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Thursday, November 22, 2012

NEWS: Exercising in Polluted Air

Originally posted at Outside Magazine, July 05, 2012
By Alex Hutchinson
In recent studies, exercise has been show to counteract the ravages of air pollution.
Photographer: Tim Barber
IN 2008, WHEN the world’s best athletes descended on Beijing for the Summer Olympics, speculation swirled about whether they’d be sporting a controversial accessory: a pollution mask. Athletes were worried about the negative effects of Beijing’s notoriously polluted air, and the image of track cyclists from the American team stepping off the plane and donning black surgical masks presented the perfect visual kicker for months of news stories hyping the issue. “Pollution: Dangerous to Joggers,” declared a 2007 Time magazine headline. “Joggers Can’t Run From Pollution,” proclaimed another.

The evidence behind these warnings was solid. Breathing polluted air triggers inflammation and oxidative stress that increases your risk of asthma, stroke, and heart failure. Because exercise means deeper breathing, more particles bypass the nasal filtering (a.k.a. nose hairs) that trap noxious particulates, and they lodge lower down in your airway. A ride on a smoggy day makes a bad situation worse.

The question is: worse than what? Sometimes you have the option of heading to the gym or hopping on a treadmill on bad-air days (which usually hit their peak now, in the dog days of summer, because pollutants like ozone require sunlight to form). But other times, you have to decide whether to cancel a soccer game or a road ride. In these situations, is exercising in dirty air worse than not exercising at all? That’s the dilemma researchers are now tackling, and there are hints that the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of frequent exercise counteract the ravages of air pollution.

In the past, most studies of exercise and pollution involved subjects—whether mice or humans—hopping on a treadmill for half an hour while sucking on a tailpipe. Researchers then looked for problems immediately afterward. What those studies overlooked were the benefits of exercise that accrue over time. New research aims to address this. In a report published in an upcoming issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, environmental-health researcher Rodolfo de Paula Vieira and his colleagues at the University of São Paulo stretched the timeline of their study out to five weeks. Mice that were exposed to diesel exhaust without exercising saw a dramatic spike in lung inflammation and oxidative damage, as expected. By contrast, mice that exercised five days a week during that period were almost completely protected from the pollution damage.

In human studies, researchers have found that daily hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiovascular problems are in perfect sync with air-quality readings. But when you take a longer view, the health benefits of exercise far outweigh the added risk. In 2010, researchers in the Netherlands, using epidemiological data, estimated that the air-pollution effects of switching from a car to a bike for short daily trips in polluted cities would subtract between 0.8 and 40 days from the average life span—but the additional exercise would extend it by three to 14 months.

At the University of British Columbia’s Environmental Physiology Lab, researchers Luisa Giles and Michael Koehle are leading a study on whether the balance between the positive and negative effects of exercise and pollution depends on how hard you’re working out. Volunteers come to the lab for seven consecutive weeks to cycle at varying intensities. One group breathes air tainted with exhaust from a diesel engine; the other breathes clean, filtered air. Afterward, the effect on both groups’ lungs, heart, and blood vessels is measured. Results aren’t yet available, but the pilot tests were promising. “It came out that exercise was overpowering the effect of the pollution,” Koehle says. “We don’t have enough data yet to turn that into anything, but it was just kind of, ‘Wow.’”

Not everyone benefits—or suffers—equally. “A lot of what happens really comes down to genetics,” says Ken Rundell, a former U.S. Olympic Committee physiologist now with Pharmaxis, a pharmaceutical company focusing on respiratory diseases. Both immediate effects like shortness of breath and longer-term risks like exercise-induced asthma seem to depend in part on a set of genes called glutathione-S-transferase. If you notice that your airways become irritated when those around you don’t seem to have a problem, then you should take extra precautions.

But if the choice comes down to exercising in polluted air versus canceling your workout entirely, the better option is to go for the run or ride and find ways to minimize your exposure to pollutants (see “Avoid the Smog,” below). “There may be a marginal increase in risk,” Koehle acknowledges, “but in healthy young people, I don’t think there’s any reason to worry about it. Exercise is such a big hammer that it crushes everything else.”



AVOID THE SMOG
By: Alex Hutchinson
Bad-air days hit their peak in the summer months.
Photographer: Jordan Clark Haggard
STEER CLEAR OF BUSY STREETS: Pollution drops considerably the farther you move from congested roadways. Just 200 yards away, levels are as much as four times lower. Trees can offer protection, too.

START EARLY: Ozone, a key component of smog, is produced when sunlight reacts with pollutants, so levels rise steadily throughout the day—and are at their highest in the summer months. Get your run in first thing in the morning.

WEAR A MASK: N95-rated masks block 95 percent of dangerous ultrafine particles. Caveats: proper fit can be challenging, and many experience restricted breathing.

GET MORE ANTIOXIDANTS: In theory, antioxidant supplements should help guard against pollution-induced oxidative damage. The jury’s still out on whether they do, but it can’t hurt to eat more antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, red peppers, and melon.

Word List:
  • "swirled about": [slang] everyone was talking about it
  • to be sporting: to wear something, often in a way that shows you want people to notice it
  • notoriously: famous for something bad
  • solid: strong evidence, strong reason to be true
  • to trigger: to make something happen
  • noxious: harmful, or poisonous
  • dilemma: a situation in which you have to make a difficult decision
  • to tackle: to make an organized and determined attempt to deal with a problem
  • to counteract: to reduce the negative effect of something by doing something that has an opposite effect
  • ravages: the damage or destruction caused by something such as war, disease, or weather
  • tailpipe: the pipe at the back of a motor vehicle that takes waste gases out of the engine
  • to accrue: gradually increases in amount
  • to spike: to increase suddenly
  • sync: working together at the same time, at the same speed, or in the same way
  • "steer clear": stay away from
  • ultrafine particles: very, very small, too small to see

Monday, November 19, 2012

TEDxUB: Moving Beyond Development

Moving Beyond Development
Documentary Project for Mongolia
Julia Leijola




Hello.

I stand here before you today, not only because I am passionate about Mongolia, but also because, like all tech speakers, I want to change the world. Don't we all want to change the world sometime?

The way I hope to achieve this is by producing a documentary series to help Mongolians to better choose how you want to participate in this ever more globalized world. And also, to help non-Mongolian audiences better understand this ancient culture. And perhaps even, see ourselves in a new light.

But before I tell you more about the project as such, let me tell you what brought me to it.

I traveled to Mongolia for the first time in 2008 and I was struck by the fact that people here see and do things very differently compared to where I come from. I wanted to understand this further and I went on to do a masters in anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

I was intrigued by the fact that most anthropology textbooks talk about development programs more in terms of the harm they do than the good. So I wanted to find out for myself about the situation here in Mongolia.

I studied poverty, or more specifically, concepts of poverty. That means that I talked to Mongolians from all walks of life and from different backgrounds, but also to development workers from different organizations and from across all nationalities, and asked them what does it mean to them to be poor.

What I learned was that here in Mongolia traditionally, poverty is not simply about the lack of money, it is more a moral and social relation or a problem with moral and social relations. But what I also learned was that there is a huge gap in understanding between the people who work in the development sector and those who are the supposed recipients of development aid programs.

I'll give you an example. Doing my research, I interviewed many people. One of them was the head of the local branch of the particular large international development organization. To prepare for this interview, I read the report of this particular branch of this particular large international development organization produces about every country in which they do work. Now this report about Mongolia noted from the very beginning that some of the concepts that this organization takes for granted and considers universal were actually hard to translate into Mongolian terms.

During the interview, we talked about many things and the report came up a few times. Soon enough, the person I was interviewing asked if I had indeed read the whole report which I had because it was part of my research. He said to me I was very lucky. He was so busy at work, that he did not have the time to open the report let alone read it. But what I realized is that too often local realities go completely silent in favor of the targets that are set by the headquarters of these large international development organizations.

Now, where are these headquarters positioned? They are usually in a so-called developed countries. I personally do not believe that there is a single developed country on this planet. We are all as individuals, as countries, as societies, of nations, as states, as peoples, in the process of development. We are all developing.

So, what gives a certain amount of peoples, of countries, of organizations, the right or the justification to impose on another people their way of seeing the world or their values or their economic models.

I think we should instead of doing this, we should be learning from one another, and sharing the knowledge we possess. And this is what my project is about.

Now, the media has far reaching consequences and influence on all the people across this world. This is also true here in Mongolia where you will find a TV set in a ger in the middle of the Gobi desert as you would in downtown UB..

The media shapes the way we perceive the world, the way we perceive each other, and the way we perceive ourselves as well. And I've noticed the tendency amongst the younger generation in Mongolia to disregard completely ancient Mongolian wisdom and traditional ways of life in favor of the very simplistic vision the west presents of itself.

The thing is, this vision is not a complete image of how the west is. We to suffer from hardship. We have poverty. We have abuse, like we heard earlier, with drugs and alcohol. We do not possess all the answers to all the questions. We should be honoring alternative points of view.

I am producing a documentary series that is for Mongolian people in the Mongolian language and by a Mongolian team that will be looking at how people across different countries are dealing with or who have indeed dealt with in the past challenges and issues similar to those Mongolians face today. This team will be traveling to these countries so that they can see for themselves and report in their own terms what they see.

I'll give you an example just so you have an idea. For example, we can talk about mining. We all know that Mongolia is going through an economic boom on the back of the mining industry. But Mongolia is not the only country that has gone through this process or is going through this process.

If we look at the nineteenth century, Great Britian went through a great economic boom thanks to its mining industry. But when that boom went bust, people suffered severe hardship. Thousands upon thousands of people had to emigrate in order to survive.

Or we could look at Bolivia where the mining industry that has been expanding has led to political strife and social injustice.

But I am just a foreigner. I do not have the right to impose on Mongolian people what you should be looking at and how you should be looking at it.

This is why last year I organized a small competition inviting Mongolians from all across the country and all walks of life to talk about their daily lives, to talk about their daily frustrations, their daily challenges but also their desires and hopes.

It is the content of the submissions to this competition that form the thematic base of the documentary series.

Not only that, but a handful of the participants makeup the team that will be traveling to different (countries) to look at how different people have dealt with or attempting to deal with issues that are similar to those here in Mongolia today.

Normally, as we see in development today, there's a certain amount of people or organizations that are imposing their point of view or their perception or values and economic models onto another.

I propose we turn it around. Let the Mongolians look at the world in their own terms so that they can find alternative solutions to the problems that you (Mongolians) are facing.

Because, in the west, we are told "Consumerism, capitalism is the only solution to the problems we have."

Yet, it is this model of consumerism, that has led us, in Europe especially and in other western countries as well, to an economic crisis. But not only that, but an environmental crisis that has global implications for all people on this planet.

Why don't we let Mongolians decide for themselves. Make informed decisions. That way, decision makers on all levels, be they herders or mothers at home or politicians, make better informed decisions.

Because the quality of any democracy depends on the quality of information available to people.

But that's not all. It is not enough.

To present this model which is in a way an alternative model to development, I'll also be following the Mongolian team with my own team. Because this model can be adopted everywhere. And I want to present this way of looking at the world to all audiences, not only Mongolian audiences.

The other thing is, if we're looking at the world through someone else's eyes, we can also think about the problems we face daily, from a different perspective.

Not only can we look at our global system, in a different perspective but we can also look at ourselves from a new point of view.

In essence, what I am preposing is that we move from the current form of socioeconomic exploitation on a global scale, to embrace the plurality of points of view and thoughts and ways of doing things. So that we can find solutions not only to today's problems but also to tomorrow's problems. Because the solutions to today's problems will not be found in the models that have brought us to these problems. We need to embrace everybody's points of views and bring them onto the table.

What I propose is that we move into an age of mutual respect and of knowledge sharing. And this I hope is a thought for change.

Thank you.


Word List:
  • struck: to come into somebody's mind suddenly
  • intrigued: very interested in something/somebody and wanting to know more about it/them
  • gap: a difference that separates people, or their opinions, situation, etc
  • recipients: a person who receives something
  • targets: a result that you try to achieve
  • consequences: a result of something that has happened
  • tendency: they are likely to behave or act in a particular way
  • disregard: to not consider something; to treat something as unimportant
  • boom: a period when something suddenly becomes very popular and successful
  • emigrate: to leave your own country to go and live permanently in another country
  • frustrations: feeling annoyed and impatient because you cannot do/achieve what you want
  • thematic: connected with the theme or themes of something
  • essence: the most important quality or feature of something, that makes it what it is
  • embrace: to accept an idea, a proposal, especially when done with enthusiasm

Pronunciation:
struck
intrigued
gap
recipient
target
consequence
tendency
disregard
boom
emigrate
frustration
thematic
essence
embrace

Julia Leijola is driven by a fascination for humanity and the many cultures it has birthed during our specie's relatively short existence on this planet. She turned her fascination into a passion by travelling on her own around the Northern Hemisphere. As a third culture kid, she has spent most of her life trying to understand why people fail to understand each other, and how this failure shapes our international relationships in an ever more globalized world. She has worked as a journalist and photographer, and obtained a Master's degree in Anthropology at Cambridge (UK) specialising in issues surrounding development in contemporary Mongolia. Combining her enthusiasm for Mongolia and the media, she is now producing her first documentary project, which aims to provide better and more in depth knowledge to decision makers on all levels - from politicians to herders - to help them move beyond development as it stands today.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

NEWS: Mongolia in the News - Nov 11

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NEWS: Mongolia Booming but with Consequences

Originally posted at the Asia Sentinel on September 18, 2012
by Jonathan Berkshire Miller


The view from downtown Ulan Bataar

The strains of headlong growth start to take their toll

Any given day during the summer, the skies of Ulan Bator are caked in a thick smog that leaves many residents covering their faces or avoiding the outdoors altogether. According to the World Health Organization, air pollution contributes to the death of nearly 1,600 Mongolians each year. The WHO report, released last year, indicates that the concentration of dust particles in the air is 35 times more than the recommended level.

This is of course partly explained by Mongolia’s geographic reality and the sand storms from the Gobi Desert in the south of the country. However, a predominant element of the pollution is man-made and results from ubiquitous coal-fired stoves and the incineration of garbage during Mongolia’s harsh winters.

The silver lining of this looming crisis is the historical renaissance of Mongolia from forced suzerainty under the Soviet Union and Imperial China to a flourishing democratic state in a region of corrupt neighbours. In 2011, Mongolia became the fastest growing economy in the world with 17.3 percent GDP growth as pegged by the World Bank.

Mongolia’s mining and resource sectors are the main driver of the boom which has driven foreign investors to Ulan Bator with hopes of securing lucrative development contracts.

However, this growth remains uncertain due to Mongolia’s over-dependence on the global commodity market. The country has not yet managed to mature its financial investments to diversify and spread its risk across markets.

But to Ulan Bator’s credit, it has leveraged the current energy climate to its advantage and is starting to acknowledge that now is the time to accrue benefits from international partners. Mongolia has been channelling its assets to pressure Russia and China to cooperate more on important issues such as energy security, mining and defence. Earlier this month, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj remarked in an interview that he believed China and Russia should account for Mongolia in their regional cooperation plans.

Specifically, Elbegdorj pointed to energy security and the need to redirect a planned natural gas pipeline from Russia to China so that it would include Mongolia. Elbegdorj stressed that transiting through Mongolia is “economically beneficial” and noted that his government is “trying to persuade our two neighbors not to exclude us from that project. The Chinese side has already agreed to discuss this and also the Russian side.”

Whether the pressure is altering the calculus of Moscow and Beijing is dubious. Russia, which provides the bulk of Mongolia’s energy imports, has consistently indicated that its decision-making on the pipeline would be centered on economics and not political pressure.

The current pipeline would send gas from Siberia directly to western China through a narrow border channel between Kazakhstan and Mongolia – effectively shutting out both countries from the project. Gazprom, which is spearheading the deal from the Russian side, has denied that the snub was politically motivated and has indicated that the decision comes down to pricing and avoiding costly transit fees.

Mongolia is desperate to be included in the deal as it would not only provide an economic boost via transit fees, but allow the government to address the escalating problem of air pollution in Ulan Bator by switching to the more efficient and cleaner heating option of natural gas.

The burgeoning surrounding environs of Ulan Bator are littered with traditional nomadic houses – called gers. Mongolians from all across the country are rapidly migrating to the capital in hopes that the expanding wealth of the nation will provide increased opportunities. Unfortunately, the dividend of these personal investments does not always pay out. Many new city dwellers find themselves working several jobs just to keep up with rising income levels and booming real estate prices.

And then there is the pollution. With land around the capital rising in value rapidly, the ger communities are forced into very tight quarters, creating an economic ghetto in a city that is growing faster than any other in the world. The World Bank and a host of international development agencies have recognized this threat and mobilized nearly US$45 million for the Ulan Bator Clean Air Project.

The initiative aims to help reduce the city’s reliance on coal-powered stoves and replace them with more efficient gas models. The Project also has been offering subsidies to lower the cost of the transition for this marginalized population in Ulan Bator.

Despite these positive signs, air pollution in Mongolia is likely to continue to be a problem for several years. Gailius Draugelis, an energy specialist at the World Bank on the Project, stressed that “there is no magic bullet for reducing air pollution. Significant domestic and foreign funds have been raised to support a wide range of solutions. Enlisting the support of the citizens and the local private sector is also very important.”

Draugelis also indicated that a solution to the issue must be Mongolian and that foreign assistance could only have a temporary effect. "Many solutions will require Ulaanbaatar citizens to change technologies and learn how to use them. The local private sector will need to supply and service these technologies.” As foreign investors continue to flock to Mongolia, there will be increased pressure for the government to be accountable and transparent on this issue. For Mongolia, great wealth has ushered in great obligation.


Word List:

  • dust: a fine powder that consists of very small pieces of sand, earth, etc
  • ubiquitous: seeming to be everywhere or in several places at the same time; very common
  • incineration: to burn something until it is completely destroyed
  • looming: to appear important or threatening and likely to happen soon
  • suzerainty: the right of a country to rule over another country
  • lucrative: producing a large amount of money; making a large profit
  • diversity: the quality or fact of including a range of many people or things
  • leveraged: the ability to influence what people do
  • to accrue: to increase over a period of time
  • to alter: to become different; to make somebody/something different, change
  • dubious: that you cannot be sure about; that is probably not good
  • to spearhead: a person or group that begins an activity or leads an attack against somebody/something
  • to snub: to insult somebody, especially by ignoring them when you meet
  • dwellers: a person or an animal that lives in the particular place that is mentioned
  • subsidies: money that is paid by a government or an organization to reduce the costs of services or of producing goods so that their prices can be kept low
  • to marginalize: to make somebody feel as if they are not important and cannot influence decisions or events; to put somebody in a position in which they have no power
  • to enlist: to persuade somebody to help you or to join you in doing something
  • to usher in: to politely take or show somebody where they should go