Earth Day: the face of climate change

Today, Monday 22 April, is Earth Day, a day of worldwide activity around the theme of environmental protection. The idea for earth day was suggested by John McConnell at a UNESCO conference in 1969. His proposed date was 21 March, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. However, at the same time another Earth Day, focused on environmental education, was initiated by US Senator Gaylord Nelson, and held on 22 April 1970. This subsequently became the accepted date for the day. The famous American cartoonist Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo, created the promotional poster for the first Earth Day, featuring the message “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

We have met the enemy, and he is us. (© All Rights Reserved)
We have met the enemy, and he is us.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Initially a US only event, it was expanded to an international event on it’s 20th anniversary in 1990. Earth Day 1990 was celebrated in 141 countries, involving an estimated 200 million people, and was an important unifying event in the international environmental movement. Ten years later in 2000, Earth Day took another step forward, becoming the first Earth Day to be extensively organised via the Internet. A huge success, the day featured actor Leonardo DiCaprio as its official host, and involved participating events in a record 183 countries.

This year, a wide range of activities are again being planned around the world, with a focus on climate change. The effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent each year – while the concept may have felt remote, vague and theoretical not long ago, it has reached the point where we can no longer sit back and make it out to be a rumour or conspiracy theory, or a distant future generation’s problem.

To underline the fact that climate change affects us here and now, and that every person, as an individual, can take steps to do something about it, the Earth Day Network has initiated a campaign entitled “The Face of Climate Change”, with the premise that each of us represents a face of climate change, and it’s up to us to decide whether our faces will be those of the villains or heroes in the climate change picture.

As part of the campaign, they are organising a collaborative ‘global visual mosaic’ around the theme, with the idea being that people can upload photos illustrating aspects of climate change from around the world. Photos can illustrate effects, causes or solutions of climate change, and should ideally include a human face and a sign that reads “The Face of Climate Change”. To take part, and to show your role in the global climate change picture, upload your photo here.

To quote the Earth Day Network, “Together, we’ll highlight the solutions and showcase the collective power of individuals taking action across the world. In doing so, we hope to inspire our leaders to act and inspire ourselves to redouble our efforts in the fight against climate change.”

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Alice Hamilton, pioneer of industrial disease and toxicology

Today is the birthday of Alice Hamilton (27 Feb 1869 – 22 Sep 1970), an American pathologist and pioneering toxicologist, known for her research into industrial and occupational diseases.

Many workplaces are fraught with disease risks resulting from the presence of industrial poisons.(© All Rights Reserved)
Many workplaces are fraught with disease risks resulting from the presence of industrial poisons.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Hamilton started working as a special investigator for the US Bureau of Labour in 1911, where she got involved in field investigations of mines, mills, and smelters. Initially she focused on lead poisoning, but later extended her research into other industrial poisons including arsenic, carbon monoxide, picric acid and aniline dyes. She compiled statistics on worker mortality and morbidity at various sites over time, documenting the industrial poisons that caused the workers’ deaths.

By actively publicizing the dangers of industrial toxic substances  to workers’ health, she made a meaningful contribution to improved, safer working conditions for American workers.

In 1919 she became the first woman appointed to the faculty at Harvard Medical School. Here she continued her research into toxicology and occupational health until her retirement in 1935. After retirement she served as a medical consultant to the US Division of Labor Standards, and retained her connections to Harvard as professor emerita. She lived to the ripe age of 101.

Celebrating the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

Today, 16 September, is a critically important day for this little planet of ours – it’s World Ozone Day, or to be more precise, the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer.

The day was officially proclaimed as one of the United Nations’ International Observances in 1994, falling under the United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP. The date was specifically selected to commemorate the signing of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer on 16 September 1987, marking this year as the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol.

So why is the preservation of the ozone so important? I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than my basic understanding of the subject, but in essence the ozone in the stratosphere plays a critical role in absorbing much of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation. Furthermore ozone in the lower atmosphere also plays a role in removing pollutants from the air.

Not a pretty picture.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Now as we humans are prone to do, many of our actions are not all that considerate of the health of the earth, and can be very detrimental to the ozone layer. The Montreal Protocol aimed to identify and address substances and actions that contribute to the depletion of the ozone in the atmosphere, and is one of the great examples of international cooperation towards a global good. As an outcome of the Protocol, the phasing out of the use of ozone depleting substances is helping protect the ozone layer for generations to come. The international awareness created through the Montreal Protocol has also contributed to a greater appreciation and awareness of the effects of climate change on the earth.

To help create continued awareness, UNEP’s OzonAction Programme has developed a Public Service Announcement (PSA) video, in 6 UN languages, for global broadcasting and viral distribution.  The English announcement is embedded below, while links to the Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish announcements can be found here.

 

For more information, the UN website provides some very interesting general background on ozone preservation, as well as information of some ozone depleting substances in different industry sectors.

Protecting our atmosphere (and environment) for generations to come.
(© All Rights Reserved)

In celebration of World Ozone Day, take a minute today to appreciate the ozone layer and how it contributes to the world and the environment as we know it. Not only does it protect us humans from life threatening cancer-causing UVB radiation, but it is also critical for plant health, marine ecosystems and terrestrial and aquatic biogeochemical cycles.

The theme of this year’s event is “Protecting our atmosphere for generations to come” – surely a cause well worth supporting and celebrating.

Tires, rubber, burnouts and environmental disasters

Fancy a burnout? A donut, perhaps?

No, I’m no street racer, not even much of a petrol-head. I’ve just got rubber and tires on my mind, since today back in 1900 is the day that the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was founded. Even through Firestone cannot lay claim to inventing rubber tires (that honour goes to John Boyd Dunlop for the first pneumatic tire, and to Charles Goodyear for the vulcanisation of natural rubber), they were one of the early pioneers in tire production. Along with Goodyear, they were the largest automotive tire suppliers in the US for the best part of the 20th century.

The company was sold to the Japanese Bridgestone Corporation in 1988.

Tire burnouts can be spectacular, but certainly doesn’t help in terms of scrap tire pollution.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Given the number of tires produced and sold internationally, the environmental challenges of dealing with scrap tires are quite significant. In the US alone, about 285 million scrap tires are generated every year. Tires dumped in a landfill is a fire hazard – tire fires can burn for months, creating serious air and soil pollution. They can also liquify under high temperatures, releasing hydrocarbons and other harmful contaminants into the ground. Shredded tire pieces are likely to leach even more, due to the increased surface area on the shredded pieces.

The durability of scrap tires do make it suitable for certain recycling applications. Shredded tires, or tire derived aggregate (TDA), can be used as backfill for retaining walls and as vibration damping for railway lines. Ground and crumbed rubber, also known as size-reduced rubber, can be used in paving as well as in moldable products such as flooring, decking, tiles and rubber bricks. These applications, however, only consume a small percentage of the total tire waste produced annually.

The use of tires has also been suggested in the construction of artificial reefs, but the sensibility of this is questionable, with the Osborne Reef, for example, turning into a multi-million dollar environmental nightmare.

Despite all the attempts at solving the problem of scrap tire waste, it remains an environmental nightmare, and the best ‘solution’ probably involves addressing the problem at it’s source – reducing the number of scrap tires produced annually.  Small things such as driving sensibly to preserve tire life, carpooling, use of public transport, walking and cycling instead of driving – these may appear arbitrary, but are things we can all do, and while it won’t make the problem go away, it can make a difference in the long run.