Tehran's geography makes air pollution worse: the Alborz Mountains at its north side trap the increasing volume of pollutants and lead these to remain and hover over Tehran when the wind is not strong enough to blow them away. Furthermore, Tehran's high altitude makes fuel combustion inefficient and adds to the problem. Its altitude is between 3, 300 and 5,000 feet and it is in this space that the pollutants are trapped since the destruction of orchards and other vegetation especially in northern Tehran in the past decades by rapid development and human activity pressures. These natural and man-made factors together have made Tehran one of the most polluted cities in the world. Air pollution reached critical level in December 1999 when high levels of carbon monoxide and other pollutants filled Tehran for many weeks. Deaths, diseases and skin conditions are attributed to extreme air pollution. Records say that more than 4,000 to 5,000 die because of it every year (EIA).
Increasing population also meant increasing use of energy and this is the case in Iran, particularly its capital Tehran (Energy Information Administration 2002). Its total energy consumption rose from 1.6 quadrillion Btu in 1989 to 4.7 in 2000 or three times, mostly as gasoline. Its 2 million car drivers alone use 7 million liters of gasoline every day. Oil is abundant in Iran, petroleum products are subsidized and, thus, cheap cost prevents oil producers from turning out more fuel-efficient products. In May 2002, the government's subsidy was several billion dollars a year. Natural gas was roughly 50% of the energy Iran consumes. It uses up 73.8 million Btu, only a fifth of what the U.S. uses at 351.1 million Btu, and the figure continues to go up (EIA).
Poisonous carbon emissions in Iran have steadily increased in the last two decades by 240% since 1980 or from 33.1 million metric tons in 1980 to 80.8 million metric tons in 2000 (Energy Information Administration 2002). The uncontrollable growth of the population has clearly meant an increased and constantly increasing number of cars. The volume of automobile exhaust in Iran alone constitutes 1.3% of the world's total of carbon emissions. While Iran's carbon emissions are lower compared with those in the United States and other industrialized or developed countries, its rampant use of leaded gasoline and the volume of cars without catalytic converters account for the massive levels of carbon monoxide in Iran's urban areas. These poisons are predicted to continue spreading until the roots of the problem are genuinely and adequately addressed (EIA).
On top of all these, Iran's renewable energy consumption is and remains low (Energy Information Administration 2002) precisely because of its abundant oil reserves, which account for 9% of the world's reserves and 15% of its undeveloped natural gas reserves.
This very abundance discourages producers from seeking out and utilizing alternative, renewable and non-destructive energy sources. These could have been hydropower, solar, wind, tide, geothermal and solid biomass and animal products, biomass gas and liquids and industrial and municipal wastes. It attempted to diversify by increasing hydroelectric capability and wanted to increase nuclear power use for its rising demand for electricity. But international pressure prevented it from using nuclear power beyond electricity from fear of Iran's turning it against other countries.
It is easy to see how uncontrolled population growth in Iran in the past decades has been an extremely essential factor and precipitant in its environmental problems (Energy Information Administration 2002). More and more people rely on fossil fuels and use more cars, making the problem worse. The 1999 pollution crisis can jot Iran into considering or reconsidering how the health and life of its people are directly linked to their use of fuel and the degradation of their environment. In facing the true score, Iran must phase out leaded gasoline and require its people to use catalytic converters and assume a serious long-term approach in environmental protection and promotion. Its leaders should also focus their direction on developing gas fields and on reducing dependence on oil, not only to reduce pollution and save life and health, but also to diversify and strengthen its economy (EIA).
Energy Information Administration. (2002). Iran: Environmental Issues. http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/iranenv.html
2005). Iran. Country Analysis Briefs. http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/cabs/iranenv.html#envir
Marcoux, A. (1996). Population Change-Natural Resources-Environment Linkages in Central and South Asia. Sustainable Development Department: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/sd/wpdirect/wpan001.html