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What's more dangerous: the consequences of Chernobyl, «McDonald's» or your car?

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It's hard to give an unambiguous answer to this question from the first attempt, particularly if you do not know the latest environmental studies and mortality statistics of the population. We have analyzed this data for you and tried to answer the question «What is the greatest damage to the Earth?».

How many lives did Chernobyl take?

The premiere of the series «Chernobyl» of the American channel HBO, which took place in May 2019, stirred up the 33-year-ago events and increased the popularity of excursions to Pripyat. For others, it was an occasion to raise research and understand the consequences in order to operate on facts rather than fantasies.

The disaster in Chernobyl was blamed for many things in history. It was stated that disaster had been the cause of mutant children and sterile women appearance, alongside with premature mortality. But such a declaration was similar to the myths about Hercules. The eccentric moods in the media, the low level of knowledge about nuclear power and the cult apocalyptic films should be blamed for that.

In fact, according to research data, 31 people died immediately after the accident. And the World Health Organization, concluded 20 years later after the catastrophe, that the total number of victims of Chernobyl from cancer and leukemia would be less than 4,000. At the same time, only in the period from 2010 to 2018 there were recorded almost the same number of victims in the plane crashes: 4500. And this statistic applies only to air transport crashes.

Why is fast food is not only fun and yummy, but also something scary?

Speaking of «McDonald», we certainly mean any fast food. Not to be said that by lunchtime, but Italian pizza with fragrant basil and mozzarella, juicy shawarma and even harmless, at first glance, thin pancake with cheese and ham, are all examples of unhealthy fast food, which together with a sedentary lifestyle leads to obesity. Not only Americans, but also Russians and even Africans are in the XXXL-size list.

WHO data shows that the number of obese people worldwide more than tripled between 1975 and 2016. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults over the age of 18 were overweight. Of these, over 650 million were obese. That's almost 13% of the world's adult population.

In 2017, WHO provided new statistics according to which about 2.8 million people die each year from being overweight or obese. At the same time, 1.35 million people died in accidents in 2018. Pulitzer Center forecasts that in 2030, this figure will almost triple to 3.6 million victims per year.

So, what is a car? Luxury, a mean of transportation or a threat to life?

According to JATO, 44 million cars were sold worldwide in the first half of 2018 alone: it is an increase of 3.6% over the same period last year. Analysts at the World Bank have estimated that by 2050, there will have been twice as many cars on the world's roads as today. That means that over the next 30 years, about 1.2 billion cars will be added.

What's the threat of such a raise? On the one hand, the growth of population's mobility may seem quite a bright perspective. After all, it will have a positive impact on the development of the world economy. On the other hand, such a dynamic will also cause serious problems.

World Bank analysts believe that the growth rates they have outlined can lead to serious economic and social inequalities. In addition, the demand for fossil fuels will increase. The environment will deteriorate, traffic fatalities and air pollution will increase.

According to the annual «World Energy Statistics Review of 2018», prepared by British Petroleum, taking into account the current situation, oil reserves should be sufficient until about 2070. However, this figure may change if we take into account the World Bank's forecasts regarding the growth rate of the number of cars.

But not only cars are responsible for the global environment. Aviation, railway and shipping companies do no less damage to it.

Environmental impact of cars:

  • atmospheric pollution;
  • greenhouse effect creation;
  • noise pollution;
  • electromagnetic pollution;
  • emission of toxic waste;
  • water, land and soil pollution

Ecological impact of water transport:

  • emission of soot, dust, carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons into the air;
  • water contamination with sulfuric gas, domestic, bilge and waste;
  • ecological catastrophes, associated with accidents on ships that transport toxic products.

Air transport and its environmental damage

Traveling on an airplane is one of the few ways for an average person to throw tons of harmful substances, which are contained in the gases of aircraft engines, in the atmosphere at once. Carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, water vapours and sulphur oxides, carbon oxides and solid particles are released into the air.

One transatlantic flight increases your carbon footprint by 3.5 to 5 tons of CO2e. This is equivalent to 1000 burgers eaten from the «McDonald's» or a small burnt-out forest. CO2e is the global warming potential of a greenhouse gas equal to the amount of CO2 with the same global warming potential.

Comparison of flights with burgers is given for a reason. According to the Environmental Working Group's research, 1 kg of lamb will emit 39 kg of CO2-equivalent into the air during the whole production cycle. It corresponds to the exhaust of a new car which has travelled for 130–140 km. The same mass of beef will emit 27 kg of CO2e, and pork and chicken – 12 kg and 7 kg of CO2e.

And now count how much you need to sit on a meatless diet to reduce the environmental impact of air transport.

Environmental threats from rail transport

No matter how environmentally friendly trains may seem, they still pose a threat to the environment, polluting air, water and land during the construction and use of railways. Water sources suffer at the places where rail carriages are washed and prepared, as cargo residues, mineral and organic substances, salts and a variety of bacterial pollutants get into them.

What can we do in this situation?

Large corporations that do harm to the environment through their activities are implementing various environmental mitigation measures. Much of this is due to government programs. Significant amounts are spent on

  • reducing the negative impact on the atmosphere;
  • decreasing the water pollution by waste which gets into the environment;
  • preventing pollution of surface water and groundwater;
  • reducing the negative impact of waste on the environment;
  • restoring disturbed local ecosystems;
  • implementing measures in the field of conservation and restoration of natural resources in specially protected areas.

Another way to save the Earth's ecology is to develop technologies and create new types and methods to organize passenger traffic and cargo transportation. But unfortunately, not many companies are ready to invest in new developments to change the future for our planet.

It is worth noting that not only transport is involved in air pollution. The responsibility for this catastrophe lies also with industry, which actively burns fossil fuels. According to WHO, 7 million people die each year from air pollution in this way.

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, a well-known German scientist, openly claims that 7.7 billion people is too many for our planet. They consume an excessive amount of energy. And since the idea to reduce the population has not found a large number of followers so far, von Weizsäcker proposes to stop trading CO2 emissions and to multiply the tax on these emissions, both for cars and industry, and also not to reduce electricity prices. Otherwise, the same thing will happen as in Poland, where for the sake of saving citizens' money for electricity generation, tons of environmentally harmful lignite are burnt.

Besides, since 29 July, humanity has lived «by borrowing off» the planet because we managed to use up all the natural resources allocated for 2019. And if we do not take action, we are at risk of deforestation, soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. As a consequence, there is climate change, hunger, diseases.

Policies, recommended by the WHO for implementation in all countries of the world, are aimed at developing investments and supporting ecological transport, energy-efficient housing, energy production and industry. This will significantly contribute to reducing the main sources of atmospheric air pollution in cities.

There is another solution offered by the Belorussian engineer and inventor Anatoliy Yunitskiy, Member of the USSR Federation of Cosmonautics, the creator of the SkyWay string transport technology; his solution is shown interest to in dozens of countries, including the UAE, where the project is included in the infrastructure development strategy. He spoke about his SpaceWay program, which aims to put all the harmful production into the Earth's orbit and start industrializing space. Then, the biosphere will be freed from the negative influence of the technosphere, and a man will have unlimited resources of space at his disposal. However, traditional methods of space exploration are not suitable for this task.

If humanity fails to achieve dramatic reduction in emissions, sustainable use of the Earth's resources, and the development of an environmentally friendly transport system, climate change can become irreversible, which, combined with obesity and mortality in road traffic accidents, will call into question human survival.

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