Saturday, February 4, 2017

Climbing out of the Darkness

January is viewed by many as being the hardest month (of winter) in Mongolia. While I understand this opinion, it is not true for me. December is the hardest month for me--so much darkness and the days are getting shorter and shorter. As I write this February 5th, I feel nothing but joy at the CLIMB out of darkness which January provided. It is nearly light when we leave for school in the morning and yet daylight when I journey home in the evening. In fact, the sun is setting after 6 pm these days. 

Chunks of snow and pollution
It's true that six months of the year is winter here. If I remember correctly, our high falls under freezing in late October and we don't climb above freezing until sometime in April. That's six months straight of freezing weather. And often significantly below freezing. Although we get lots of sunshine, the temp is never high enough for the sun to melt the snow that accumulated--LONG ago. For example, please look at this picture of snow that fell on our sidewalks and walkways. Most of it arrived in late October, if I remember correctly (we had our first snow fall in late September), after that time it became too cold to snow in any kind of accumulation (occasional dustings only). So the snow fell and packed tightly on the walkways and then workers broke up the chunks and they are stacked in piles to the sides of the sidewalks. They will remain there until April when they will FINALLY begin to melt. As you can observe, there is layers of white snow mixed with black layers of the coal pollution that settled on the snow. Thus the mix of white and black and gray. 

This past week at school we had a visit from Smart Air Mongolia to talk to our students and staff about air pollution and what a person can do to combat it. I have been wearing disposable face masks but had not yet invested in any sort of purifier for our apartment. The presentation by Smart Air was enlightening. While they are a for profit company, they are NOT looking to make a huge profit, their vision is more about providing affordable purification options to the average person. I bought one of their DIY models and have that in our bedroom. I figure SOMETHING is better than the NOTHING I had before. I hope to get another for Enji's room. I took a picture of the filter on Day 1, will keep track of it week by week to see how dark it gets and how fast. 

Piles of chunk snow wait for April to melt
I've been asked by Mongolians WHAT should be done to decrease the pollution. I'm no expert on the topic. I'm not even a science major. But based on knowledge of how vehicles are managed in the U.S. it seems a first step might be to require emissions controls on vehicles--both personally owned vehicles AND the public transport (Buses--so many of them here and they have terrible exhaust fumes--choking even in the summer months). They could have emissions inspections to ensure all vehicles meet acceptable standards. The EPA has an entire webpage with information on the topic. Not only would this help the air quality in UB (the coal smoke is a huge factor, I know) AND I see it as providing JOBS for Mongolians. 

First you'd need people qualified to run the emissions tests (differing standards for differing vehicle classes). From there, I expect a number of vehicles would require service to update and clean up their emissions output. Mongolians are excellent at mechanical resourcefulness. So why not provide some training and invest in the appropriate tools to learn how to update and improve vehicles that don't meet emissions standards? This creates valuable work for unemployed people AND improves the air quality for every citizen of UB. This seems like a fairly easy first step. The government should institute standards and then PHASE in compliance, perhaps by year of the vehicle model, etc (can't be an overnight expectation--must create testing centers, then have the parts and tools and skills to upgrade). Of course, I think they should put public transport buses at the top of the list. Most of them run on diesel and seem older. They could use some updating and improvements. Many Mongolians (and foreigners) rely on this great system to get around the city--so let's decrease their noxious emissions and make the city a better place for everyone. They can be the leading example!

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