Archive for September, 2006

The Trouble with China, “The Great Squanderer”

Thursday, September 7th, 2006

By David L. Brown

The world’s fastest growing nation, both in terms of economic expansion and absolute population numbers, is firmly set on the path of building on the mistakes of the past. The Chicom leaders of the Middle Kingdom are determined to duplicate what was achieved in the West through the Industrial Revolution—achievements that are now being recognized as wasteful, damaging to the environment, and possibly threatening the very continuation of civilization.

This vast communist nation has become manufacturer to the world through its efficient use of a vast pool of what is virtually slave labor. In its drive for growth it has over-grazed its pasturelands and plowed too many acres of fragile soils, resulting in desertification and dust storms that regularly engulf its major cities and sometimes reach across the Pacific Ocean to taint the air of North America. It is burning coal in inefficient power plants that have created air pollution on a scale never seen before. It is despoiling its lands and ravaging its natural beauty to build miles of paved roads, thousands of skyscraper apartments, and factories to turn out not only trade goods for the West, but also automobiles, televisions, refrigerators, electric stoves, and all manner of consumer “improvements” for its upwardly mobile citizens.

Do the promises of “better times” for the Chinese people seem ominously similar to Herbert Hoover’s campaign slogan, “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage?” Perhaps. And we all remember from our history lessons (well, at least those of us who paid attention do) what soon began during the ill-fated Hoover Presidency. (Reminder for those who did not pay attention: It was called The Great Depression.)

Now, just as the West is beginning to realize that past economic and industrial models can no longer be sustained, and to turn slowly but steadily toward environment-friendly approaches, China has become, according to an article in yesterday’s International on-line edition of Der Spiegel (read it here), “The Great Squanderer.”

China’s path in attempting to replicate in the 21st Century the Industrial Revolution of the West is particularly ill-conceived in view of the fact that the nation itself has few of the natural resources needed to support its planned growth. Funded with bucketloads of Western currencies earned by its cheap labor, China is buying up natural resources from every corner of the globe.

Examples include the vast quantities of timber being imported from Southeast Asia to support the construction of a huge and economically meaningless infrastructure for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. China has already depleted its own forests, and now thousands of square kilometers of rainforest are being sacrificed to impress the world with China’s supposed greatness.

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CO2 Threatens Not Only Air, But Ocean Too

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

By David L. Brown

One of the things that helps slow the rise of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere—and the greenhouse warming that results from higher CO2—is the fact that more than a third of the carbon released into the air since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has been absorbed in our oceans and sequestered in sediments. That’s a good thing, right?

Well, it turns out that’s not necessarily the case. It is true that the oceans can absorb large quantities of carbon … but only over long periods of time. Recent studies of a 3.2 kilometer core drilled from the Antacrtic ice cap, as reported today by BBC News (read it here), provide a record of temperature and atmospheric CO2 going back 800,000 years. The core reveals a direct cause-and-effect relationship between atmospheric levels of CO2 and global temperatures. When CO2 goes up, temperatures also rise.

In that entire 800,000 years, the fastest rate of change in atmospheric carbon that was found was an increase of 30 parts per million per 1000 years.

We have seen that much carbon added to our atmosphere just since 1989, a mere 17 years ago—and the rate of change is becoming ever faster as humans proliferate and continue to burn more and more oil, gas and coal.

The oceans cannot respond fast enough to sequester this unprecedented onslaught of carbon in sediments, and instead more and more of the CO2 reacts with the water to form carbonic acid. According to the BBC story,

…[m]ore CO2 absorbed by the oceans will raise their acidity, and a number of recent studies have concluded that this will eventually disrupt the ability of marine micro-organisms to use the calcium carbonate in the water to produce their hard parts.

What is at stake is not only the entire foundation of the global food chain, which starts with the phytoplankton and other micro-organisms that live in the sea, but also a major factor in the delicate balance of oxygen and CO2 in our atmosphere. Much of the planet’s fresh oxygen is produced through he process of photosynthesis by algae and bacteria that share the oceans with those tiny animals that capture carbon and eventually sequester it on the sea bottom in their skeletons.

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New AAAS President Confirms Global Warming Is Serious

Sunday, September 3rd, 2006

By David L. Brown

There is no longer any significant doubt about whether global warming and the potential climate change it will bring about are real. Recent reports from the National Research Council (read it here) and others have confirmed that the planet is growing warmer, and that the major cause is rising levels of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere resulting from human activity.

Not only is it becoming clear that global warming is real, evidence is mounting that the consequences could be far more serious, and perhaps come much more quickly, than scientists have previously thought. The latest warning comes from John Holdren, in his first interview since being elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dr. Holdren last week told BBC News that the climate is changing much faster than had been predicted, adding:

“We are not talking anymore about what climate models say might happen in the future. We are experiencing dangerous human disruption of the global climate and we’re going to experience more.”

Holdren, one of America’s top scientists, is director of the Woods Hole Research Center and is the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University. In the BBC interview he said that unless “drastic action” is taken soon, the world will experience more heatwaves, wildfires, and flooding.

As just one example of the effects of global warming, he pointed to evidence that melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet is accelerating, and it is now predicted that at the current rate a “catastrophic” rise in sea level of 4 meters or 13 feet could occur this century. That would drown many of the world’s major cities and low-lying areas, perhaps displacing hundreds of millions of people. Holdren added that should the Greenland ice completely melt it would raise sea levels by 7 meters or 23 feet.

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