another major factor that came from deforestation. In Madagascar soil erosion led to “the filling and clogging of coastal waterways with sediment” (wildmadagascar.org) of the Betsiboka Esturary, which is the mouth of Madagascar’s longest river, as seen in the images. In the past boats had been able to go upstream but now because of this soil erosion they can’t. In America they got much more lucky. In the South farmers had to begin planting their cotton on hills because of how much land was already cleared out and being used. They also had to use fertilizer for the crop because of how badly they physically drained the land. This all led to soil erosion but instead of it flowing down into a river like it did in Madagascar, it instead flowed down into more land, redistributing the soil wealth. American farmers easily could have caused serious environmental issues like the Malagasy farmers did, instead they lucked out and helped themselves out.

Betsiboka Esturary in 2004

Betsiboka Esturary in 2004

Betsiboka Esturary in 1985

Betsiboka Esturary in 1985

When someone is asked what they first think of when they hear the word Madagascar, they’ll either think of the movie Madagascar, or the beautiful rainforests and scenery of the island. So when I learned that the rainforests are being depleted at the rate that they are, it amazed me that this wasn’t more of a known problem. What amazed me even more was howsimilar that the way deforestation in Madagascar occurred and the effects that came with it were so similar to the way deforestation in America occurred.

Works Cited
http://www.wildmadagascar.org/conservation/erosion.html

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/project/projects_in_depth/conservation_program2/

http://rainforests.mongabay.com/20madagascar.htm

http://www.prixpictet.com/portfolios/earth-shortlist/madagascar/the-illegal-practice-of-tavy-or-slash-and-burn-agriculture-is-one-of-the-most-urgent-threats-to-madagascars-people-and-forests-as-farmers-search-for-fertile-land-in-which-to-plant-their-cr/

http://www.wwf.mg/ourwork/cssp/species_report/factsmada/

http://www.eoi.es/blogs/guidopreti/2014/02/04/deforestation-in-madagascar-a-threat-to-its-biodiversity/

http://www.livescience.com/21592-madagascar-lemurs-endangered.html

http://www.wildmadagascar.org/wildlife/animals.html

Steinberg, Theodore. Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. New York Oxford UP, 2013. Print.

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Look Into the Future: Ford looks to plants as an alternative to plastic. -Sarah McVann

Soybean Car 1941

As early as 1934, Ford was working on making theirs cars eco friendly, but not in the way you think. We are all well aware of the consequences gas emissions from cars has on our environment, but we are less aware of the consequences of plastic. Henry Ford created the first prototype car made with side panels containing soy beans in the 1940’s. He predicted that “Someday you and I will see a day where auto bodies will be grown on the farm” (New York Times), and he was right.

Today, 8% of our oil goes into making plastic. Ford is working to change this, by developing multiple new models that use organic supplements such as soybeans, wheat, corn, and even tomatoes for plastic. As we know from watching Food Inc. soybeans are mass produced, and cost next to nothing. The company and its team of scientists, led by Debbie Mielewski, have created a biomaterial from soybeans to replace the plastic based foam in the seats of their cars. This became a standard for the company, and today they have nearly 15 million cars on the road that are soy infused. Without the use of oil, production of these biodegradable resources reduces the CO2 emissions due to manufacturing by about 30%. Since it’s made from natural resources, the soy-based plastic will break down in just mounts, apposed to the 1,000 years our traditional plastic takes to decompose. These plastics typically accumulate in our oceans in gyres, small moving whirlpools, measuring 7 to 9 million square miles; twice the size of the United States (New York Times).

Ford is explorcq5dam.web.1024.768ing other alternatives including replacing glass fibers with natural fibers, reducing weight of the plastic by 40%, with no reduction in its strength. ‘Mucell’ plastics are also being explored which involve injecting nitrogen and CO2 gas bubbles into the plastic before it is molded, using less plastic and speeding up production time (Edmunds). Nonetheless, Ford isn’t alone in its search for organic alternatives, they have been in talks with Heinz Ketchup Company to find a way to use left over tomato skins and stems from their production to create plastic for auto parts. In production Heinz uses 2 million tons of tomatoes annually when making their famous ketchup (citifmonline). The only problems researchers are running into with these biodegradable plastics, is making them last. The goal is to find a way to prevent biodegrading while they are in use. (Edmunds)

Alternatives to oil use have been explored since the 1860’s, but not necessarily in the same way ford and other companies are doing it today. The invention of cars stimulated an oil frenzy around the world. Grain alcohol was explored as an options, but was more expensive and also drinkable, jacking up the price further in order to keep America sober.

"Leon Mill spray-paints a sign in Perkasie, Pa., in 1973 to let his customers know he's out of gas."

“Leon Mill spray-paints a sign in Perkasie, Pa., in 1973 to let his customers know he’s out of gas.”

Leaded gasoline was studied next, but because of the lead oxide it produced when it was burned, it was poisonous, endangering the health of citizens and the environment (Steinberg 206). Little did these people know, in the 1970’s they would be begging for gas to fill up their cars at the pumps. When

American rushed to the aid of its ally Israel, OPEC (organization of petroleum exporting countries), hiked up oil prices, resulting in a shortage nation wide. People would wait for hours in line to fill their tanks, and even turned to violence in order to keep their cars running.

It is still true today that we are shamelessly dependent on oil, but many people aren’t aware of just how much goes into creating plastic, and the millions of tons of emissions they create. Cars aren’t the only criminals adding to climate change, plastics play a large part as well. With our advancing technology and scientists, we are well on out way to discovering a solution for our plastic problem.

Works Cited

Fiege, Mark. “Chapter 9 “Its a Gas”” The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States. Seattle, WA: U of Washington, 2012. 358-402. Print.

“Ford Develops Car Parts from Tomatoes, Soy Beans, Corn – Citifmonline.” Citifmonline. N.p., 24 Aug. 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://citifmonline.com/2015/08/24/ford-develops-car-parts-from-tomatoes-soy-beans-corn

O’Dell, John. “Soy Seats and Corn Upholstery: Ford’s Biomaterials Researchers Really Do Have a Better Idea – AutoObserver.” AutoObserver Soy Seats and Corn Upholstery: Ford’s Biomaterials Researchers Really Do Have a Better Idea. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.edmunds.com/autoobserver-archive/2007/12/soy-seats-and-corn-upholstery-fords-biomaterials-researchers-really-do-have-a-better-idea.html

“Sowing the Seeds (Paid Post by Ford From NYTimes.com).” Sowing the Seeds (Paid Post by Ford From The New York Times). New York Times, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. http://paidpost.nytimes.com/ford/sowing-the-seeds.html

Steinberg, Theodore. “Chapter 13 “America in Black and Green”” Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. 203-39. Print.

Environmental Justice -Clairee Putnam

A few years ago, Oxnard, CA High School student Dayane Zuñiga began running track for her high school team. During her route, Zuniga frequently noticed a strange odor coming from the local strawberry fields. At first, she did not pay much attention to the smell. Having grown up in one of the largest strawberry growing regions in the country, she was used to odd odors (Gross). However, as time went on, the odor worsened. As she ran closer to the farming area, she noticed farmers working in the fields with facemasks. Zuñiga immediately suspected that the men were applying chemicals to the plants. She wondered though, why no one had warned her team.

Pesticide spraying in the strawberry fields of Oxnard, California has raised concerns among environmentalists as well as high school students and teachers. The fields are immediately adjacent to Rio Mesa High School and Oxnard High School where students engage in outside, athletic training including running track and field.

High school Student Dayane Zuniga, standing in front of the strawberry fields. The fields are immediately adjacent to Rio Mesa High School and Oxnard High School where students engage in outside, athletic training including running track and field.

The next day Zuñiga approached her school Principle and asked if the administration had received notices about pesticide use around the school, attended by more than 32,000 students (Gross). He expressed to her that they had in fact been informed, and she should not worry. Thus, Zuñiga disregarded the issue and went back to her daily routines.

 

 

The strawberries produced by Oxnard and the surrounding Ventura County, amounts to more than 630 millions pounds per year, enough to feed 78 million Americans (Adams). This production takes a damaging toll however, as strawberries rank among the countries most pesticide-intensive crops. In addition, the pesticides used in strawberry farming are among the most toxic. Farmers depend on highly volatile chemicals called fumigants (epa.gov). The state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recognized that the fumigants include sixty-six different chemicals that are the most likely to float through the air and cause harm. When tested on humans and animals, these chemicals have been linked to several chronic health problems including asthma, birth defects, cancer and multiple neurodevelopmental abnormalities (epa.gov)

the-united-strawberries

Once the proof of devastating effects were publicized, the issue became much more real for the people of Oxnard county and the surrounding areas.

 

As parents began to step forward and attack the Environmental agencies responsible for regulating the pesticide use around the community, the actions were mirroring that of the Love Canal protests, and the protests in Warren County referred to as NIMBY.

 

NIMBY, an acronym for “not in my back yard,” is an expression that describes the attitudes of people who vehemently oppose proposed zoning or proposed building developments because it interferes with the safety of their personal property and environment (Gil). In Warren County, the citizens sparked intense opposition to the construction of the disposal site in attempt to save their community. Similarly, Love Canal is a neighborhood in Niagara Falls, N.Y., that gained environmental notoriety when it was discovered that 21,000 tons of toxic waste had been buried beneath it (Moss). Beneath both Love Canal and Warren County, lay the fundamental issue of Environmental Justice.

 

What is environmental justice exactly? In Eileen McGurty’s writing on the Origins of the Environmental Justice Movement, “Environmental justice activists argue that the inequitable distribution of environmental degradation and systematic exclusion of the poor and people of color from environmental decision making is perpetuated by traditional environmental organizations, also known as mainstream environmentalism, and by regulatory agencies.” (302) Essentially, Warren County reformed the relationship between conventional environmentalists and the civil rights movement.

The Spraying of toxic chemicals over farmland.

The Spraying of toxic chemicals over farmland.

In Warren County, African Americans first spoke up on behalf of their community. They believed that they were purposely targeted for being both politically and economically powerless.

 

Similarly, the residents in Oxnard County that first voiced their concerns were Latino families, for they felt as if they were under environmental attack. After a 1998 study done by the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, it was reported that children who attended schools near the largest outpourings of methyl bromide, one of the most highly used pesticides in California then, had the greatest risk of being exposed to all pesticides (Gross). As one could guess, more than 80 percent of the students affected were children of color, primarily Latino.

 

The problem of Environmental justice, or lack thereof it, has been around for years and continues to surface in modern day life. Minorities are suffering the affects of environmental attack. The only way to stop the injustice is for the members of the minorities to speak up. Just as the men and women in Warren County fought back, the Oxnard community members, like Dayane Zuñiga must do the same. At the very least, they will attempt to prohibit the use of the most dangerous pesticides near neighborhoods and schools, protecting the lives of adults and children.

 

 

 

Sources:

 

Adams, Jill U. “A Closer Look: Pesticides in Strawberry Fields.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 28 June 2010. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

 

Gil, Paul. “What Is ‘NIMBY’? What Does This Acronym Mean?” About.com Tech. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

 

“Methyl Bromide (Bromomethane).” Methyl Bromide (Bromomethane). N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

 

Moss, Laura. “America’s 10 Worst Man-made Environmental Disasters.” MNN. N.p., 14 June 2010. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

 

Pictures:

http://theunitedstrawberries.com

http://forcechange.com/17160/ban-use-of-monsantos-toxic-pesticides/

http://thefern.org/2015/04/fields-of-toxic-pesticides-surround-the-schools-of-ventura-county-are-they-poisoning-the-students/

See:

From learning disabilities to autism, diabetes and cancer, a startling number of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise. Children are sicker today than they were a generation ago. http://www.panna.org/human-health-harms/children

Mega Saiga Deaths – Joe Bobek

DIn mid-May of 2015, a broadcast announced that hundreds of saiga antelopes suddenly died in the Kostanay region of Kazakhstan. Soon after, a wave of similar occurrences were reported all across central Kazakhstan. Fatalities promptly rose from hundreds to thousands, then to tens of thousands, and finally to over a hundred thousand animals. More than 140,000 saigas, about half of the world’s remaining population, mysteriously died over the span of a few days. Researchers are flummoxed by the mysterious cause of death; although it’s almost certainly viral.

eScientists expect that pasteurellosis, a digestive illness, may be the cause of this epizootic.  But the presence of this bacteria in the saigas intestinal tract is natural, so it is unknown what ignited the collapse of their immune systems. Whatever the cause, the result an affliction that has 100% mortality rate for the males, females and calves. It begins with sluggishness and disorientation. The affected animals froth at the mouth and suffer from diarrhea. A few hours later, they become unable to stand and breathe properly. Death soon follows.

In recent decades, saigas have experienced quite a few outbreaks that have resulted in large-scale mortality. They seem to always be just on the verge of extinction. For example, in the 1980s, two thirds of the global population of saigas perished. And as recently as 2010, a third of them were lost. What could possibly be the reason for these almost periodic devastations?

In the past, these strange-looking creatures inhabited lands that stretched from Alaska to as far west as the United Kingdom. Unlike most of the Pleistocene megafauna (the animals we often associate as mammoths and mastodons and saber-tooth cats) that died out due to overhunting by humans, prehistoric saigas were also over-hunted and driven to live in the remote steppe grasslands and semi-arid deserts of central Asia.Saiga historic and current distribution

Despite losing their prehistoric habitats, saigas have become well adapted to their harsh environment which is prone to many dust storms, little to no annual rainfall, and volatile temperatures. They now play a major role in the ecosystem they inhabit. They recycle nutrients through their grazing. They prevent wildfires because they lower the over abundanSce of brush. They also serve as a vital food source for predators; having once even fed poor, rural inhabitants after the collapse of the Soviet Union

Unfortunately, forcing this once global species to exclusive areas has made them  severely homogeneous and especially susceptible to disease. It certainly doesn’t help that a majority of births result in twins. Their condition is similar to the dangers of monoculture. Monocultures are a single type of plant growing in large areas. These conditions make monocultures very vulnerable. One monocrop can be wiped out completely by a single virus, fungus, destructive insect, or other disease. A farmer could lose his entire crop, his entire livelihood, to one microbe. Monoculturalism, while producing enormous amounts of food, only encourages more disease, weeds, and destructive insects. These pests build resistance and easily thrive under the unchanging nature of a monoculture. Seasonally, thousands of saigas migrate during the winter to warmer climates. In the springtime, the mothers universally give birth; they often all give birth as close as within a few days of each other. This unchanging pattern is the perfect conditions for a disease to thrive. Recall the arrival of the boll weevil in the United States in 1892.  A single species of insect decimated the poor, cotton-dependent regions of the United States. The effect was so great that it forced a revolution in southern economics.

Likewise the Saiga face a vetry similar threat in the form of an unknown pathogen. This is unfortunate, as the herd has recovered significantly since the 1990s. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 nearly pushed the saigas to extinction. The collapse of government spiked rural poverty and eliminated the means of protecting the saiga. This resulted in an explosion of hunting and poaching, almost 95% of the population was destroyed. Saigas provided easy meals and their horns became highly valued in Asian medicine (This actually led to the saigas’ extermination in China during the 1960s). Their condition mirrors the historical devastation of our own American bison. The North American species of bison once roamed the grasslands of North America in massive herds. The buffalo began to disappear as they were hunted for food by railroad workers and relocated Indians. Now they reside only in pockets of their once expansive territory.

Perhaps the exact cause of the saiga massive deaths will soon be discovered. But whatever the cause, it is all too apparent that without diversity, an environment is unsustainable.

Citations:

News articles:

http://www.nature.com/news/mysterious-die-off-sparks-race-to-save-saiga-antelope-1.17675#/b1

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27598-mystery-disease-claims-half-world-population-of-saiga-antelopes/

http://www.livescience.com/52032-saiga-die-off-mystery.html

Scientific information and data:

http://www.edgeofexistence.org/mammals/species_info.php?id=62

http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/19832/0

Class resources:

Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth:  Nature’s Role in American History, 3rd edition (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2013):  chapter 7.

Lecture notes

Take Advice From A Bulging Mouse: Pesticides Could Be Affecting Your Beach Bod- Maddy Shea

DDT was thought to be a miracle pesticide. By the late 1950s over half a pound per person was sprayed in the United States (Caban). Although DDT had positive impacts on the U.S., such as eliminating malaria outbreaks, in 1962 Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, quickly grabbed peoples attention, changing ideology on the use of the pesticide DDT. Carson argued that allowing DDT to soak into the soil and the drinking water has health repercussions for humans (class, Salerno). She also explained the idea that overuse of DDT in agriculture will eventually allow malaria-spreading mosquitoes to develop resistance to DDT and other pesticides. Once this happens, malaria spraying would become useless and the problem will backfire and get worse. This would force health officials to change to the use of more dangerous pesticides. Carson shed light on the notion that DDT and other pesticides have serious health effects on humans and their ecosystems Due to Silent Spring, people demanded the regulation os industry in order to protect the environment, hence the birth of environmentalism. In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was created, which banned DDT’s use in the United States. Overall, this time period led to major environmental changes such as the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 and The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Class, Salerno); however, pesticides are still a part of everyday life today.
Every time you take a bite of an apple, or dig into a salad, do you think about what that food was treated with before you got it? Probably not. Triflumizole is a common fungicide used in agriculture on foods we eat frequently (Brown). This chemical eliminates fungi from killing crops and is also found in plastics used to distribute our foods. However, it also is being researched and criticized for causing obesity. More than two-thirds of America’s population is either overweight or obese (Brown). This weight epidemic is generally just associated with overeating or inactivity. The next step was research on mice.images A group of researchers, Xia Li, Hang T Pham, Amanda Janesick, and Bruce Blumberg,
realized that there is not just a human weight inclination, but animals as well are becoming obese. Evidence shows that pets, laboratory mice, primates, and cats living in human societies also are showing increased obesity rates (Li,1722). The researchers suggest that environmental obesogens may be playing a role. Bruce Blumberg, a developmental biologist at the University of California, defined the term obesogen in a 2006 journal article as “chemicals that cause animals to store fat” (Li, 1720). Obesogens may also act indirectly on obesity by controlling appetite, satiety, or metabolism (Brown). This led to researchers identifying the common agricultural chemical that appears to act as an obesogen: triflumizole. Through experiments these researchers claim this pest20KRISTOFSUB-articleLargeicide is an obesogen because, “it nudges gene expression and stem cell differentiation toward becoming a fat cell” (Brown).

This is an example of a mouse treated with the pesticide triflumizole versus a normal mouse

This is an example of a mouse treated with the pesticide triflumizole versus a normal mouse

In the most recent study, investigators exposed mouse stem cells to triflumizole. Stem cells can differentiate into bone, cartilage, or fat cells (Brown). There was an increase in obesity-related genes increased in treated cells from the mice. They suggest that future studies should include “biomonitoring of triflumizole levels in humans and an investigation of transgenerational effects and epigenetic mechanisms related to the chemical’s potential influence on obesity” (Li, 1725). This means that they believe more research should be done to determine how genes of effected cases of triflumizole will effect future generations. Further research in this could prove this pesticide we are using today could have negative effects on people when they are ingested through food being produced, just like Carson argued in Silent Spring.

Cristobal S. Berry-Caban. “DDT and Silent Spring: Fifty Years after.” JMVH. Australasian Military Medicine Association, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

Brown, Valerie J. “EHP – Potential Obesogen Identified: Fungicide Triflumizole Is Associated with Increased Adipogenesis in Mice.” EHP. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2015.

Li, Xia, Hang T. Pham, Amanda S. Janesick, and Bruce Blumberg. “Triflumizole Is an Obesogen in Mice That Acts through Peroxisome Proliferator Activated Receptor Gamma (PPARγ).” Environ Health Perspect Environmental Health Perspectives (2012): n. pag. Web.

Class Notes

Coal Powered Economy Causing Suffering of India & Beyond -Anthony Ciaramitaro

“We find dirt and dust on everything,” states Ramji Basor, a struggling farmer living in the shadow of one of India’s many coal power plants (Bengail). Much of the Indian population is getting used to this daily occurrence. Winds blow coal dust over numerous crops and drinking wells, and heavy rains rush mass amounts of soil into villages that consist of dirty, cracked homes from mine blasting. The country is engulfed in a thick air that not only coats its surroundings, but also making it very hard to breath. The desire to industrialize an economy around coal power has left the people and environment of India suffering, in addition to contribution of global climate change.

iWzhoLO3G6XQOf India’s 1.25 billion people, only 300 million have electricity, making demand for energy extremely high. While trying to bring electricity to the rest of the population, India has ignored the international push to reduce carbon emissions. Currently, India consumes 800 million tons of coal yearly to produce a whopping 70% of its energy. Only 17% of India’s power comes from hydropower, while 10% comes from renewable sources such as wind, and 2% from nuclear power (Martain). India relies heavily on their domestic coal resources because it is the cheapest way to create energy and continue their recent economic growth (Cropper). Regardless of this fact, using the domestic resource has weighed a rather heavy cost, as the burning of coal to produce energy has left its mark on not only the environment, but also human health.

Anywhere that coal is burned the surrounding la-la-fg-india-us-coal01-jpg-20151014environment suffers. Like many forms of energy, coal burned energy is created through the boiling of water that creates steam, which rises to spins large turbines. Coal combustion releases emissions of CO2, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and various trace metals like mercury over large areas of land (Guttikunda). As theses pollutants enter the atmosphere, smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution begins to create a chain of environmental destruction. Effects such as smog and acid rain contaminate the water cycles allowing rivers, lakes, drinking water sources, and soil to become contaminated (Guttikunda). As the environment around the plant becomes effected, enormous amounts of health effects are placed on residents within the area. Lung cancer, respiratory illnesses, and heart diseases all have been ruled into relation with coal burned energy. And in 2010, Global Disease Studies noted India’s air pollution among the top ten health risks of the country, with an estimated 695,000 premature deaths from respiratory illnesses (Guttikunda).

While the rest of the world tries to reduce the CO2 emissions they emit, India does little to regulate the amounts they release. Ranking first in world percent increase of carbon emission in the past year, India’s emissions jumped 5.1%; the biggest jump ever recorded by a country. Compared to the United States who only rose 2.9 %, and the European Union, which fell by 1.8 %. India’s total emission is ranked fourth according to World Bank, while China, US, and Russia all currently lead. But, if India’s economy continues to produce the amount of greenhouse gasses like the past year, they could soon move up in rankings and further putting the world at risk of climate change destruction (Oskin).

*note this does not include recent to 2015

*Note this does not include recent to 2015 (Not available on World Bank)

Traditionally, the use and effect of coal has been seen mostly in the United States. The electrification of America began 1882 when Thomas Edison developed the first coal-fired power plant (Steinberg). By the end of the century the United States produced more coal than any other nation and had an economy that functioned under the use of primarily coal powered railroads (Steinberg). As rail- roads began to expand across the United States the demand for coal, similar to India’s for energy, became evident. More recently we have seen more demand for the coal industry when president George W. Bush was elected in 2000. According to Steinberg, under President Bush about half of the United States energy came from coal plants, and was responsible for 39% of the nation’s carbon emission. Furthermore in 2007, President Bush, powering his energy policy around coal, called for 150 new coal-fired power plants to be built in the US (Steinberg). Under Bush the nation was unaware of the implications of using coal until the realization in Martin County, West Virginia when Massey Coal Energy Company found that its wastewater pond had been contaminated with volumes of black sludge that contaminated the drinking water of 27,000 people (Steinberg).

Though economically coal seems to be the best option because it is the cheapest form of energy and is abundant, it does have many negative externalities. When looking back in the United States history it is clear that coal powered economies are unsafe and pose major threats to the environment. India in the future should look to cleaner forms of energy to power their economy like solar or wind. If India does not change the way they are operating they will harm their residents, their beautiful country, and catalyze global climate change.

For more information, see:

Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth:  Nature’s Role in American History, 3rd edition (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2013):  chapter 16.

Atmospheric Emissions and Pollution From The coal-fired thermal power plants in India: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S135223101400329X?np=y

The Hidden Costs: Health Effects of Coal Electricity Generation in India :

http://www.rff.org/files/sharepoint/WorkImages/Download/RFF-Resources-180_Feature-CropperMalik.pdf

Coal-fueled Economy taking a toll on environment

http://www.latimes.com/world/asia/la-fg-india-us-coal-20151015-story.html

Climate Change Takes A Backseat to Coal powered Development:

http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060026415

http://www.livescience.com/47929-global-carbon-emissions-2014-record.html

World Bank

http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.KT/countries/IN-US-EU?display=graph

Pollution in Agbogbloshie: Dealing with E-Waste – Lucas DeAngelo

Have you ever stopped to think about what happens when you trade in a piece of technology for a newer version? Is it recycled? Is it kept in a warehouse somewhere? Have you ever heard of a place called Agbogbloshie?

Imagine only twenty years ago Agbogbloshie, a town located just outside Accra in Ghana, was a thriving, swampy wetland once home to the national soccer stadium. If you were to travel to this town today do you think you would be able to recognize it? Not a chance. Agbogbloshie is now the largest e-waste dumping site in the world (news.com.au) that brings in hundreds of thousands of tons of electronic waste and scraps annually. Living conditions in Agbogbloshie are so poor that the town has earned the nickname of “sodom and Gomorrah”.

The piles of scrap, waste, and trash that cover Agbogbloshie.

The piles of scrap, waste, and trash that cover Agbogbloshie. (news.com.au)

Illegal dumping in third world countries often comes as a result of countries refusing to pay the extra costs that come with responsibly disposing e-waste. Instead, this waste is often thrown in to shipping containers labeled “development aid” or “second-hand products” (news.com.au) and sent to developing countries to deal with, countries like Ghana. According to Interpol: “One of every three shipping containers inspected leaving Europe for the developing world is packed with illegal electronic waste” (theatlantic.com). The same article on theatlantic.com also adds that the average American is responsible for producing sixty-six pounds of electronic junk per year.

Once the waste reaches Agbogbloshie, each piece of waste is stripped for valuable metals by boys as young as ten years old (npr.org) without tools, without safety regulations, and without training. These electronics are then thrown in large piles along with tires and refrigerator insulation, which is lit on fire to burn away the unwanted materials materials. What’s left is a bundle of copper, or aluminum, or whatever metals the previously discarded TV, computer, or stereo contained (npr.org). The workers then sell what metals remain to scrap dealers who but the scraps for $2 per lbs (copper), $0.60 per lbs (aluminum), and so on, all for about an hour of work (theatlantic.com).

Two young boys search for scraps to sell. (theatlantic.com)

Two young boys search for scraps to sell. (theatlantic.com)

Boys and young men are almost forced to participate in this low wage work to pay for things we often take for granted. In Ghana these boys and young men are working to pay for school fees, lunches, exams, and books (npr.org). Ghana is also a country struggling financially, which makes finding work quite difficult: “The government’s so broke it had to ask the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, the electricity blackouts now last 12 hours at a time, and inflation has suddenly made everything from food to school fees prohibitively expensive” (theatlantic.com). These financial difficulties developing countries often face contribute to an increasing supply of cheap labor.

Not only are boys and young men working for almost nothing, they encounter incredibly dangerous working conditions. The e-waste that the workers are working to dispose of leak: ” . . . lead, mercury, arsenic,  zinc, and flame-retardants. They’ve been found in toxic concentrations in the air, water, and even on the fruits and vegetables at the wholesale market” (theatlantic.com). Exposure to the chemicals has been found to lead to respiratory problems, chronic nausea, anorexia, cancers, burns, cuts, etc. (news.com.au, npr.org).

Another example of illegally dumping e-waste is noted in Ted Steinberg’s Down to Earth. The author explains how the United States and other industrialized countries by the 1980’s began dumping e-waste in countries like China, Pakistan, and India. This waste was then dealt with in the same manner, by open flame with little to no safety regulations so that the metals could be stripped. Water samples near a village in China called Guiyu, ” . . . revealed lead at 2,400 times the recommended safe level” (Steinberg 237).

Agbogbloshie is currently facing a crisis that has people calling it one of the most polluted areas in the world, a town even more at risk than Guiyu, China. However, there have been recent improvements that have Agbogbloshie back on the right path with a newly created recycling facility that prevents the open burning of e-waste (weather.com). If these recycling facilities continue to be created, replacing the barbaric method of openly burning e-waste, Agbogloshie might have a chance to remove itself from the list of the most polluted areas in the world.

For more information:

Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth:  Nature’s Role in American History, 3rd edition (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2013)

A Shadow Economy Lurks in an Electronic Graveyard

http://www.npr.org/2015/01/04/374780916/a-shadow-economy-lurks-in-an-electronics-graveyard

Inside a Massive Electronics Graveyard

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/12/inside-a-massive-electronics-graveyard/383922/

Agbogbloshie: The largest e-waste dumping site in the world

http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/agbogbloshie-the-largest-ewaste-dumping-site-in-the-world/story-e6frflp0-1226873455884

Ten of the World’s Most Toxic Places Fight Back Against Pollution

http://www.weather.com/science/environment/news/toxic-countries-fight-back-pollution-photos