Stratfor gives us the good news: Red China Goes Green

Summary: A key piece of the doomsters’ “world ending” story is that the leaders of China are fools, not seeing or acting to address their economic problems — and especially the pollution produced by their decades of rapid growth. As this report by Stratfor shows, they’re not fools — and they are taking bold steps to fix their ecology. (First of two posts today.)Stratfor

Red China Goes Green

Stratfor, 17 March 2017.

Forecast

  • Because stricter environmental policies align with its strategic goals, Beijing may be able to accelerate the pace of its environmental reforms.
  • Enforcing environmental policies across the country’s diverse regions, however, will continue to pose a challenge for Beijing as each province and municipality weighs the risks and rewards of compliance.
  • The central government will use its growing role in international climate change policy and renewable technology to reinforce its position as a world leader.

Analysis

China’s economic growth over the past four decades has been staggering. The environmental damage it has caused is no less impressive.

China is dealing with widespread pollution problems, from thick smog in the northeast to contaminated water and soil throughout the country. But now a combination of domestic pressures and geopolitical strategy has put environmental issues at the top of the Chinese government’s priorities. In the past three years, and particularly since the release of the 13th Five Year Plan in 2016, Beijing has started rolling out stricter environmental policies. The transition is hardly surprising, following decades of rapid industrialization and coinciding with the emergence of a new middle class and a shift in the Chinese economy. It will, however, be challenging. The country’s vast territory and regional diversity make enforcing national laws at the local level an uphill battle. Even so, the strategic gains that stricter environmental policies promise — both domestically and internationally — could help Beijing speed the process along.

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Warning! We’re depressing biodiveristy below safe levels.

Summary: We have been shaping Earth’s biosphere for millennia, but increasing population and technology have exponentially increased our impacts. Research has begun to quantify our net impact and establish levels beyond which the damage becomes serious or terminal. Here’s the latest study. This problem will grow worse as population and incomes grow during the next several decades.

Track human impacts on Earth, setting safe planetary boundaries

By F. Pharand-Deschênes /Globaïa.
By F. Pharand-Deschênes /Globaïa. By F. Pharand-Deschênes /Globaïa. Click to enlarge.

The latest study warning us is “Has land use pushed terrestrial biodiversity beyond the planetary boundary? A global assessment.” — by Tim Newbold et al in Science, 15 July 2016. Gated; here’s the abstract…

“Land use and related pressures have reduced local terrestrial biodiversity, but it is unclear how the magnitude of change relates to the recently proposed planetary boundary (“safe limit”). We estimate that land use and related pressures have already reduced local biodiversity intactness — the average proportion of natural biodiversity remaining in local ecosystems — beyond its recently proposed planetary boundary across 58.1% of the world’s land surface, where 71.4% of the human population live. Biodiversity intactness within most biomes (especially grassland biomes), most biodiversity hotspots, and even some wilderness areas is inferred to be beyond the boundary. Such widespread transgression of safe limits suggests that biodiversity loss, if unchecked, will undermine efforts toward long-term sustainable development.”

Excerpt

“Land use and related pressures have been the main drivers of terrestrial biodiversity change and are increasing. Biodiversity has already experienced widespread large net losses, potentially compromising its contribution to resilient provision of ecosystem functions and services, such as biomass production and pollination, that underpin human well-being.

“Species-removal experiments suggest that loss of ecosystem function accelerates with ongoing species loss beyond which human intervention is needed to ensure adequate local ecosystem function (8, 9). The loss of 20% of species — which affects ecosystem productivity as strongly as other direct drivers — is one possible threshold, but it is unclear by which mechanism species richness affects ecosystem function and whether there are direct effects or only effects on resilience of function.

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The oceans are dying. See their condition on World Oceans Day!

Summary: Amidst the decades-long bombardment of doomster predictions, it’s difficult to see the actual threats to our world. The oceans rank high on the danger list, under pressure from pollution, overfishing, and climate change. World Oceans Day is an opportunity to assess the danger, and see how you can help.

Healthy oceans, Healthy planet. From the website.

World Oceans Day

World Oceans Day is a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future. This site serves as the central coordinating platform for World Oceans Day, with free resources and ideas for everyone – no matter where you live – to help expand the reach and impact of World Oceans Day on June 8 and year round.

The ocean is the heart of our planet. Like your heart pumping blood to every part of your body, the ocean connects people across the Earth, no matter where we live. The ocean regulates the climate, feeds millions of people every year, produces most of the oxygen we breathe, is the home to an incredible array of wildlife, provides us with important medicines, and so much more! In order to ensure the health and safety of our communities and future generations, it’s imperative that we take the responsibility to care for the ocean as it cares for us.

Everyone’s health depends on a clean, productive ocean. During our celebration this year, we encourage our partners and friends to once again think about what actions each of us can take to safeguard vulnerable ocean communities. Please focus on whatever issues you think are most important for a healthy ocean future. …

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Are we “choking the ocean with plastic”? Tracing creation of a myth.

Summary: Many of the scary stories of our time result from interactions between actual science, activist scientists, and clickbait-seeking journalists. “We’re choking the ocean with plastic” is one such tale, showing how real problems become masked by myths. This leaves us divided and unable to respond to our problems, as neither Left nor Right clearly see the world. Meanwhile, overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction are wrecking the oceans.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

The first recorded sighting of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch was by oceanographer Charles J. Moore (heir to oil wealth, now an environmental activist) when sailing home after a race in 1999. Here is how he describes it (from “Trashed”, Natural History, Nov 2003). Too bad he did not bring a camera to record it!

“Day after day, Alguita was the only vehicle on a highway without landmarks, stretching from horizon to horizon. Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic.

“It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments. Months later, after I discussed what I had seen with the oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, perhaps the world’s leading expert on flotsam, he began referring to the area as the “eastern garbage patch.” But “patch” doesn’t begin to convey the reality. Ebbesmeyer has estimated that the area, nearly covered with floating plastic debris, is roughly the size of Texas.”

Much of this seems odd. There are patches of debris, but no such masses of plastic “as far as the eye can see”. There is much plastic, but most is barely visible to the eye — and lies under the surface.

Like all good stories, it grew over time. From “Choking the Oceans with Plastic” — his 2014 op-ed in the New York Times: “We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on.” Again no photo of the floating island, let alone of him walking on it.

Moore becomes somewhat more accurate when confronted by a knowledgeable journalist, such as Suzanne Bohan in this 2011 article: “It’s not something you can walk on, or see from a satellite. We’ve always tried to dispel that fact,” Or in this quote of him from The Independent: “The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States.”

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Update: only 16 months until the destruction of America by pollution!

Summary: We can learn much about modern America by looking at past predictions. Unlike today’s news, we not only can assess their accuracy, but also their reasonableness as forecasts when they were made. We now have 50+ years of predictions from Left and Right, mostly designed to frighten us into obedience. Let’s remember and learn from them. This post looks at a small but entertaining one, typical of its time, about the terrifying America of 2017.

“Priorities must be established, or this might be the end for Earth as we know it.”
— Memo to the President by media magnate Glenn Howard (played by Gene Barry) in “LA 2017”.

"Los Angelese: AD 2017" by Philip Wylie
Available from Amazon.

 

Some things never change. That’s a lesson from watching the TV show “L.A. 2017”. Directed by the 24-year old Steven Spielberg, it aired on 15 January 1971 as an episode of The Name of the Game. It described a horrific world 46 years in the future (2017), after pollution had destroyed the Earth’s ecology and forced the remnants of humanity to live underground.

In this version of 2017, Los Angeles has one cow; its milk is a delicacy for the rich. For more about the plot see this.

It was written by Philip Wylie, a science fiction writer with a successful specialty in doomster stories about nuclear war and ecological doom. He novelized it as Los Angeles: A.D. 2017. See a review here.

While Hollywood worked to terrify the public into action — it was aired before the second anniversary of Earth Day — real policy experts had been working for decades to end the polluting of America. The key regulations had already been enacted when “LA 2017” was first broadcast, and many more have been enacted since then.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 began the long process of cleaning America’s waters, with major amendments enacted in 1961, 1966, 1970, 1972 (a complete revision), 1977, and 1987. The Clean Air Acts of 1955, 1963, 1967, and 1970 had broken the back of that problem; subsequent amendments in 1977 and 1990 — and Obama’s proposals — have continued this progress. The Environmental Protection Agency opened shop on 2 December 1970, and has accomplished great things in its brief history.

The improvement in America’s environment since 1960 is amazing, a public policy accomplishment we can take pride in — and a rebuttal to those who disregard American history to claim that government seldom (or never) does anything good at home.

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“Water-Borne Zombies“ – Jellyfish warning us to behave better

Summary: Another in a series about the dying oceans, a severe problem that’s ignored because its solution has no political benefits for the elites running the Left and Right in America. We see the world only as shown to us by the news media. Like the philosophers of Laputa (the flying city Gulliver visited), unable to see anything until our minders bring it to our attention. It’s a sad state for a free people.

Giant jellyfish
AFP/Gettty photo

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Water-Borne Zombies

by Theo Tait (deputy Editory of The Week)
London Review of Books, 6 March 2014

Reprinted with the permission of the author and LRB

Review of Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean by Lisa-Ann Gershwin.

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Near the end of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, the Time Traveller finds himself on a desolate beach in the distant future. Under a lurid red sky, by a slack, oily sea, he is set upon by giant crabs, last survivors in a dying world – ‘foul, slow-stirring monsters’, with ‘vast, ungainly claws smeared with an algal slime’. If Wells were writing that scene today, the jellyfish would be a much better candidate than the crab for the part of the doomsday creature on the terminal beach. According to Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s disturbing book, the jellyfish is an ‘angel of death’, a harbinger of ‘planetary doom’ likely to be the ‘last man standing’ in what she describes as our ‘gelatinous future’.

Jellyfish are immensely old. From the fossil evidence, we know that they dominated the oceans for millions of years before predators with bones or shells or teeth evolved. ‘Through the eons,’ Gerswhin writes, ‘while trilobites and dinosaurs came and went and plants and animals moved onto land and evolved respiratory machinery and mammals evolved bigger and better brains, jellyfish stayed the same.’ With no brain, no heart, no lungs and no gills, they are ‘simple but effective’ – ‘essentially a gelatinous body with one or more mouths for ingesting food, one or more stomachs for digesting food, and usually four or eight gonads for making more jellyfish’. Species of the phylum Cnidaria – the classic jelly – have existed in something close to their current form for at least 565 million years; Ctenophora, the comb jellies, are not much younger.

They survived the ‘big five’ mass extinctions. And now, it seems, they are experiencing a renaissance.

Stung! is a serious monograph, a guide to jellyfish biology and to the recent explosion in jellyfish blooms by an expert in the field. (Gershwin has devoted her working life to marine invertebrates and has discovered more than 150 new species; an American, she is now the director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory – ‘Consulting on all aspects of marine stinger management’.) But it’s a serious monograph disguised, quite convincingly, as a monster movie. It begins with a series of horrifying vignettes of jellyfish on the rampage, such as the ‘mass fish-kill’ events suffered by salmon farms. In 1998, a swarm of large Aurelia (the standard moon jelly) moved into Big Glory Bay off New Zealand’s South Island, and killed 56,000 three-kilo salmon in their pens within half an hour. Gershwin describes the incident in terrible detail:

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Straight talk about the radiation from Fukushima in the ocean

Summary: As usual, the internet buzzes with fear-mongering about the radiation released from the Fukushima reactors. Here’s a note from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute that puts this in context. It does not address the larger danger of future releases of radioactivity, perhaps on a much larger scale than the initial surge and the leaks since then. See the links at the end for more about the dangers of Fukushima

Radiation trefoil

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Contents

  1. The good news about the ocean
  2. Bad news for people in Japan
  3. About Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
  4. For More Information

(1)  The good news about the ocean

Radioisotopes in the Ocean – What’s there? How much? How long?
By David Pacchioli, Oceanus Magazine, Spring 2013
Published by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Excerpt:

The release of radioisotopes from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 amounts to the largest-ever accidental release of radiation to the ocean. It came mostly in the form of iodine-131, cesium-134 and cesium-137, the primary radioisotopes released from the reactors, reported Ken Buesseler, a marine chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

All of these substances can cause long-term health problems, said Buesseler, but iodine-131 has a half-life of just eight days and so would be effectively gone from the environment in a matter of weeks. It was cesium-134 and cesium-137, with their half-lives of two and 30 years, respectively, which would remain in the ocean for years and decades to come.

In fact, most of the cesium present in today’s oceans, Buesseler noted, is a remnant of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing conducted by the United States, France, and Great Britain during the 1950s and ’60s. Lesser amounts are attributable to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 and to local sources, such as the dumping of low-level waste from England’s Sellafield nuclear facility into the Irish Sea.

… “Dilution due to ocean mixing should be enough to cause a decrease in concentration down to background levels within a short period of time,” Buesseler told his audience at the Fukushima and the Ocean conference in November 2012. “Yet all the data we have show that measurements around the site remain elevated to this day at up to 1,000 becquerels per cubic meter.”

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