Who is phasing out what

Volunteer Image Author TheDigitalArtist

The world is phasing out fossil-fuels, old polluting vehicles, plastic products, toxic substances, nuclear power, biofuel, incandescent light bulbs, ozone depleting substances, waste imports, second hand clothes, food waste, and ivory trade. These are either gradual phase outs or immediate bans. So, who exactly is phasing out what? Read ahead to find out.

Who is phasing out fossil-fuels?

Who is phasing out old polluting vehicles?

Who is phasing out plastic products?

Who is phasing out toxic substances?

Who is phasing out nuclear power?

Who is phasing out biofuel?

Who is phasing out incandescent light bulbs?

Who is phasing out ozone depleting substances?

Who is phasing out waste imports?

Who is phasing out second hand clothes?

Who is phasing out ivory trade?

 Who is banning food waste?

Who is banning deforestation?

Last Edited: April 4 2018

Let there be light

2013-08-10 16.29.16
At Kihim beach, Alibaug. Three years back.

I was reading about Vitamin D this morning and found out that shade produced by severe pollution reduces ultraviolet (UV) energy by 60%. Imagine what it would do to us humans, plants, other species and even solar panels that rely on UV. To begin understanding this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has a good explanation on the difference between kinds of UV radiation. Sun’s light contains – visible light (one that we see and is divided into the seven colors of a rainbow), heat, and UV radiation. UV radiation can be divided into UV-A, UV-B and UV-C radiations. The ozone layer, water vapor and carbon dioxide absorb all of UV-C, almost all but not all of UV-B, and hardly any of UV-A. A lot has been discussed on the relation of these radiations and cancer, which you can read on the WHO page.

Levels of ozone at various altitudes and blocking of different bands of UV radiation. Source: Wikipedia

Let’s say that we are living in a severely polluted city. Except on week days when people usually go to work, people usually can access sunlight on weekends, but do people venture out on weekends? I for one preferred staying in to avoid traffic in Mumbai. Owing to severe pollution, we are already short of our vitamin D shot, plus such sedentary lifestyle is worsening the situation. As for the weather in the US, it is a lot of times cold for me, so I usually sit with my sweater on near my window where I get the sunlight I need. I had asked my husband that I need the sunlight to enter the house in the morning, so we rented a house that would provide us that. It wakes us up naturally, without the need of alarm clocks. I detest taking medicines/supplements and my food doesn’t contain a lot of fatty fishes that provide a lot of this vitamin.

“It has been suggested by some vitamin D researchers, for example, that approximately 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM at least twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen usually lead to sufficient vitamin D synthesis and that the moderate use of commercial tanning beds that emit 2%–6% UVB radiation is also effective.” Now where are we between 10 AM and 3PM? – Source: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

On weekdays, during work hours I used to take a few minutes out of my schedule to soak in some sunlight. Not many companies and especially big buildings/corporates have such spaces and high-rise skyscrapers are so-called gas chambers – a case of bad indoor air quality. Nor are we are not getting the sunlight we need sitting in these skyscrapers neither in our cars.

A really good explanation on how plants use light is given here. Plants definitely do not use a lot of the green light in the spectrum because if it did we wouldn’t see their green color. How about plants in greenhouses, do they get the sunlight they want? UV is also known to cause damage to plants but plants have evolved to use it for them instead of against them. UV-B in sunlight actively promotes plant survival. It helps them keep pests and pathogens at bay. Artificial lighting such as those used in vertical farming these days, contains the blue and red region of the light spectrum needed for plants to grow. The primary light harvesting chlorophylls absorb light in the blue and red regions whereas carotenoids absorb in the blue and green regions. However, a simple light bulb won’t help grow a plant simply because it will lack this region of the spectrum. David Latimer’s bottle garden is another testament to plants living inside a glass structure. His bottle garden is a closed system that has been going on for more than 50 years, without any external input after it was closed. All it needed was a bit of sunlight.

Last but not the least, consumption of sunlight by solar panels. As mentioned on my previous blog on basics of solar power, sunlight is made of a range of wavelengths of lights – the electromagnetic spectrum. Silicon absorbs light of wavelengths close to the visible range. Photovoltaic response curve – solar cell output plotted against wavelength will show the wavelengths absorbed. In order to harness the entire spectrum, scientists have to engineer new materials. The effects of atmospheric pollution, according to this paper, may vary depending on the kind of solar cell.

screenshot-www2.jpl.nasa.gov 2016-05-16 11-58-37
Source: Performance measurement reference conditions for terrestrial photovoltaics. C. C. Gonzalez, R. G. Ross. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology for the U.S. Department of Energy

P.S.: “Let there be light” is an English translation of the Hebrew יְהִי אוֹר (yehi ‘or). The phrase comes from the third verse of the Book of Genesis.

Why you should keep in mind your environment when celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi


Haven’t you heard anyone say – ‘Too much of anything is bad’? Or some of you may have read what Mark Twain once said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Mark Twain has a funny way of saying witty things. I recommend you read some more of him if you haven’t already.

Why am I talking about Mark Twain here? That’s because as many in India and may be some outside India are gearing up for the upcoming Ganesh Chaturthi festival, you are going to see shores deluged with idols and other waste products, so many in so little time.

For those who don’t know about this festival, it is about the Hindu-elephant God Ganesha. This festival has been celebrated for years, but it only gained momentum when Lokmanya Tilak revived it as a festival that will bring communities together. And so each year, it transforms every gully, ever nook and corner of India, especially the city of Mumbai, into a holy place during this festival. If Lokmanya Tilak were here now, I wonder what he would think of the scale at which this festival is celebrated now and what changes would be necessary to tackle the ill effects of it. Everything around you evolves. This festival too has evolved into a much celebrated public festival but at the cost of the environment around us.

During immersion, as the tides raze the idols, people go back to their homes. What is left behind are pieces of PoP and a lot of other solid waste like thermocol. A lot of it at a same place can have environmental consequences. Effects of idol immersion on the environment include increased turbidity of water bodies. As the reaction of water and PoP proceeds, it emits heat, that is it is exothermic. Local hot spots like these can cause problems. It also leads to pollution due to paint used on the idol and it may cause bio-magnification – a process through which chemicals accumulate in food chain – that we are a part of.

Three years back, Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray defied environmentalists by saying “Plaster of Paris idols don’t affect environment.” It’s the job of environmentalists to raise concerns and it is the job of such politicians to make sure they are supported to conduct scientific experiments. Call them theoretical environmentalists if you may (just like theoretical physicists). Theories apart, the same year, researchers at the Dr. R M L Avadh University, Faizabad (U.P.) studied the effects of idol immersions on some water quality parameters of Saryu river. The paper is published in European Journal of Experimental Biology.

A year before that, an assessment of idol immersion on physico-chemical characteristics of River Tapti was conducted by researchers at the Zoology Department at Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Mumbai. This research has been published in the Indian Journal of Fundamental and Applied Life Sciences. River Tapti’s conditions have also been verified by other researchers at Department of Biosciences at V.N.S.G.University, Surat and published in the Journal of Environmental Research And Development.

Similar study has been done for Kolar River in Saoner, Nagpur. Researchers at the Department of Zoology at Bhalerao Science College, have called for creative action on handling this situation as their assessment reveals nothing different. Their research has been published in the International Research Journal of Environment Sciences. A proof of slow pollution because of PoP was provided by researchers at M.P. Pollution Control Board, Bhopal. It has been published in International Journal of Scientific Engineering and Technology.

Although my previous post ‘Pollution and festivals’ mentions some other studies that are done over the years 2010-2013 for this festival, I hope more scientific studies into this will be encouraged. As to what we can do about this is – choose idols that have biodegradable paints on them and are made of clay. Communities can use a confined pond for immersion and devise ways to manage waste that is create locally. Many more such suggestions have been made by researchers mentioned above. The links will take you to websites where full PDFs are accessible.

Further reading:

How harmful is PoP to the environment? by Aparna Pallavi @AparnaPallavi1 

Polluted atmospheric layer in the making


‘What is that layer?’, I exclaimed, when I photographed this on my journey to Uran a few months back. ‘That’s pollution’, I said as I gazed at the distant industries at the shore. It looks brown but is it the unsightly Asian brown cloud? It could be a photochemical smog. Its brown color reflects its NOx content. A process in which primary pollutants like NOx are converted to secondary pollutants like ozone in the presence of sunlight.

Nature 448, 575-578 (2 August 2007)
2002 Study : Nature 448, 575-578 (2 August 2007)

The Asian Brown Cloud was discovered in 1999 by an Indian scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan and his team. It is not just dominant over Asia, but the name stuck. It is also called the Giant Brown Cloud or the Atmospheric Brown Cloud (ABC).

Common air pollutants:

  • Sulphur oxides (SOx)
  • Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
  • Carbon Monoxide (CO)
  • Volatile OrganiccCompounds (VOCs)
  • Ammonia (NH3)
  • Cloroflourocarbons (CFCs)
  • Ground level ozone
  • Soot

These are emitted from several processes: man-made and natural. Natural processes include volcanoes, thunderstorm, forest fire and dust storms. Man-made processes include air-conditioners, industrial processes, vehicle exhaust, refrigerators, aerosol sprays etc.

Aerosols and Particulate Matter:

Aerosols are suspensions of particulate matter in a gas/air. This particular matter can be a solid or a liquid. The mentioned gaseous pollutants eventually form particular matter through a process called particle conversion process. Particulates are classified as follows:

Classification based on diameter:

Inhalable coarse particles (larger than 2.5 micrometers and smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter). Popularly known as PM10 and are capable of causing severe health damage.

Fine particles (2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller). These cause visibility problems. and mostly come out of diesel exhaust system of a car. Filters are put in place in the system to control their emission into the atmosphere. PM2.5 and PM1 are popular in this category.

Classification based on formation:

Primary: Emitted directly from sources like smoke stacks

Secondary: Created via a chemical reaction in the atmosphere

By observing the data by World Bank, you can see developing countries like Africa and India have high concentrations of PM10. The reasons for these are lack of advancements or implementation of pollution control technology and use of primitive ones such as dung-fueled cooking used in many Indian homes.

Aerosols and climate change:

Brown clouds have been known to disrupt existing weather patterns because these clouds flow distances. Soot, formed from incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons is a mixture of carbon particles called black carbon and organic acids. It absorbs sunlight because it is dark. Soot is believed to be the second largest contributor to global warming after greenhouse gas emissions. Aerosols such as nitrates and sulphates on the other hand have a cooling effect. Cool surfaces mean less evaporation of water from oceans. Less evaporation means less rain and then drought. Northern India is already seeing drought like conditions. This threatens us at so many levels: no water, no food, polluted air to breathe.

The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in India was enacted in the year 1981 and amended 6 years later. After three decades, India’s air quality ranks among the lowest five countries in the world. Aerosols contributing industries include:

  • Base metal and iron ore mining
  • Cement manufacturing
  • Coal mining and production
  • Electricity generation
  • Foundries
  • Iron ore and steel melting
  • Lead and zinc smelting
  • Phosphate fertilizer plants

Water pollution has been taken up very seriously by the Indian Government, as is seen from the reports of the new budget. National Action Plan on Climate Change and the new ministry of Forest and Climate change will hopefully stop atmospheric pollution from getting worse. UN report says that over 2/3rd Indian population still rely on dung-based fuel. Providing a cleaner source of energy to such a large part of the country is a big challenge.

Kerosene is used for lighting mainly in villages and also as a fuel to run generators in small towns. The government’s inability to provide electricity to each and every household is compensated by giving huge subsidy to villagers on kerosene. If this subsidy is removed, it will put onus on the government to electrify all villages on an urgent basis. – Why petro products subsidies should be done away with

The following 13 mega-city ABC hotspots in Asia have been identified and reported by UNEP.


Further reading on ABCs:


A conversation with the scientist who discovered ABCs: In India, Battling Global Warming One Stove at a Time – PBS Newshour

Book Review: Pollution by N. Seshagiri


Pollution by Dr. Seshagiri lays down a rationale for pollution control. The book covers all kinds of pollution: air, water, solid waste, and noise. Information is well supported by statistical data. A lovely book to look at with illustrations by many artists. A book for an age group of 12-14 they say, but a very good reminder for grown-ups. It warns that Ganga is not pure anymore. The situation hasn’t changed much since the book’s arrival.

Litterbug is not a bug or is it?


In a 2006 Indian film, an underworld don turned Radio Jockey tries to resolve callers’ problem with lessons learnt from Mahatma Gandhi (Gandhism/Gandhigiri). One such scene involves a caller fuming over an issue with his neighbor. His neighbor happens to be a compulsive spitter.

DSC_0059I wonder if his compulsiveness to spit on the caller’s door has anything to do with what he chews. In India, many people who are like this spitter chew on a psychoactive preparation called ‘paan’. Some swallow and some spit. The latter seems more prevalent. Munnabhai, the don-cum-RJ in the movie offers help. He advises his caller to greet the spitter with a smile each time he catches him spit and clean up the mess he has made. For days at end the spitter continues his thoughtless act. Frustrated, the caller calls Munnabhai again and is suggested to continue to do the same. Finally, as is shown in the movie, the spitter feels ashamed to spew out the staining cocktail and instead apologizes to the caller. The caller rejoices and so do the listeners. So will you if you watch the clip I just described, if you haven’t already.

Why should anything be clean?

Are people more inclined to litter a place that is already dirtied than to do the same at a cleaner place? May be. The most important question is why should places be kept clean? Places that aren’t clean not only breed diseases, but also lose its aesthetic value (which unfortunately many in India don’t consider). As children we are taught of hygiene but when we grow up why do we fail to apply it beyond ourselves or ours houses? The answer may lie in the absence of direct effects of such activities. It’s not like how we recoil from fire in order to protect ourselves from a burn. An example of indirect effect would be Leptospirosis, a disease. Rats are attracted to leftovers that people discard in public places. If any of these rats bears a disease, its infected urine can contaminate any water body it comes in contact with. If you happen to have an open wound on your body, let’s say your feet, and if you put your feet in such a water body, you can acquire a lethal disease called Leptospirosis. This is just one example.

Aesthetics and human psychology:

It is human nature to be attracted to beautiful things. It is also human nature to be repelled by things that look ugly. While the perception of beauty is subjective, there are many examples where we share the same view on things that are beautiful or ugly. A litter-free place can contribute to emotional well-being of people. If I ask you to choose between two apartments to live: one clean and the other with stained and chipped walls, which one would you prefer? I bet we have an unanimous answer. We would all choose the clean place to live. This being a constricted question, a much broader question would be one that applies to public spaces. We would all like to spend our time in a garden that is clean and green, won’t we?

In the general field of Environmental Psychology an increasing number of studies propose that subjects’ general well-being can be significantly increased as a result of contact with environments considered to have high aesthetic value. – Psychology in Spain, 2000, Vol. 4. No 1, 13-27 Colegio Oficial de Psicólogos

In 1988, Taylor and Gousie found that the architectural settings of a school can “facilitate the transmission of cultural values, stimulate or subdue, aid in creativity or slow mental perception, and cause fear or joy” – University of Georgia

German researchers found that just glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation. – New York Times

When there are such undeniable benefits from clean and beautiful things, why not inculcate them into our lives?

Sanitation – a privilege in India:

In India, while sanitation and hygiene is a privilege for many, many also neglect it. The repercussions of which cost lives and the economy.

A recent study by the Water and Sanitation Program of the World Bank estimates that inadequate sanitation costs India the equivalent of 6.4% of its GDP.  –India Sanitation Portal

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has always been on the forefront when it comes to creating awareness. Many attempts have been made to keep India clean and green. The new Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has called for a cleanliness drive for Indian Railways. The purpose of this drive is to create awareness among the travelers to keep railway areas clean.

Plastic litter:

There’s so much plastic litter out there that if you set out to collect it from all over the world and sell it, recycle it, convert it fuel, you might end up on Forbes’ list of richest people in the world. There is so much of it that a new kind of rock is being naturally formed out of this plastic waste. There has been so much of it for so long time that bacteria have started to live on it. This is a serious problem for every part of the world and vertebrates mistakenly eating it – the fishes especially. Humans eat fish, right? The joke is on us.

Recently, Illinois became the first state to ban microbeads – small plastic bits found in cosmetic products such as facewashes.

Plastic litter has many environmental consequences, it not only harms us but also other living creatures that come in contact with it. It looks as if plastic litter is the only litter we make. It is not the case. Plastic or not, litter causes problems.

According to the most authoritative study, it constitutes only 0.6 percent of visible litter across the United States. So, even banning all plastic bags would have little impact on overall litter. – Fox & Hounds Daily

We can deal with this. It starts with me and you.

‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ – Mahatma Gandhi