The Sky is Choking Us (AKA: Never Take Blue Skies for Granted)

Here’s a photo of our street at the moment.

2015-10-04 17.18.39

Notice those beautifully green hills in the background? Of course not, they are completely covered by a thick layer of smog courtesy of Indonesia.

We’ve had occasional bad visibility in the past from time to time, but I’ve seen nothing like this in my ten years in Malaysia. Today is the worst air quality I’ve ever seen – currently reading 172 on the air pollution index.

Hundreds of fires in Indonesia are currently sending a thick plume of polluted air throughout Southeast Asia. Penang, being quite a bit north, usually escapes most of it, but not this time. The fires are a result of clear-cutting, making way for new farm land. I have great sympathy for the peasants who toil on the land with a meager existence. I understand how the thought of a new field with increased returns could entice them, but when practices threaten the health of an entire region, more must be done. The Indonesian government is working now to put the fires out, but that does little to stop the long-term issues.

I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, which of course used to have the blackest sky in the world back in the roaring steel mill days of Carnegie and Frick. I’m sure the area was still quite polluted in the sixties when I was born, but it always looked clean to me.

I lived in Vietnam for ten years and never saw a more polluted sky than what I’m seeing today. I lived along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia for a couple years and enjoyed the clean, brisk air. But seeing this thick smog encapsulate the nation, I don’t envy people who have to deal with these issues on a regular basis. (Beijing, Mexico City, …)

Here’s the current air quality map of the region:

Capture air quality


You might notice that horrendous reading Kalimantan (southern part of Borneo, Indonesia) – 852! The label for that reading is hazardous. No one should have to live surrounded by oppression like that.

I hope the government of Indonesia will take some serious steps to address these issues through education and alternatives for people living in poverty.

For the time being, I’m staying inside, enjoying my air conditioning, and wondering if we will have school tomorrow. I know there are many who simply don’t have the small luxuries that I have.

Never take blue skies for granted.

Know Your History: Rockefeller Breaks Up & Gets Richer

In 1912, after decades of pummeling the competition with unfair business practices and intimidation, the oil titan, John D. Rockefeller, sat and listened as a federal court dismantled his empire right in front of his eyes. Buoyed by the Sherman Anti-Trust act of a few years earlier, the government was finally ready to take on the undisputed champion of the Gilded Age. Rockefeller had risen from poverty to build the Standard Oil Company. By age 33, he had crushed the competition, creating an oil trust that cornered the market on 90% of the oil used in the United States.

Standard Oil innovated the market through standardizing the making of kerosene which lit the country. Rockefeller made a product that was assured to be safe, building a brand that the public could trust. He also innovated how oil was transported by building an extensive pipeline which could by-pass his usage of the railroads, insuring him more profit. As electricity eventually overtook the use of kerosene for lighting American cities, Rockefeller then supplied the country with the gasoline to power the horseless carriage. He, along with Carnegie and JP Morgan sat at the head of the Robber Barons table.

But as Teddy Roosevelt’s progressiveness seeped into the consciousness of the nation, Rockefeller’s days as the chairman of the largest monopoly ever created were numbered. When the verdict was reached, Standard Oil had to be broken up into thirty-five different companies. The empire of Rockefeller was finished. The era of the Robber Barons came to an end. Included in those thirty-five new corporations were the well-known oil companies, Exxon, Mobil, and Chevron.

In an ironic twist, however, Rockefeller, who ended up having shares in all thirty-five of those companies, ended up actually making more money. His diversified holdings easily made him the richest man who ever lived, amassing a staggering worth of more than 600 billion dollars in today’s currency – about 10 times that of Bill Gates.

Who knows? Perhaps he would have broken it up sooner if he would have known the windfall awaiting him.