The Great Smog

I have always loved to travel.  I have been fortunate to go on many different vacations with my family. We have visited different countries and seen many different cultures.  One of my favorite vacations was when my parents took our whole family to London to celebrate my mother’s fiftieth birthday.  London is vastly different from Dallas where I grew up.  The buildings are old and ornamental, and still used today.  It was so interesting to see castles and royal guards.  I was shocked at all of the differences, but I was especially surprised at the weather.  London’s weather is cloudy and cooler than Dallas.  One morning I woke up and saw a fog over the city.  It seemed like peaceful cloud had come down out of the sky to rest among the buildings.  I asked our tour guide about it and they said that fog is common in London, then he went on to tell the story of the Great Smog in London in 1952.  It was an unbelievably thick haze that blanketed the city.  It was so dense drivers couldn’t see and police had to take to the street with flares in their hands to direct traffic.  The great smog had started out as an unusual weather event called a reverse cyclone.  This is where super cold air at the top of the atmosphere is pushed downward, causing a frigid downward wind.  The city’s temperature quickly dropped, and the coal powered electrical plants began burning more and more coal to keep up with the heating demands.   The smoke coming out of the power plants contained a variety of pollutants.  The smoke could not rise, because the winds from the reverse cyclone were blowing it back down toward the earth.  The air became thick with noxious fumes and between 4,000 and 10,000 people died as an outcome.  This was the first I had heard about this, and just like everyone else on the tour I was very intrigued.  It seemed unreal that something like that could occur.  It was a perfect example of how we, as a society, are enemies unto ourselves which makes me think of how sustainable our global culture is.

I am grateful to be part of a university that is making sustainability a priority.  I recently visited the Office of Sustainability on campus and was blown away by the initiatives that are being implemented campus wide.  I was told about the bus shelters that were installed.  The university has installed solar panels on the roof.  These panels collect solar energy that is then converted to electricity and stored in capacitors.  The energy is then used for all of the nighttime lighting.  The transportation department didn’t stop there.  The buses themselves run on compressed natural gas.  This is a more sustainable than burning gasoline, and puts less pollutants into the air.  Lastly, the university offers “Orange Ride” which is a bicycle rental service to reduce the number of cars on campus.  It also promotes healthy habits, it’s a win-win.  In addition to the solar energy harnessed for the buses, seventy percent of the electricity used on campus is powered by a wind farm.  Wind energy is sustainable and a clean form of energy just like solar energy.   The campus has many strong reduce and reuse programs.  The upholstery shop on campus is a great example of this.  At the shop it takes three days to fix furniture.  This is so nice because then the furniture will be reused and not end up in a landfill.  Additionally, the upholstery shop uses recycled fabrics, instead of old fabrics turning into rags or going into the landfill.  The shop can produce better quality furniture.  These are all great examples of what is going on currently around us at OSU.  We are so lucky that the president of our university is a champion of sustainable living for our current and future students.

I am so glad that I was able to take this class and see the wicked problems around me.  I am now recycling my own trash.  I have no longer drink water out of plastic water bottles, I bring my own refillable container everywhere.  I have also begun thinking about the recycled materials that you could use in the apparel industry.  Recycled fabrics are a huge step toward sustainability.  I also think there could be major impacts from reusing machinery parts once a machine has become obsolete.  There are a lot of opportunities.  I am grateful for all of the efforts that OSU is currently making.  The variety of energy sources that our campus uses are clean and renewable.  It makes me feel secure that on campus the “Great Smog” will not have a repeat appearance.  The city of London had no idea that they themselves were creating the smog.  As they burned coal to keep warm, they flooded the air with pollutants.  As the air became thicker, police were directing traffic with flares and this put even more pollutants into the air and made the smog thicker.  As the traffic slowed and was on the road longer, the vehicles poured even more exhaust into the air and made the smog even thicker and more polluted.  London was fighting the smog, but they were really fighting themselves.  Is that what we are now doing?  Are we just constantly fighting ourselves?  Wicked problems can only be solved when resolution is adopted globally.  We all need to decide to find a solution and instead of fighting ourselves, fight the problem.

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