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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Setting the World on Fire

Published October 29, 2015 2:59 PM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

These days, one of the more stark images you’re treated as you drive along — particularly in parts of the American Midwest — is the presence of once thriving, but now abandoned factories. With one look, you’re instantly tied to a still-barely-living past that actually isn’t any more distant than the childhood of your grandparents — if it’s even that far.

For as wistful as some might be for the “good ol’ days,” it’s hard to imagine anyone — irrespective of ideology — is particularly nostalgic about the plumes of smoke that once filled the skies above these buildings and served as the unpleasant byproduct of hard work; the foul fruits of our labor.

Although the degree to which we maintain the environment (and regulate potentially pollutant business behaviors) is a subject of constant and often contentious debate, it’s not a point of much consternation that we’re better off having moved away from cloaking all of creation in harmful toxins just to make a buck.

SEE ALSO: Avoiding Asthma Triggers

Which is what makes the current situation in Indonesia seem all the more grim. The country’s farmers are currently engaged in an annual practice of burning forests and peatlands so they can use those lands to produce palm oil, a staple ingredient in many food and consumer products.

The obvious problem with this process, of course, is that the country necessarily becomes engulfed in smoke when these fires are lit and this year, according to Time, those flames are now “emitting as much carbon dioxide on any given day as (is) emitted by the entire U.S. economy in the same time period.”

NASA’s satellites have detected over 117,000 forest fires that have been set this year, leaving the country in a state of constant smog and hazardous C02 emissions. As you might expect, that’s led to the health of many of Indonesia’s 250 million people being put at serious risk and the country’s national disaster agency is reporting that over 500,000 people have been treated for acute respiratory diseases directly linked to the smoke

What’s more, the Jakarta Globe reports that 43 million people have been exposed to particulates from the fires and Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa has stated that nineteen people have died as a result of this manmade disaster. The Indonesian Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency has deemed what's transpired “a crime against humanity” and ABC’s Adam Harvey is reporting that it is even contributing significantly to respiratory disease in many Indonesian children.

So, without straying too far into the political implications and consequences of this terribly inefficient form of production, there’s one principal point to be gathered from all these galling statistics: the strongest case for a greener, cleaner environment isn’t an economic one. It’s a human one.

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