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Pollution you dont think about

Pollution you dont think about
An example of a polluted river. Photo: Fiji Sun file.
August 12
11:00 2017

Fiji is now leading the world in the fight against Climate Change and trying to mitigate or minimise the damage to the environment that will occur from this phenomena.

The Prime Minister has made it very clear that every single person in Fiji is engaged in this battle.

It is a battle that we must win, the future of every person on earth is being affected in some way by the impacts of Climate Change. And to make matters worse, it is not only everyone on Earth that will be affected, but everyone that is born in the future.

Fiji, as a small island state, is particularly at risk.

There has been a great movement covering all Fijians to get involved and assist in the battle.

This week, one of my children had to do an essay on Climate Change and pollution and I suggested that she do some research with a structured questionnaire to determine the level of awareness.

The results were disappointing, as they clearly showed that the entire respondent base was aware of the fact that Climate Change was an issue, but they had only a vague idea of what it was, what it looked like or what caused it.

Following on with the study they showed they understood what pollution was but their responses were limited to the categories that had been heavily promoted (plastic bags, dirty water, smoke from vehicles, dumped rubbish, oil, piled up vegetable waste, smoke and liquid discharge from factories) but other important Climate Change supporting pollution, or environmentally damaging pollution hardly scored with any respondent.

The point of this is that the government has created a desire in the population to get out and assist in the battle but the people do not understand the enemy so their efforts will not be as effective as they could be and many of the important targets will not be attacked. As any strategy planner knows, this is a recipe for losing a battle.

 

What are the unseen pollutants?

I do not have either the space or the knowledge to provide a complete list, but a guide to different types of pollution that are generally unseen will assist in the creation of a broader understanding of the interrelationship between Climate Change and the elements of pollution.

One form of pollution that that is constant in the west, and is generally accepted, is the burning off of vegetation and household rubbish. On almost every night, at sunset, the sky lights up with the red glow of many fires reflecting off the smoke overhead. But think about it, smoke rising into the air was one of the things that got us into trouble in the first place, sending CO2 up there to weaken the Ozone layer. We are still doing it.

Our coral reefs are a blessing for our beautiful Fiji, but lately we have seen that they are in trouble. The obvious effect is the bleaching which is becoming more wide spread every month, but there are other impacts that also affect the coral, a living organism. Just recently, extensive research in Australia showed that the Great Barrier Reef was in real trouble with about thirty percent already bleached and the rate increasing.

 

What causes the bleaching?

There are several reasons for the problem, with the increased heat and increased ultraviolet rays from the sun reaching the earth being one of the main ones. But there is another unseen and generally unrecognised problem that is affecting the health of the reefs, agricultural fertiliser. Most fertilisers used in Fiji are based on mineral components that have chemicals such as phosphate and nitrous compounds in significant quantities.

When the fertiliser is spread on the farm, a percentage washes away in rain and runs into streams, rivers and ultimately into the sea. The minerals reduce the amount of oxygen the water can carry, sometimes by up to forty percent and the lack of oxygen reduces that amount of coral polyps that can survive, inhibiting regrowth in the reef system.

A second and related impact is that the reduced oxygen also reduces both the number and size of the fish populations, with stories from all over Fiji attesting to the fact that there is much less sea life than there was ten or so years age. This reduces the food supply for villages and the income for local fishermen.

The impacts of Climate Change lead to more frequent and more destructive weather events such as cyclones and droughts.

Prolonged droughts have a direct effect on the growth and health of trees in the forests of Fiji and on the other ground growth and makes everything more liable to destruction by fire. This has been evident through the increasing number and size of forest fires over the past ten years.

The destruction of forests, either through natural events (fire, cyclone and disease) or through commercial logging or careless clearing methods opens the way to soil erosion.

Soil erosion leads to silting in streams and rivers and increases the severity of flooding, particularly destructive flash floods, and results in loss of life and property. There are a number of things that can be done to mitigate against erosion, grass can be planted and grown to help bind the soil, contour ploughing is effective in reducing soil wash off down hills, and replanting of lost trees can assist.

While plastic bags are the biggest villain, the real danger is in the plastic compound, not what it is made into. The bottles usually sold containing soft drink have exactly the same very long life as bags; they are just not as likely to be blown about by the wind.

There are some plastics that degrade faster than others and manufacturers should be encouraged to use these and label them so that consumers can exercise discretion.

Production waste water, particularly if it is carrying acids, phosphates or other mineral based contaminants needs to be disposed of carefully.

The problem here is that these groups of chemicals have a very long hazard life and generally leach into the outside environment and they can do this without anyone being aware of what is happening.

The same is true of waste water from laundries which carry the left over phosphate and nitrates which again have a significant active life and are not visible to the eye.

From a wide range of attitudinal research it is apparent that there is wide support for all sorts of activity to mitigate the impact change and a strong understanding that it is up to each individual to become involved there is a marked lack of awareness of what constitutes pollution and a dismal understanding that there is much unseen pollution in Fiji, even when it is right in front of our face.

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