By Val Germann
Mainland China, the biggest of all the Asian economic “Tigers,” has had its official wake up call concerning its environment. In its breakneck rush to modernize itself China has pushed every consideration to the side except one: Industrialization. But the piper is beginning to be paid and the price is likely to be high.
China burns huge amounts of very poor coal and does not bother to scrub the products of its stacks. Not too long ago China imported no oil and required relatively few industrial materials from overseas. Today, China is scouring the world for petroleum and signing oil and gas deals with countries in Africa, the Middle East and even South America. Also, the price of nearly every important industrial feed stock, from antimony to zinc, is influenced today by the voracious appetite of China’s many new industries. China’s energy needs are predicted to double and then double again over the next generation or so.
However, looming over all of this “development” are massive environmental problems, some old and some brand new. Most Star Phoenix Base readers know that China is subject to massive floods, due in part to tree cutting and erosion caused by the bad agricultural practices of the country’s hundreds of millions of peasant farmers. But now a whole new class of concerns is bearing down on the former Celestial Empire, one of which is outlined in a recent article carried on the Chinaview.cn website. The excerpt below gives the general idea:
XINING, May 4 (Xinhua) — Scientists have confirmed a 2.5 million-square km hole in the low-level ozone layer over western China’s Qinghai-Tibet Plateau.
The hole formed in December 2003 over the plateau, which stands at an average 4,000 meters above sea level, according to an article in the reputable Chinese science magazine “Scientific Report”.
Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the China Meteorology Research Center have proved a significant decrease in total column ozone.
The article is based on comprehensive research and analysis of data from both ground monitoring and the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer, a satellite-borne instrument used to measure global ozone levels.
The scientists have been monitoring ozone changes over the plateau since a dramatic loss in upper-level ozone was recorded in summer 2003. Read the entire article here.
In addition, the glaciers on the surface of this part of the world are melting at an incredible and increasing rate, leading to galloping desertification in the region. This desertification has caused massive dust storms to sweep northern China, including the capital Bejing, as is outlined below in an excerpt from an article recently published on the website of England’s THE INDEPENDENT newspaper:
“The Chinese Academy of Sciences – the country’s top scientific body – has announced that the glaciers of the Tibetan plateau are vanishing so fast that they will be reduced by 50 per cent every decade. Each year enough water permanently melts from them to fill the entire Yellow River.
“They added that the vast environmental changes brought about by the process will increase droughts and sandstorms over the rest of the country, and devastate many of the world’s greatest rivers, in what experts warn will be an ‘ecological catastrophe’.”
Read the entire article here.
What is happening in China, and in many other places all over the world, is the culmination of hundreds of years of rapid and ever-increasing oxidation of hydrocarbons by the human race. We began with wood, deforesting whole nations, and then moved on to coal, and then to petroleum and natural gas, while at the same time doubling and doubling, and then doubling again, world humanity.
Today, our numbers are reaching toward SEVEN billion people alive and we’re speculating about moving on to the oxidation of the billions of tons of methane hydrates currently sequestered at the bottom of the world’s oceans. That may not be a good idea.
That is, there can be little doubt now that we’ve already pushed the climate system of the Earth into a period of exponential change, as is indicated above by the exponential melting of China’s glaciers. Natural systems are not generally linear in their rates of change but rather exponential. Every day the news brings information that this is true — about the atmosphere and climate system of our planet.
The Earth could well be moving, relatively quickly, from one more-or-less stable climate state to another, more-or-less stable climate state, but at a much higher avereage temperature. Also, it seems obvious now that the ride between these two “stable states” is NOT going to be pleasant. No, it’s most probably going to be a very rough ride indeed, as we will continue to discuss from Star Phoenix Base.