Words Tamara Batshon
In our day-to-day lives, things that we do routinely cause pollution. Have you ever wondered what pollutes the most? Is it throwing out our garbage, driving our cars to work, lighting up a campfire, or perhaps eating meat and vegetables? Well, actually it is lighting up our house (including everything that we turn on, including air conditioners and other appliances) followed by driving our cars to work. Lighting up our homes and driving constitute 75 percent of our emissions in Lebanon. The remaining 25 percent comes mainly from industrial waste, followed by agriculture and farming.
Simply put, Lebanon has a very dirty power production sector. We still have a 95 percent dependency on imported fossil fuels (the remaining five percent comes from hydro-energy). In addition to being very polluting, power generation in Lebanon is also highly inefficient. A great deal of produced energy is lost through poor distribution systems and technical problems; 60 percent of energy reaches households, whereas the remaining 40 percent is wasted. There are private generators (to compensate for the hours that are not provided by the national electricity company) in practically every neighborhood. These widespread generators are not maintained, nor regulated, and they use heavy diesel oil, which is highly toxic and carcinogenic, bringing air pollution directly into people’s homes.
Pollution from cars
Pollution from transportation, which comes second after power production as the most polluting sector in Lebanon, is largely due to old cars. More than 70 percent of cars are more than ten years old, and 60 percent of the old fleet consists of large cars bigger than two liters. In addition, you have to consider the sheer number of cars on the country’s main motorway; 230,000 cars come from the North to Beirut and 80,000 cars come from the South to Beirut daily. Traffic jams are rampant, as most people rely on cars to commute, because of the limited and inefficient public transportation system. Seventy percent of vehicles on the road are private cars, whereas 30 percent are a combination of buses and taxis. In Lebanon, every 3.7 persons own a car while in Egypt every 22 persons own a car. In Jordan every six persons own a car and in Turkey, every four persons own a car.
After vehicles, waste and wastewater are the next big polluters in Lebanon. There is no adequate treatment of waste, which results in high methane emissions. In terms of global warming potential, every molecule of methane (CH4) is equal to 21 molecules of carbon dioxide (CO2). In fact about 25 percent of the manmade global warming that we’re experiencing today is caused by methane emissions. Methane basically comes from every biological degradation of organic material, such as an open dumpsite or a landfill. In technically feasible landfills where flaring (burning) occurs, the methane converts into CO2. In addition to landfill waste dumps, you have wastewater in waterways, such as riverbeds, septic tanks and the sea, all of which contribute to methane emissions.
Farming and agriculture also contributes to methane emissions worldwide, having a major impact on global warming. The countries with plenty of livestock, such as the United States and Argentina, generate lots of greenhouse emissions mainly from cattle and other farm animals (a cow generates between 70-120 kilograms of methane per year). This methane discharge occurs in two ways: 1. When cows digest their food, enteric fermentation occurs, in other words, the passing of gas. 2. The manure of cows. This organic discharge is responsible for both nitrogen oxide (N20) and methane (1 kilogram of N20 is equivalent to 310 kilograms of CO2). These by-product gases can be reduced by treating the manure or by changing the animals’ feed. In addition, the methane emissions released can be recovered to produce energy.
The role of forests
In Lebanon, we do have one huge advantage, which is our forests. Experts estimate that the green forests are absorbing ten percent of the country’s emissions. Currently Lebanon faces two big threats: urbanization (irreversible change) and forest fires (reversible change). A burned forest can always regenerate, whereas a housing complex cannot go back to being a forest. Clearly the country needs to focus on preserving and increasing the green areas that will encourage biodiversity and reduce greenhouse emissions. The reality is that we can live without the concrete houses but we certainly cannot live without our precious and vital greenery.