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Climate change is murder

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Climate-scientists and criminologists make strange bedfellows. And things could get stranger still if getting tough on crime means getting tough on the causes of climate-change, writes Gavin Smith.

Several recent studies have set out to muddy the already murky waters of criminology by suggesting that global warming and lead pollution have both contributed directly to increased crime levels.

So how convincing is the case for the mugger who begs mercy from the court as he comes from a broken ecosphere?

Like a lead balloon

Earlier this year, Mother Jones asserted that lead was so unpleasant a pollutant in its heyday that it created a prolonged crime wave in the developed world.

A heavy metal toxic to numerous organs and tissues, lead is able to pass through the blood-brain barrier and is implicated in intelligence deficits, poor impulse-control and social alienation. It is particularly harmful to the developing neurology of children to the extent that the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) decreed that there is no minimum safe limit for exposure.

Lead was used to help paint resist decomposition throughout history and up to the 20th century. Tetraethyl lead was also used to regulate the ignition point of petrol, raising the octane rating of relatively cheap fuel and reducing engine wear for the gas-guzzling cars of the post-war decades.

In 1993, New York found itself in the grip of a violent crime wave, murder rates having quintupled and robbery rates multiplied 14 times in 30 years: the ‘broken windows’ doctrine of crime reduction was applied with vigour.

If minor transgressions were tackled firmly and consistently by a rejuvenated police force, it was proposed, then rates of serious crime would fall.

By 1996, according to the New York Times, ‘broken windows’ appeared to be fixing the city, with robbery down by 42% and murder by 49%. The trend continued – despite a much dreaded blip in the young adult male demographic – resulting in 75% less violent crime by 2010. So far, so good for criminology; or so it was supposed.

According to Mother Jones, research by Reyes, Nevi and Mielke suggests the fall in violent crime owes more to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) than to the New York Police Department (NYPD).

Plotted on a graph, vehicle lead emissions formed an inverted ‘U’, quadrupling from the 1940s to the 1970s then plummeting with the introduction of unleaded fuel. Violent crime rates formed exactly the same profile, albeit offset by 20-odd years and spanning the 1960s to the 1990s.

“[When] drivers in powerful new cars increasingly asked service station attendants to ‘fill ‘er up with ethyl’”, wrote Kevin Drum, “they were unwittingly creating a crime wave two decades later.”

Matching statistical curves are beguiling, but is there a causative link? The researchers think so, whittling the level of detail and correlation down, in Mielke’s case, to the level of individual city districts.

Complex compounds

Speaking in The Independent, environmental chemist Dr Neil Ward cautioned that, “behaviour is a very, very complex phenomenon and is not just chemical.”  There is always scope for cause and effect to be reversed, he added, suggesting that young children were more likely to gnaw at lead-contaminated woodwork because they were dysfunctional.

The debate is very far from academic given lead’s environmental persistence. Leaded petrol residues remain in soil in concentrations proportionate to historic traffic levels, and become airborne in dry weather.

Nor is our reliance on lead a thing of the past. In a recent letter to The Economist, Andy Bush of the International Lead Association pointed out that it is very far from ‘tantalisingly close to death’, being an essential component in current car batteries, both conventional and hybrid-electric, and in back-up infrastructure for power grids.

Bush said, “The unique properties of lead have seen it develop into one of the most essential and sustainable substances for any future thriving green economy […] Lead arguably has the highest recycling rate of any major commodity at greater than 90% in developed countries.”

The future cultural effects of industrial toxins in rapidly developing countries with corrupt, lax or non-existent regulation remain to be seen.

Hot tempers

Last year, Matthew Ranson of the Harvard Kennedy School reported a direct correlation between crime and global warming.

Having compared weather data with FBI crime records over the last half-century, he predicted a bonanza of additional offences in the USA up to 2099 if there is a 2.8C temperature rise, including “an additional 35,000 murders, 216,000 cases of rape [and] 1.6m aggravated assaults.” The clean-up cost comes in at $20-60 billion.

Naturally, caveats abound. Different crimes flourish under different conditions. High temperatures promote crimes of violence, whereas clement weather simply permits more casual crime as it would any other outdoor activity. Historically, peaks of crime in hot weather have been offset by dips in foul weather, but the overall balance is changing in favour of ‘permissive’ weather.

As with the reports on lead, the author felt justified in stating a causal link because the data matched so precisely, and was replicated in small towns and big cities, in the US and elsewhere.

The wheat from the chaff

Teasing out a clear case from the background static of confounding factors and competing and mutually uncomprehending scientific disciplines is tricky. Could these studies prove sharp enough to cut this Gordian knot?

In Mother Jones, Kevin Drum arguably conflates violent crime with the full spectrum of crime. Lead poisoning may certainly play its part in violence, but crime itself is more complex than his analysis suggests.

In the UK alone, police numbers rise and fall not according to crime figures but according to government finances. Ways and means of recording crime are highly sensitive to the number of cops available, able and willing to catalogue and tackle offences. Numbers can be opaque.

If armed robberies are deemed crimes of violence, have they fallen out of fashion because of the decline of lead pollution, or because payrolls and banks now prefer electronic transfers to the cash movements of yore? The felons have certainly adapted, as the explosion of online crime testifies, and toxic childhoods are unlikely to account for much of that.

Economic and technological changes also shift the goalposts. In the late post-war era, the British, like other westerners, experienced a massive surge in the consumer economy, electronic goods for example dropping in price and booming in availability. When value and availability found the right ratio, VCRs and big TVs became catnip for burglars. Now values are relatively low and availability high, such crime is less worthwhile and so arguably less common.

Crime spikes can also be culturally specific. India has experienced a much-publicised surge in sexual violence. Extreme heat and pollutants – while they are abundant – are a far less likely cause than the legacy of ‘dowry deaths’ or selective infanticide.

India has 37 million more men than women, and rape suspects generally occupy a frustrated and increasingly misogynistic demographic.

Dystopia

While Mother Jones and Matthew Ranson may not have all the answers, their case that social upheaval can flow from damage to the ecosphere seems irrefutable. It could also be argued that mass toxic derangement and overheating American tempers make small beer compared to what could unfold.

Mass migrations from flooded coastal regions and creeping desertification; a surging fear of calamity fuelling religious extremism; the exposure of over-nourished westerners to food shortages; the spectre of mass famine in the developing world; brushfire wars to secure resources as basic as water: The potential for all manner of crime is vast.

Deprivation doesn’t automatically spawn theft – crime in the UK (of which the majority is acquisitive) has fallen by 29% since 2003, while unemployment has nearly doubled. But in extremis, forced resettlement of different nationalities following cataclysm has a grim legacy, even in Europe’s recent history.  ‘Crime’ doesn’t begin to describe the possibilities.

A degraded ecosphere with all that entails is highly likely to engender crime, but no problem or solution exists in isolation. Confounding factors can’t be wished away because they mar the beautiful lines of a working model.

Yet even if the cost of climatic degradation is moot, the cost of inaction is patently higher and by a margin that doesn’t persuade but compels.

Gavin Smith is a freelance writer and a former police officer and editor of policing magazine Constabulary. He is currently working on his second novel and building a property portfolio. His first novel, ‘Bright Spark’, is available for the Amazon Kindle.

Further reading:

UN outlines dangers of mercury emissions in poorer countries

Connection made between violent crime and lead pollution

Why our quality of life is sacrificed by the continued use of fossil fuels

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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