I am a 60-years-old middle-class Mexican. My extended family has lived in northern Mexico and Texas for more than a century. I do not think that myself or my relatives, parents, uncles, aunts, etc, have specific awareness of climate change, in part because the weather here is erratic. There was a drought spell that lasted almost a decade (http://wp.iwaponline.com/content/ppiwawaterpol/18/S2/107.full.pdf ), and it didn’t rain once like in seven years. Now, the last few years, it has rained a lot, record breaking unprecedented rain (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/29/16221542/hurricane-harvey-rainfall-record-houston, http://abcnews.go.com/US/harvey-shatters-us-rainfall-record-tropical-system-national/story?id=49491827) The drought and excessive rain just the extremes of an erratic weather pattern.
When I was a kid, concern for the environment, whales, and polar bears, was an issue for hippies and well-to-do idle socialites. I cannot recall a specific incident where I became aware of the severity and relevance of global resource depletion and anthropogenic climate forcing. I took a MOOC on the planetary boundaries framework of the Stockholm Resilience Centre (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html) that raised my awareness. Around that time I also took a Coursera MOOC on sustainability (https://www.coursera.org/learn/sustainability) by Dr. Jonathan Tomkin, Associate Director of the School of Earth, Society and Environment. The course was very interesting, with lots of information. However, I was surprised that a large fraction of the participant were science deniers, and the instructor, despite the evidence presented by himself, was a believer in infinite growth based on the infinite capacity of technology to solve problems and of capitalism to efficiently drive markets. Concern for the environment was framed as “tragedy of the commons,” that can only be solved by private ownership of all available resources, including air and water.
So, I decided to try to participate into climate research because I considered it to be the most important issue of all human history. I applied to graduate schools and I was accepted in the department of Physics at Baylor. It was a shock for me to find out that people highly trained in science and technology were among the more reticent climate change deniers I have ever encountered. I realized that solving the problems of social and economic growth is not a technical issue but a social one.
I have found many talented and committed people doing their outmost to help, or at least minimize the damage (https://silviadiblasio.ca/2013/12/20/climate-change-is-a-crime-the-art-of-fooling-ourselves/). Myself I have a Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/paxterrarum/). However, to be honest I do not know what to do beyond the sensible moves of being energy efficient, eat as little meat as possible, and trim my waste. For example, my sister asked me what to do, I told her to eat less meat, and the same day she invited me to a barbecue, a typical social activity in our community. I talk with my brothers about trimming waste, but we use disposable plates when we have a family gathering because it is convenient, and everybody is busy. I rarely use the public transportation system because it is unsafe, inefficient, hard to access, and not appropriate to move my elderly mother.
The information provided by the #ClimateCourse (https://www.oncampus.de/course/weiterbildung/moocs/climate-change-risks-and-challenges ) is useful but still there is much to do in the practice of everyday living. It is not enough to know, we all need to walk the walk.
Monterrey México, where I live, is the hometown of the largest manufacturer of Portland cement, Cemex. Monterrey has paid the price of that honor with the lost of the commons of the air. Cement production generates NOx and SO2, two key pollutants emitted from cement plants, which have numerous adverse effects on human health and are significant contributors to acid rain, smog, and haze. Mercury is also a problem. The pollutants are converted in the air into fine particles of particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and premature death. Reducing these harmful air pollutants will benefit the communities located near the Cemex plants, in Monterrey, and worldwide.
Air pollution is a mayor public health issue. Air pollution in the metropolitan area of Monterrey is costing the government and individuals between four and eight billion dollars a year, an amount that results from the sum of the costs of health care and low of productivity, mainly due to work absenteeism due to pollution.
Atmospheric pollutants come, from the industry, transportation, and natural sources, such as soil erosion, among others. Determining the relative contribution of the different sources in the emission of the different pollutants is difficult. Some pollutants are formed in the atmosphere by chemical reactions. Among the most common air pollutants and their effects are: carbon monoxide (CO), Ozone (O3), and nitrogen oxides (Nox).
Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) aggravates pulmonary diseases and increases the susceptibility to respiratory infection. Another pollutant, sulfur dioxide (SO2) aggravates asthma and hinders breathing. Air pollution is also constituted by acidification, which involves chemical reactions that involve air pollutants and create acid compounds that damage vegetation and buildings.
There are some regulations intended to control air contamination but the bigger problem with pollution control efforts lies with governmental institutions and how private interests can successfully subvert the intention of environmental rules. Outright corruption and the need to keep the economy going hinders the enforcement of clean air laws.
Mexican society is heavily stratified, and we lack solidarity and civic consciousness. Some of the people in my social circle do not acknowledge that there is a problem, and even claim that there is no pollution problem at all. On the other hand, there are isolated individuals and groups that try to promote regulations and self-control. People publish in their social networks images of the contaminated air of Monterrey, and they are vaguely aware of the true main sources like industries, the vehicles, lack of green areas, unpaved roads. What we lack is a successful model of social intervention at the individual level.