Joseph Kahn and Jim Yardley of the New York Times, on August 26th, produced an excellent story on China’s industrial success/toxic pollution nexus. The situation is dire, and China’s difficulties overcoming the Victorian England-like pollution troubles in order to host an Olympics palpable to the rest of the world are well known, and have been covered recently in similar excellent coverage in the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a brief section of the NYT report:
…it is not clear that China can rein in its own economic juggernaut.
Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.
Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for the 2008 Olympics.
Environmental woes that might be considered catastrophic in some countries can seem commonplace in China: industrial cities where people rarely see the sun; children killed or sickened by lead poisoning or other types of local pollution; a coastline so swamped by algal red tides that large sections of the ocean no longer sustain marine life.
China is choking on its own success
And this is not merely a problem for the Chinese. Acid rain containing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from Chinese coal-fired power plants falls on Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo. The Journal of Geophysical Research reports that much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China.
The World Health Organization and World Bank independently found that total deaths in China due to pollution have reached 750,000 a year. Chinese experts interviewed claimed that the Western estimates “probably understate the problems.” The World Bank told the NYT that China’s environmental agency asked them to remove this number from the Spring 2007 final report, claiming the numbers could detrimentally impact “social stability.”
The question, of course, is who has the credibility and sway to either guide China toward responsible environmental policies, or model a path forward by example.
Steven Mufson of the Washington Post has a grave assessment of Congress’ ability to make even a dent in the dire issue of climate change:
Here’s the good news about climate change: Energy and climate experts say the world already possesses the technological know-how for trimming greenhouse gas emissions enough to slow the perilous rise in the Earth’s temperatures.
Here’s the bad news: Because of the enormous cost of addressing global warming, the energy legislation considered by Congress so far will make barely a dent in the problem, while farther-reaching climate proposals stand a remote chance of passage.
Despite growing public concern over global warming, the House has failed to agree on new standards for automobile fuel efficiency, and the Senate has done little to boost the efficiency of commercial office buildings and appliances. In September, Congress is expected to start wrestling with more ambitious legislation aimed at slowing climate change; but because of the complexity of the likely proposals, fewexpect any bill to become law. Even if passed by Congress and signed by President Bush, the final measure may not be tough Continue reading
New study released in Proceedings of the Royal Society finds that over the past 20 years, despite global warming continuing apace, “all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures.”
Comparing historical data of sun activity including sunspots, magnetic field strength, cosmic ray flux, and total solar irradience, as well as other data (including 2 global mean temperature reconstructions over the past 20 years), solar activity (that would have caused warming) peaked around 1985-87, and has been on the decline since.
In contrast, temperatures, which started on the steep upward path long before the 1980′s, have continued their upward trend.
Count out the sun; round up the usual suspects.
According to recent reports the increased popularity of electronic gadgets threatens to undo attempts to lower carbon emissions. According to a report entitled The Ampere Strikes Back, household appliances consume 1/3 of the energy use for the average UK home. The graph below represents the increased energy consumption of various television sets. So, when you are downloading the podcast of Live Earth, it seems that you may be undoing the benefits you thought you were trying to accomplish.
Similarly, as you drive along in your Prius with your laptop, cell, digital camera, on the way home to game on your Xbox attached to your flat screen it may all be for naught. Moreover, the carbon footprint of the PS3 and Xbox 360 is considerably higher than the carbon footprint of the previous generations’ consoles. (Note, however, that LCD screens consume far less power than Plasma screens–the average LCD consumes 193 watts, vs. a whopping 328 watts for plasma screens.)
Even on idle mode, the PS3 saps 177 watts (and 194 watts when gaming), and the Xbox 360 consumes 157 watts (185 watts when gaming). The PS2, in contrast, consumed only 38.3 watts, and the original Xbox consumed 70 watts.
The Kyoto summit had the good and the bad. The good, its purpose. The bad, the implementation. First, the good. Contrary to all those skeptics, one fact remains clear: something is amiss and without any precedent in the last millenium’s history of climate change. Kyoto tried to address that, based on the science that has produced frightening charts like this:
Now, the bad. The Guardian has a good article pointing out the serious flaws in Kyoto’s approach to solving airborne pollutant emissions problems. The Wall Street Journal’s print edition carried a similar front-page treatment of Kyoto’s failings, and the Guardian’s expose re-stresses the same flaws.
Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal reports on scientific studies suggesting strongly that the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere results in hardier, larger, and more potent allergens from allergy-inducing vegetation. For the 35 million people in the U.S. that suffer nasal allergies, none of this is good news.
Dr. Lewis Ziska of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, interviewed for the article, has conducted studies that have revealed that most likely due to the warmer temperatures and 20% higher concentration of carbon dioxide in urban areas, the same pollen-producing plants produce five times the pollen of otherwise identical plants grown in rural areas. Dr. Ziska’s studies under controlled circumstances bore these more general studies out: cultivating ragweed under varying controlled amounts of carbon dioxide concentrations produced increasingly larger and more prolific pollen as the carbon dioxide concentration was increased. His field studies found that urban ragweed plants in Baltimore produced humongous ragweed plants, 190% larger than the rural ragweed plants 40 miles outside the city, and the pollen production followed size closely.
Among the changes occurring:
- Peak season for allergens from vegetation has been arriving 10-15 days earlier over the past 30 years, a trend expected to continue. (source: August ’07 report from the International Panel on Climate Change)
- Pollen season in Europe for birch, a major hay fever producer, has arrived 5 days earlier per decade over the past 30 years
- Ragweed, which was next to completely absent in Europe 10 years ago, is now prevalent in Hungary, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.
- In 2004, asthma affected more than 6% of the U.S. population, compared to 3% in 1980 (source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta (CDC))
- Childhood asthma jumped to 9% of children in 2005, versus 3.6% in 1980 (source: CDC)
- Inner city youth asthma linked to higher city/urban carbon dioxide concentrations which produce increased plant pollen, fungal growth, and opportunistic weeds (source: 2004 Harvard Medical School Study)
- Pre-school asthma rates grew 160% between 1980 and 1994, more than double the general U.S. population’s asthma rate of increase (source: Ibid.)
What’s bad news for allergy sufferers is bad news for me.
But count me on a team with growing ranks. Anecdotal evidence of the increased potency these allergens carry I’ve found during the past two weeks: pollen counts have been in the thousands, extraordinarily high, and I have both one relative and one co-worker who, now in their thirties and never having suffered nasal allergies before, have been “taken down” by the recent pollen onslaught, and definitively so: fearing illness both visited the doctor, and both were told, to their amazement, “it’s allergies. Deal.”
So misery loves company, but let’s hope we all have the wherewithal to do something about it.
As you know, I’m a die-hard environmentalist. I also believe that Thomas Jefferson spake the truth when he said “all Men are created equal. And I also believe it’s true that ol’ TJ owned slaves around that same time.
No lingering cognitive dissonance there, most of us have worked through these historical demons of American history and have come to terms with what was wrong in that picture.
But back to the environmentalism: Sheryl Crow and Laurie David, who Professor Ann Althouse keenly points out (I was LOL, ROFL, however you say it, at her lovely characterization of the situation) were obnoxious and indignant when Karl Rove failed to bow to their fame and beauty, have more flaws in their campaign to promote environmentalism than a lowly industrial diamond.
Professor Bainbridge quotes Gregg Easterbrook on the cognitive dissonance between Laurie David’s frequent travel in chartered Gulfstream jets and her nasty words (appropriately, I agree, but then I don’t travel in a Gulfstream) for owners of SUVs. Easterbrook writes:
I did a few quick calculations. The mid-sized Gulfstream G200 model can carry about 2,100 gallons of jet fuel, which is made from petroleum, and would burn around 1,200 to 1,500 gallons flying from New York to Los Angeles, depending on wind speed and how many passengers were aboard. A Hummer driven 15,000 miles, the average put on a car per year, would burn around 1,250 gallons of gasoline. So for Laurie David to take one cross-country flight in a Gulfstream is the same, in terms of Persian-Gulf dependence and greenhouse-gas emissions, as if she drove a Hummer for an entire year. But then, conservation is what other people should do.
Why can’t these people practice what they preach? Why?
Or so Shai Oster of the Wall Street Journal writes today, citing comments by the International Energy Agency’s chief economist, Fatih Birol. Previously China had been expected to surpass the U.S. in emissions in 2010, but China’s burgeoning economy (increasing at more than 10% a year for the past four years) has required a revision to the estimate — China will likely surpass the U.S. in emissions this year.
This, of course, is touched on by Mr. Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, but he doesn’t dwell on the looming Chinese and Indian industrial complexes. For good reason — once those two countries’ billion-each populations take to the roads and demand production/consumer goods en masse, the U.S. contribution to the global warming problem will, relatively, appear a pittance. For now, though, our place is secure as the #1 or #2 polluter for years to Continue reading
Last week Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post, one of my favorite columnists, wrote about a little experiment he conducted in D.C. He managed to convince Joshua Bell, one of the most celebrated American violinists, to play for quarters in the D.C. Metro. For 45 minutes, dressed in jeans and a ballcap, Bell played some of the greatest Classical music of all time.
Weingarten wanted to see what the reaction of commuters was. He had no preconceived notions. In the end, almost nobody stopped to hear Bell play. Out of thousands, only eight took even a moment of their time to stop and listen to his music.
Weingarten did not intend this to be an indictment of Washingtonians, although he felt the result said something sorrowful about the human condition. Mail poured in. Many were defensive, others replied that they had had a strong emotional response to the piece. I fall into the latter category, and I felt I should write a little about it.
The U.S. Supreme Court just handed down its decision in Massachusetts v. EPA (05-1120), in which it held that the Environmental Protection Agency had incorrectly refused to regulate car and truck exhausts in that state. The State of Massachusetts sued the Federal EPA, claiming that it (the State) would be directly affected by global warming. The opinion itself, PDF format, is here.
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the majority (5-4) opinion. In brief, the Supreme Court found that Congress had ordered the EPA to protect Massachusetts and other states by setting standards for regulation of air pollutants. The Court found that car and truck exhausts were in fact the sorts of pollutants that Congress had in mind requiring regulation under the Clean Air Act. Finally, the Court found that the reason that EPA gave for denying rulemaking to Massachusetts and the other states was “arbitrary and capricious,” and hence returned the issue to EPA for another chop. EPA still could refuse to regulate automobile emissions after Massachusetts, but it will have to give a different reason for refusing to regulate than it’s original reason — which was that, given the Executive’s stance and already extant efforts on global warming, regulation at this time would be “unwise.”
My bottom line analysis up-front, so you can skip the full analysis if you so desire:
“This [case] is a broad exercise of judicial power over the Executive Branch’s activities–and runs colorably against the “highly deferential” position the Court Continue reading
As the inestimable Fredregar would tell you, if you asked, it’s hard to find a more die-hard Oakeshottian conservative than H Lime. That doesn’t affect my writing of this review in an area where science trumps political belief — as it always must, for any who consider themselves children of the Enlightenment. Just last week, Scientific American reported that “if global warming continues unabated, many of the world’s climate zones may disappear by 2100 . . . [and] up to 39 percent of Earth’s continental surfice may experience totally new climates, primarily in the tropics and adjacent latitudes as warmer temperatures spread toward the poles.” One scientist ventured that Chicago may take on the climate of Memphis — but there’s no telling exactly what Memphis will look like. Hotter, for sure. The one thing that’s not in dispute: humans are doing a number on the Earth’s environment.
Above: Global warming in action — Switzerland’s Piz Bernina summit
in 1978 (left) and 2003 (right)
I have little to add to the praise that’s been widely given to the 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth. I didn’t vote for Mr. Gore, and his political beliefs infrequently find a friend in me. “His” movie, for that’s really what it is despite being directed by Davis Guggenheim, is a feature-length PowerPoint presentation. I would never have dreamed Continue reading
High time. I ditched my Mercedes because, frankly, the quality was crap. I replaced it with a Toyota Prius, and the family, to my surprise, loves the car. (The wife picked the Mercedes, so she thought it was my turn and only reluctantly initially agreed to the Prius.)
Now, assuming Mercedes doesn’t learn quality control from its Asian competitors, at least they have one selling point in my book — saving the environment. Check this out over at Wired:
Mercedes-Benz is shifting gears and going with the hybrid flow,
reversing its current emphasis on diesel over hybrid-drive technology.
“We won’t develop any future models without a hybrid option,”
Mercedes-Benz is shifting gears and going with the hybrid flow, reversing its current emphasis on diesel over hybrid-drive technology. “We won’t develop any future models without a hybrid option,”
WIRED Blogs: Autopia
This is nothing new–there’ve been many studies that suggested that toxins leech out of those Nalgeen bottles into your water. One purported side effect is reproductive damage — genetic defects in reproduction as a result of the chemicals. The exact extent and risk, however, is unknown. This sidesteps the issue–and why not? Corn based vs. Petrol based. Energy independence! Go corn!
read more | digg story