Air Pollution — Residents of the Iranian capital Tehran are grappling with a buildup of dangerous air pollution that sweeps over the city this time of year, notes the New York Times. “The haze of pollution,” according to the daily, “occurs every year when cold air and windless days trap fumes belched out by millions of cars and hundreds of old factories between the peaks of the Alborz mountain range.” The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that Tehran has four times as many polluting particles per cubic meter as Los Angeles, making it one of the world’s 10-most polluted cities in 2011.
Illegal Drugs — In China, growing wealth, relaxed borders and more individual freedoms are leading to an explosion in drug use and addiction, reports the Atlantic. The number of registered drug abusers jumped from 70,000 in 1990 to nearly two million at the end of 2011, according to the Brookings Institution. A majority of illegal drug users in China are young, affluent residents with people under 35 making up more than 80% of all addicts.
Russian Adoptions — Reuters reports that the Russian Orthodox Church has urged its followers to adopt orphans after the government passed a law that banned Americans from adopting Russian children. “It is very important for our people to adopt orphans into their families, with joy and a special sense of gratitude to God, giving them not only shelter and an upbringing but also giving them their love,” said the head of the church, Patriarch Kirill. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the adoption law on Dec. 28 in response to a U.S. law designed to punish human rights violators in the world’s largest country. Critics of the U.S. adoption ban argue that it will overwhelm Russia’s foster homes and orphanages and hurt the welfare of children.
London Icons Halted — The iconic blue plaques that commemorate the homes and birthplaces of London luminaries are a familiar sight to tourists and Londoners alike. U.K. government budget cuts, however, mean that no new plaques will be put up for at least two years, reports the Guardian. The blue plaque program, founded in 1866, was last halted during the Second World War. The current 869 plaques, which cost an average of £965 ($1,550) each to install, pay permanent respect to the former homes of figures such as Charles Dickens, Jimmy Hendrix and Ian Fleming. English Heritage, the body responsible for the programme, hopes to secure future funding from private investors and foundations starting in 2014.
Guns and Good Guys — Guards with guns are common in many countries, but that hasn’t made their citizens any more secure, writes the New York Times. “Despite the ubiquitous presence of ‘good guys’ with guns, countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.” In light of the N.R.A.’s recommendation that armed guards should be placed in schools, Rosenthal argues the Latin American experience should give the U.S. pause for thought. “Guards with guns grace every office lobby, storefront, A.T.M., restaurant and gas station,” she writes. “It has not made those countries safer or saner.”