• What will my world look like in 25 years?

    It is easy to think about the future with a grim face.

    After all, as John Cohen outlined in the article on top ten population trends, “1 billion lives in slums” and “three billion live on two dollars a day”. But, I do not think the future necessarily have to face the negative fate that we predict. I think if we take another look at our surroundings without overly pessimistic lenses, and scrutinize a bit harder, we would actually see the positive changes that are already in place that have immense potential for expansion. Recycling, for instance, is not a new concept and is already being adopted in cities, workplaces and public spaces such as parks and on the streets. If this idea exists, and certain countries such as Canada provide recycling facilities at work and at homes, then why isn’t recycling more common in other countries around the world? I believe that if there is significant support from the governments to expand, recycling will inevitably change the global landscape for the better. As for the issue of carbon emission from transportation, why not invest in electric cars? The first practical model was invented in 1884 so how is it that, a ‘CLEAN’ alternative, is still not widely embraced? Another alternative to explore further is renewable energy, such as wind and solar energy. California is a prime example where they already transitioned around 20% of their energy usage to renewable sources. As Nicholas Stern stated at a TED talk conference, if California keeps up the current rate of transition to renewable resources, in the next five years, they could reach 33% renewable energy usage. 33% may not seem like a lot, but the implication is that this would bring California’s greenhouse emission in 2020 back to levels that existed in 1990. To me, this is a great accomplishment. When I think about the future, it is much easier to think about increasing levels of the ‘bad’ stuff i.e. greenhouse emission, population, and pollution. But after reading this statistic on California, I believe there is great possibility for a future where we not only halt our destructive behavior towards the planet, but actually expend effort to restore earth back to its pre-Anthropocene state.

    When we talk about climate change, it often appears as too large of a problem for any one of us to solve. But I do not necessarily think this is true-we do not need to wait for a major technological advancement for us to move towards the right direction. As Leonardo DiCaprio stated at the 2014 UN Climate Summit, “this disaster has grown beyond the choices that individuals make. This is now about our industries, and governments around the world taking decisive, large-scale action.” Given the aforementioned strategies that are already in place such as recycling, renewable energy, electric cars, even if we just utilize these more “green” alternatives, then maybe the world in 25 years will not seem like such a grim place as Cohen suggests. If governments act together as a global effort to implement and enforce more regulations such as taxing industries on carbon emissions, increasing subsidies for electrical cars and renewable energy, then maybe in 25 years, the world will actually be a cleaner world than it is today.

    In 25 years, I will be 48 and my kids will likely be in school. I do not want a future where my kids will still learn in school that climate change is an imminent threat. My vision for the future is one where my kids will walk through efficiently designed cities, through streets lined with recycling bins and wind turbines and learn in a classroom that is powered by solar energy. I envision a future where my kids will learn climate change as a topic that is incorporated into every subject and it becomes second nature for my kids to treat and respect the physical world around them.

  • Who am I? Well, that’s an easy enough question, or so I thought. Before travelling to West Africa and reading the articles on climate change, I thought I was an educated, sensible individual that cared enough about the environment to recycle. But now I see that there is much more to be done, even at the individual level. I have to admit, I was one of those people that had an unhealthy level of skepticism towards environmental issues. Trained as a basic science student, I was used to learning about simple relationships of cause and effect, and being able to replicate these scenarios in the laboratory. I found it difficult to consider seriously the complex issue of climate change, with its web of implications that my basic science wired brain cannot grasp. Due to the complex nature and lack of clear causal relationship, it was easier to simply ignore environmental issues because its impacts are less obvious and frankly, I did not know how to solve or even mitigate the problem. Therefore, even with the body of evidence in literature highlighting the impacts of environmental conditions, my attitude diminished my readiness to absorb the information. As part of the undergraduate pathology program, it was mandatory for me to take an environmental pathology course and I remember being very resistant to the course material, and sadly my ability to learn suffered accordingly.

     

    My attitude changed, not from reading the required readings, but from seeing first hand how poor environment can impact health in a very real way. This past summer, I travelled to Ghana for six weeks, during that time I had the opportunity to visit the locals living in Ghana’s biggest slum, Old Fodoma (as shown in the photo). It is one thing to read about the effects of poor sanitation, lack of clean water, and overcrowded housing, but it is different story experiencing it first hand. Before I even took a look around Old Fodoma, I was greeted with the stench of garbage and burning metals. It did not take long for me to locate the source of the smell; within steps to the residential shacks, there is a river that is filled with so much garbage that made it impossible to even see the water. I was shocked to see farm animals grazing through the garbage and kids running around with no shoes, defecating in the pile of garbage right outside their homes. I did not need to be an environmentalist to estimate the disparaging impact of this environment on its resident lifespan. The reality is, the negative implications of this physical space span beyond the visible limits of what the eye perceives-the water, the air, and the soil are not contained by physical borders. What is amazing is that Old Fodoma is in the middle of the capital city, Accra, and other residents in Accra who live in well built homes are unaware of where Old Fodoma is, and seems to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” mindset. While you can restrict where the poor lives, you can not restrict the flow of water or air, and although the garbage dump is visibly in Old Fodoma, it is nonetheless a river that flows out into the Atlantic Ocean and possibly into pipelines within the city. Ironically, as I took a taxi to leave Old Fodoma, the taxi driver told me that he heard on the radio Accra is suffering from a cholera outbreak that killed more than 80 people this summer in the city alone. After visiting Old Fodoma, this news came as no surprise. 

     

    Now with a new lens of looking at environmental issues, as I read through the assigned articles, I could not agree more with the concept of indirect health effects of climate change. I resonated with Myers and Bernstein statement, that “uncertainty about the exact timing, location, or magnitude of climate change impacts is no excuse for complacency.” While the impacts of climate change may not be clearly observable or identifiable, it does not mean that they are not important determinants of population health. I would argue though, if I did not see its impacts first hand as I had this summer, I may read the articles and not gave it as much weight as I do now. Therefore, although I agree that educating people through scientific articles, or in a lecture is important, to truly convince the skeptics I suggest we invite people to see for themselves the very real impact that poor environment has on health. 

  • Environmental influences on health: Toledo + Ebola

    The Toledo Water Ban article addresses the issue of health impacts from contamination of an approximate water source. As I read the article, I was not surprised by its content as the concept of water pollution due to algae bloom is not entirely novel. However, I was alarmed by the date of the article, which was written on Aug 3 2014. I was shocked to find that algae bloom, to my knowledge a well-understood issue, is still a problem that faces our society today. As mentioned in the article, algae bloom are caused by “runoff from overfertilized fields, malfunctioning septic systems or livestock pens”, all of which I believe are causes that are well researched and if carefully monitored, the bloom should have been entirely preventable.

    The article also addresses the steps that the city is taking in dealing with the problem, but nowhere in the article do they address the reason they are having this problem in the first place. In other words, why were they not able to detect the algae bloom in Lake Erie sooner? As I revisit the causes of algae bloom stated in the article, I started to question why there is no maximum fertilizer permissible per square feet of farmland, or proper maintenance of septic systems, or restricted areas to keep livestock pens. In my perspective, the difficult part to a problem is finding the cause to a phenomenon, and in this case the causes are well-documented. Thus interventions/preventions should already be implemented and evaluated, which resulted in my initial surprise at the fact that this issue is still a persistent problem in our society today.

    From a sociocultural perspective, I found it interesting that environmental factors to health can result in widening of the gap between health in the wealthy and poor. In the article, the teacher Ms. Peters “drove for an hour to a Walmart store in Michigan to stock up on bottled water because she wanted to make sure that the local supply was available for residents who could not afford to travel.” As Ms. Peter’s statement implies, there is a finite amount of resources, in this case bottled water. The poor will not have the opportunity to leave the city and buy water if they ran out, thus some residents will have unequal access to a crucial resource simply because of their socioeconomic status. The implication of this is that in a developed country, residents could potentially face thirst, poor sanitation (as the local water supply is not safe for bathing and brushing), and hunger (as the water is not safe for preparation of food), challenges that citizens living in developed countries face.

    Unlike the Toledo article, I was not able to isolate the environmental factor in the Ebola article right away. However after discussing this issue with other public health professionals, I was able to think beyond what is written in the article, and focused on the nature of transmission for Ebola. What if I view humans not simply as agents external to the environment, but as part of the environment? If that is taken in consideration, then the nature of living spaces, i.e. how crowded people lived, how big people’s families are, burial practices, and manner of greeting (handshake, hugs, close physical contact) all become very relevant environmental factors to consider for the Ebola outbreak. Given the current population at 7 billion people, it is possible that human beings themselves are one form of environmental stress that is at an unprecedented level and who’s impact is not entirely known. Perhaps the rise of certain diseases such as Ebola, that has been around for many years is only resulting in an outbreak now because of the change in human movement and increase in West African population.

    In conclusion, from both these articles I resolved to two main questions, 1) why is there not better prevention/monitor in place to prevent water contamination from algae bloom and 2) what constitutes as environment-things around us, or we ourselves?

  • unicef:

    A U.N. Appeal to Save Syria
    By VALERIE AMOS, ERTHARIN COUSIN, ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, ANTHONY LAKE and MARGARET CHAN

    Published in the New York Times: April 15, 2013

    Enough. Enough.

    After more than two years of conflict and more than 70,000 deaths, including thousands of children. … After more than five million people have been forced to leave their homes, including over a million refugees living in severely stressed neighboring countries … After so many families torn apart and communities razed, schools and hospitals wrecked and water systems ruined … After all this, there still seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency among the governments and parties that could put a stop to the cruelty and carnage in Syria.

    We, leaders of U.N. agencies charged with dealing with the human costs of this tragedy, appeal to political leaders involved to meet their responsibility to the people of Syria and to the future of the region.

    We ask that they use their collective influence to insist on a political solution to this horrendous crisis before hundreds of thousands more people lose their homes and lives and futures — in a region already at the tipping point.

    Our agencies and humanitarian partners have been doing all we can. With the support of many governments and people, we have helped shelter more than a million refugees. We have helped provide access to food and other basic necessities for millions displaced by the conflict, to water and sanitation to over 5.5 million affected people in Syria and in neighboring countries, and to basic health services for millions of Syrians, including vaccinations to over 1.5 million children against measles and polio.

    But it has not nearly been enough. The needs are growing while our capacity to do more is diminishing, due to security and other practical limitations within Syria as well as funding constraints. We are precariously close, perhaps within weeks, to suspending some humanitarian support.

    Our appeal today is not for more resources, needed as they are. We are appealing for something more important than funds. To all involved in this brutal conflict and to all governments that can influence them:

    In the name of all those who have so suffered, and the many more whose futures hang in the balance: Enough! Summon and use your influence, now, to save the Syrian people and save the region from disaster.

    Valerie Amos is U.N. under secretary general for Humanitarian Affairs. Ertharin Cousin is executive director of the U.N. World Food Program. António Guterres is U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Anthony Lake is executive director of the U.N. Children’s Fund. Margaret Chan is director general of the World Health Organization.

    Learn more: http://www.unicef.org/

    (via darksilenceinsuburbia)

  • It really is.

    Undoubtedly, poverty still exists, inequality is still evident, corruption trickles down every level, there’s still troubles in your own little bubble. But you know what?

    Today’s a great day to be alive. 

    Sometimes we just got to give ourselves a break, not take ourselves so seriously. Keep our eye on the prize, work hard, and be kind to one each other nonetheless, but… just don’t be so hard on yourself :) 

    Sun still rises in the east, people still hold doors for one another, prices are fair, global temperatures are just moderately high, world war III hasn’t occurred..

    It’s a great day to be alive. 

    M

  • "#2; It’s a great day to be alive."
  • #3; Watermelons 

    Yep. Watermelons! They’re delicious, watery, practically liquid gold in your mouth on a hot summer day. 

    Such a common, seemingly average, inexpensive fruit. But just because it’s plentiful doesn’t degrade its value one bit! It’s just plain awesome. 

    M

  • #4; Trials and tribulations

    We all encounter these, to different scale and in different contexts. However different, I think we can all agree on the fact that they are not something we enjoy and feel blessed about. 

    At least, that’s just how I feel. And today, actually for the past few days, that’s exactly what I’ve been going through: trials and tribulations. Moments of self stirred doubt, of questioning my ability, of tireless efforts met with poor results, of longing to be in another’s shoes living someone else’s life, times where I just want to give up

    But no hard task can be overcome easily, no sweet reward are at the end of smooth sailing, and I truly believe our trials and tribulations is what defines our success.

    Time and time again, I come across my favorite quote “Just keep swimming" from a wise little blue fish in the sea and I would remind myself of all the obstacles Nemo’s dad had to overcome to find Nemo. Did he give up when he didn’t know where to begin, when he had to cross a sea of jelly fishes, and at times of absolute misery that almost made him lose his only friend? No, he didn’t. And as much as this sounds silly basing life lessons off of an animated talking fish, it’s true, and it helps me knowing that Nemo’s dad had to go through a hell lot more, with higher stakes but he didn’t give up and neither should I. 

    Last but not least, as much as I keep saying “life’s so sad right now” or the popular phrase “sadlife”, I cringe a bit on the inside every time that comes out of my mouth because I really don’t believe I live a sad life, in fact, I know it’s because I’m blessed with a privileged life that I am able to even encounter my trials and tribulations. And most importantly, I’m so so so grateful to have such supportive people in my life, pushing me through, thanks js. 

    Phew, that was a mouthful, but hey this is the 4th last blog post, I’m allowed to go on a tangent :) 

    M

  • #5; Running through sprinklers!

    On a hot summer day, whether you’re just in the neighborhood going for a jog, or you purposely set up a sprinkler in your lawn, running through sprinkler is one of the best things summer has to offer. 

    And hey, although the picture is of two little cute kids, you don’t have to be a kid (or cute) to do it! 

    The other day my friend and I went for a jog around campus, and there was a massive sprinkler watering the soccer field, and we decided to run across it. Right after our socks got wet, hair got wet, and thought “why’d I just do that..” haha, but who cares? It felt great, it was spontaneous and along with it, a sense of thrill. No wonder kids are always so energetic and happy, they do things without second guessing, and in turn, are greeted with the pleasantest of surprises.