I’ll be talking about Earth’s climate, China’s pollution problems, and icebergs: including one the size of Delaware. The big berg broke off from Antarctica this week.
The recent G20 meeting was mostly about economics, not climate change; but that didn’t deter the usual colorful protesters.
I’m not complaining about folks at the fancy-dress street party in Hamburg. If nothing else, they added a touch of human interest to an otherwise-dry international business meeting.
This week’s ‘science news’ post is even more — alternatively-linear? — than most. This list of headings may help you find what’s interesting. Or maybe not:
- Preferences and perspectives
- News and views
- Fancy Dress at G20
- “We’ll Always Have Paris”
- Chilling News
- “Fish Gotta Swim and Birds Gotta Fly – – -“
- “- – – But They Don’t Last Long if They Try”
- Principles and politics
Global Warming, Climate Change, and Opportunities
If some of this month’s news seems familiar, maybe you’re remembering the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.
This time around the event is a G20 meeting, but the bells and whistles are pretty much the same.
There’s a bit of overlap in the topics discussed. More about that later.
News coverage of the 2015 Paris conference ranged from the usual hysterics to comparatively calm reporting. This piece, from Reuters, even included some numbers:
“EU ministers seek ambitious, binding deal at Paris climate talks: draft”
Barbara Lewis, Reuters (June 25, 2015)
“European Union ministers are seeking an ambitious, durable and legally binding deal to curb global warming, enforced through five-yearly reviews, a draft of their position statement for U.N. climate talks shows….
“…It calls for five-yearly reviews to ensure temperature rises are capped at 2 degrees Celsius, the necessary limit according to scientists to prevent the most devastating climate change….”
For me, one of the more interesting things about the Reuters article was Barbara Lewis using the phrases “global warming” and “climate change.” Before then, I’m pretty sure that “global warming” would have been the crisis du jour’s sole moniker.
Updating the slogan is progress of a sort. I’d like to see an upgrade in assumptions otherwise-smart folks make about the issue: on both/all sides.
That sort of thing takes time; generations, sometimes. So I’ll use this as an opportunity to cultivate patience. And, of course, to talk about climate change, stewardship, and why I think using our brains makes sense.
About the “five-yearly reviews:” I think periodic monitoring of global conditions is a good idea.
If done sensibly, that should help us deal with existing issues, and keep new problems from getting out of hand.
Part of our job is ‘cultivating’ this world, keeping our home in good working order. (Genesis 1:26–29, 2:15; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 339, 952, 2402–2405, 2456)
It’s not a new idea:
“The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”
I’ve talked about Genesis, clay, and getting a grip, before. (July 15, 2016)
I am a Christian and realize that we’ve learned a bit in the thirty or so centuries since parts of the Bible were written. (March 31, 2017; August 28, 2016)
I don’t expect to find detailed ‘how to’ discussions of the Corex Process in Genesis, or whatever tech we’ll be using in the 52nd century. God gave us brains, pretty good ones. Using them makes sense. (June 16, 2017; November 18, 2016; August 5, 2016)
Again, monitoring Earth’s environment regularly is a good idea. Like it or not, we have been affecting conditions here.
Happily, systems like NASA’s GOES and ISRO’s environmental satellites make data collection practical. Even better, as I see it, we can get objective data — not official reports which may have been edited by local, regional, or national authorities.
Assuming that we can set Earth’s thermostat? I think we may develop that tech well before the 52nd century. Today? We’re not there yet.
Learning the Right Lessons
I was — impressed — at the European Union’s decision that Earth’s average temperature would rise no more than two degrees Celsius, presumably over a five-year period.
It’s likely enough that we’ll eventually regulate Earth’s temperature with that sort of precision.
We’ve learned a bit about how Earth’s weather and climate work. We’ve even learned how to affect storms.
I think experiments in the early 1970s suggest that we don’t know quite how to control storms. Not yet.
Affecting local and regional storm systems seems like a first step in global climate control. I think it’s very likely that we will, given time, develop technology that lets us fine-tune our home’s environment.
Human nature being what it is, I’m pretty sure that we will begin managing Earth’s climate wisely somewhat later.
We may also learn, again, why some field tests should be on a planet where folks aren’t living. I’ll grant that we’re still not sure about the Black Hills Flood of 1972. (May 26, 2017)
The lesson of disasters like the Great Famine of 1315-17, London’s 1666 fire, Aberfan, and Fukushima Daiichi system failures, is not that technology is evil.
I’m quite sure God didn’t intend humanity to live by gathering berries and stalking aardvarks and warthogs. Not permanently. I’m also sure that developing agriculture and antibiotics wasn’t a mistake.
Like anything else we do, growing crops works better when we think ahead. The same goes for building cities and nuclear reactors.
We’re rational creatures whose nature includes curiosity. We’re supposed to notice the world’s beauty and order, learn its laws, and use that knowledge: wisely. (Catechism, 16, 341, 373, 1704, 1730–1731, 2293)
We don’t own this world. We’re more like stewards or foremen. Managing this world is part of our job. Using its resources and preparing for future generations, within reason, is a good idea. (Catechism, 2415–2418, 2456)
About the 2015 Paris climate talks, I think they were a good idea. Basically.
I’d better explain that.
I think Earth’s climate is changing.
Believing that Earth’s climate hasn’t changed, never changes, and won’t change, doesn’t match what we’ve been learning. (June 30, 2017; May 19, 2017; January 20, 2017)
I don’t “believe in” climate change. Not in the sense that I put it at the top of my priorities, or see it as my reason for living. That would be a bad idea. (Catechism, 2112–2114)
I don’t “believe in” an unchanging climate, either; for the same reasons.
Some folks apparently don’t like the idea of a changing climate. I don’t think that alters the objective reality we’re in.
I’m no more impressed by liberals who act as if their education was based on the works of Ehrlich, as interpreted by disciples of Malthus. (May 12, 2017; January 20, 2017)
I don’t doubt the sincerity of ‘save the whatever’ folks, or their ‘back to the good old days’ counterparts.
But I do not agree with them. Not entirely.
Ignoring both/all sides of the ‘climate change’ sound and fury isn’t an option. Even if I thought the issue was a complete fabrication, many folks take it seriously.
That makes it a factor in today’s world.
Contributing to the good of society and taking part in public life is part of my faith, even if I’d rather keep my distance. (Catechism, 1915, 2239)
Besides, I never lost youthful ideals I developed in the 60s. Or a strong preference for attitudes that make sense.
Holding ideals that make sense takes a little work, but I think it’s worth the effort.
‘Lords of Creation?’
Maybe the folks in those penguin costumes thought the Paris goals were too small.
Some other folks probably think they’re too big, and that the Paris talks were a waste of time: or worse.
I’ve decided to see the 2015 climate conference as mostly good news. It’ll be even better if the various national leaders follow through on their promises.
There’s some reason to hope that the rhetoric wasn’t entirely empty. There’s been progress in the last several decades.
European industry’s contribution to Earth’s atmospheric fug peaked in 1979, and has been declining since. Those are ‘good old days’ I certainly don’t yearn for.
The 2015 Reuters article said that Europe’s industrial pollution was about 10 percent of the world’s total. China was the world’s champ in that area, at 25 percent. That’s not an enviable distinction.
If everyone follows through, Earth’s air should be cleaner in a few decades. Like I said: good news.
Deciding that Earth’s temperature will go up no more than some set amount? That seems to involve some whacking great assumptions.
The biggest of the lot, I think, is that everything on this planet happens because humans are here: or at least everything that’s changing. That smacks of the old ‘lords of creation’ attitude that got us into this mess to begin with.
We’re pretty hot stuff: but we’re not that hot. (March 26, 2017; January 20, 2017)
1. Fancy Dress at G20
(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Many of the protesters in Hamburg were demonstrating against Donald Trump’s position on climate change”
“G20 Hamburg: Leaders fail to bridge Trump climate chasm”
BBC News (July 8, 2017)
“Leaders of 19 nations at the G20 summit in Germany have renewed their pledge to implement the Paris deal on climate change, despite the US pulling out.
“Deadlock over the issue had held up the last day of talks in Hamburg but a final agreement was eventually reached.
“It acknowledges President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement without undermining the commitment of other countries….”
I’m not sure why events like the 2015 climate talks and the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit inspire protests in fancy dress.
Maybe it’s a European thing.
Likely enough, the idea is to get a photographer’s attention.
The ‘coal kills” set got international coverage by dressing as angels at the Place de la République in 2015. I suppose there’s a certain publicity value in costumes.
There’s no small amount of theater involved in politics. A candidate drove a tractor into a political convention I was at, quite a few years back.
Nothing wrong with theater, provided that there’s substance, too.
Dancing Cigarette Packs
The (dancing?) globe performer in this year’s photo op was entertaining. I’m not sure how we’re supposed to respond.
Maybe there’s a slogan on the Pacific Ocean. Or maybe the point is to attract attention to the stage, and the message came later.
The demonstrator’s costume and pose reminded me of old ‘dancing objects’ commercials. I think that Old Gold carton and matchbook are from the 1950s.
We don’t see that sort of thing any more. Partly because the powers that be decided that cigarette and beer commercials are bad for us. Partly because advertising gimmicks change as years go by.
The G20 summit isn’t about climate change, by the way, or President Trump.
Sustainable Development and G20
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Police and anti-summit protesters clashed for a second day”
G20, or Group of 20, is a get-together of brass from the top 20 governments and banks.1
Folks who don’t like governments and banks generally show up to protest. I don’t know how they feel, getting upstaged by the ‘save us from Trump’ bunch.
Anyway, this time around G20 will be talking about inclusive growth. They’re for it, apparently. That makes sense to me. I figure anyone with business interests would want as many comparatively-wealthy customers, clients, and partners as possible.
G20 will also discuss how to make the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development work. That’s probably a ‘Trump’ connection. There’s a mess of other topics on the table, too.
About sustainable development, I see it as a basically good idea. Fossil fuel shortages aren’t a crisis yet, but we’re burning through a finite supply.
Besides, we’ve learned that combustion products are bothersome; or worse.
I could do with a great deal more common sense in sustainable development’s details. But the basic idea, acting as if future generations matter? That, to me, makes sense.
2. “We’ll Always Have Paris”
(From AFP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“How will Mrs Merkel manoeuvre around Mr Trump?”
“G20: Merkel’s mission is to co-opt Saudis and Russia to embarrass US”
Roger Harrabin, op-ed, BBC News (July 7, 2017)
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel is battling to prevent US President Donald Trump undermining the world leaders’ united front on climate change.
“At the Paris climate deal, all world leaders spoke in favour of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees but that was after a massive diplomatic effort by President Barack Obama made membership of the climate club a moral imperative.
“He and the French hosts created such an atmosphere that even the normally foot-dragging Russians and Saudis committed to the deal, despite their long history of slowing progress in climate negotiations behind the scenes.
“They own vast fossil fuel reserves of oil and gas and fear they will stand to lose if the world shifts away from fossil fuels.
“Many a UN climate conference has drawn to a semi-successful close, only for the chair to wearily announce ‘objection from Saudi Arabia’.
“The task for Chancellor Merkel and her allies is to bind these two nervous bedfellows into the great climate alliance between the EU and China, leaving the US looking out of touch….”
Even if the Paris climate deal2 is as successful in its way as “Casablanca,” I suspect it won’t be as well-remembered as the 1943 film.
On the other hand, the Paris deal has memorable elements.
Two American presidents involved, Obama and Trump, are both colorful.
That’ll help folks recognize the names in the 2090s. So will America’s role in today’s world. Like it or not, America is a major player these days.
Look at it this way: you may remember that Franklin D. Roosevelt was president in 1943. But unless you’re Bulgarian, you may not remember Simeon Sakskoburggotski. He’s the last Bulgarian Tsar.
His father, the second-to-last Tsar, was arrested a few days after Stalin declared war on Bulgaria. He was executed a few months later, along with quite a few other troublesome folks. That was in 1943. Simeon was six at the time. A referendum voted him out in 1946.
I suppose someone may have wondered about the 97% approval vote for Bulgaria’s new regime. But with the Soviet army hanging around, I’m not surprised at its acceptance.
Simeon went into exile, and became Cadet Rylski No. 6883 at Valley Forge Military Academy and College. After a few decades of assorted education and career moves, he returned to Bulgaria and served as Prime Minister from 2001 to 2005.
Simeon’s experiences make a dramatic story. But I’m guessing that most Americans know more about “Casablanca’s” plot than his biography.
That’s not a criticism of Americans. It does, I think, tell something about what gets remembered, and why.
Bulgaria is currently one of those places that don’t often make the headlines.
This isn’t the heyday of the Odrysian kingdom. That was between Plato’s time and the Vikram Samvat’s first year.
Old Great Bulgaria was a big deal in its day, too, but few folks west of the Avar Khaganate — where today’s Hungary and Romania are, more or less — remember the great Kahns now.
The First and Second Bulgarian Empires lasted a bit over three and two centuries, respectively. That era ended around the time the Kalmar Union started, when Chaucer was writing “Canterbury Tales.”
A thousand years from now, Bulgaria could be as important as Indonesia is today. As I keep saying, change happens.
I’ve drifted off-topic again. Where was I? G20 summit, Barrak Obama, Bogart, Bulgaria. Right.
Roger Harrabin’s op-ed credits President Obama with getting “all world leaders” to support “limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees.”
That’s accurate, to an extent.
Mr. Harrabin may or may not be right about the German chancellor trying to keep President Trump from sullying President Obama’s “moral imperative.” I figure results of this G20 meeting will be praised, vilified, and — occasionally — discussed until the next meeting.
About Obama and the 2015 Paris talks, he was there. He probably affected the outcome. I’d be surprised if he hadn’t.
Quite a few top leaders said they’d keep Earth from getting more than two degrees Centigrade warmer. As I said before, I don’t see that as something to preen over.
I don’t know about “all,” but let’s say Mr. Harrabin meant ‘all the ones who matter.’ That agrees with what I’ve read.
The two degree declaration wasn’t the only result from Paris.
Europe’s leaders said they’d cut emissions by 40 percent — at least — compared to 1990 levels. Their target date was 2030. That was probably carbon dioxide emissions, but I figure dialing back any industrial effluvia is probably a good idea.
Carbon dioxide is one of the top four ‘greenhouse gasses’ Earth’s atmosphere. I talked about that, and laughing gas, last week. (July 7, 2017)
Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, too. Oddly enough, I haven’t read a thing about efforts to regulate it. That doesn’t bother me.
I figure we’ll be better off if we learn much more about how much carbon dioxide, water, and all the rest, “should” be in Earth’s atmosphere — before we start tinkering with the controls.
3. Chilling News
(From M.Hoppmann/AWI, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Iceberg names follow a convention that uses a letter followed by a number”
“Antarctic iceberg: Giant ‘white wanderer’ poised to break free”
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (July 5, 2017)
“Everybody is fascinated by icebergs. The idea that you can have blocks of frozen water the size of cities, and bigger, sparks our sense of wonder.
“British astronaut Tim Peake photographed one from orbit that would just about fit inside Central London’s ring road. But at 26km by 13km (16 miles by 8 miles), it was a tiddler compared with the berg that is about to break away from the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula.
“A rift has grown across the edge of the Larsen C Ice Shelf. A thin, 5km-long section of the floating shelf is now all that prevents a 6,000-sq-km berg from drifting away into the Weddell Sea….”
I’ve talked about the Larsen C Ice Shelf and the Halley VI research station before. (February 17, 2017; January 20, 2017)
The last I heard, Halley VI’s planned move ended in February.
Folks with the British Antarctic Survey, BAS, decided to wait until the Antarctic winter ends before moving back in. That’ll happen in November, barring unforeseen events.
The Larsen C Ice Shelf crack that’s been in the news lately started a long time ago. But it’s nobody’s fault.
That may not be what you’ve read in the papers.
A Silly Response to Silliness
Picking up bits and pieces I’ve seen here and there — naming no sources, I’m acting like a journalist for once. The more colorful sort, not one who bothers about fiddly facts.
Now, in the tradition of the Great Moon Hoax and supermarket tabloids —
Atlantic ocean temperatures have been increasing since the late 1940s. Former president Franklin D. Roosevelt remains unavailable for comment.
Sources close to the White House confirm that President Harry S. Truman allowed development of thermonuclear weapons and continued use of coal-burning electric generators. Truman did not, however, authorize clean-running fusion power plants.
Keep going like that, and I might get an ‘impeach Truman’ initiative started. Some folks might forget that he died in 1953.
Or did he? Someone started the Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 1975. Suspicious!
Sorry about that. What’s sad is that the last few paragraphs aren’t all that different from what I see in the silly side of the news.
The point I had in mind is that the Larsen C crack has been growing for decades. What’s new is that a huge iceberg broke free as a result. That happened Wednesday, July 12, 2017.
As an NPR piece pointed out in January, bits of ice shelf have been breaking off for a long time. It’s a natural phenomenon.
For me, it’s also an opportunity to talk about icebergs.
Look Out Atlantic, Here It Comes!
(From NASA/SUOMI NPP/SIMON PROUD, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“This view of the iceberg was taken by Nasa’s Suomi NPP satellite”
“Giant iceberg splits from Antarctic”
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (July 12, 2017)
“One of the biggest icebergs ever recorded has just broken away from Antarctica.
“The giant block is estimated to cover an area of roughly 6,000 sq km; that’s about a quarter the size of Wales….”
That’s a big bit of ice. Not the biggest ever, though, or even the biggest we know of.
“…The new Larsen berg is probably in the top 10 biggest ever recorded.
“The largest observed in the satellite era was an object called B-15. It came away from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000 and measured some 11,000 sq km. Six years later, fragments of this super-berg still persisted and passed by New Zealand.
“In 1956, it was reported that a US Navy icebreaker had encountered an object of roughly 32,000 sq km. That is bigger than Belgium. Unfortunately, there were no satellites at the time to follow up and verify the observation….”
(Jonathan Amos, BBC News)
The Wikipedia page about Iceberg B-15 says “Iceberg B-15 was the world’s largest recorded iceberg….”
Astute readers will check Wikipedia’s footnote and see “…the largest iceberg recorded by satellite photography….”
The rest of the footnote mentions the 1956 sighting, and adds that since satellite photography wasn’t available then, estimates about the berg are “less reliable.”
Fair enough. And that’s why I read footnotes.3
About the Larsen-C iceberg — BBC is British, so they use British comparisons. This berg is about a quarter the size of Wales. Since I’m an American, I’ll say it’s roughly the size of Delaware. Either way, it’s big.
I gather that the berg’s official designation is iceberg A68. That’s not a particularly catchy name, so I’ll suggest a few: Big Bergy; Iceland South; Bergworld; South Delaware.
I don’t know how big iceberg tourism is around Antarctica. It’s a bit far from Earth’s biggest population centers. I found some academic discussion of the topic, which doesn’t connect all that much with the ‘climate and environment’ theme I’m doing this week.
I did find a pretty good iceberg FAQ, from Earth’s northern hemisphere. Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism’s IcebergFinder.com includes an Iceberg Facts page with background information. They discuss where icebergs come from and how they’re formed.
Since it’s a tourism site, they also answer this question: “How close can you get to an iceberg?” It boils down to ‘not very, if you plan on surviving.’
Icebergs, Growlers, and Bergy Bits
(From ESA, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The drift paths (red lines) of countless bergs have been tracked around the Antarctic continent (black). This collective history strongly suggests the Larsen block will head for the South Atlantic”
Jonathan Amos, I’m back to the BBC News article now, says that bits of ice floating in the ocean aren’t all icebergs: only the ones covering 500 or more square meters.
Smaller than that, and they’re called “growlers” or “bergy bits.”
Icebergs have names, sort of.
Icebergs from the Larsen C Ice Shelf are “A” icebergs, followed by a sequence number. The “A” says that the iceberg comes from Antarctica’s “A” quadrant.
So how come it’s “Larsen C Ice shelf?” The “C” in the ice shelf’s name means that it’s the part between Larsen B and Larsen D. Larsen A is farthest from the mainland, Larsen D is closest.
The iceberg naming system’s run by the U.S. National Ice Center. The U.S. weather service and navy started working together in 1956. That outfit was renamed the National Ice Center in 1995, when the Coast Guard got involved.
All of the above started after the Titanic got up close and personal with an iceberg.4
We’ve learned quite a bit since then, and developed tech that lets us study icebergs and Earth’s ocean in fine detail. Finer than before, anyway.
One thing we learned was that sea level around Antarctica is a bit higher than it is elsewhere, by about a half-meter.
We figure it’s the winds whipping around Antarctica that’s pushing the water up.
The difference isn’t much. But when you’re looking at an iceberg nearly the size of Hawaii, it’s significant.
The big berg that’s broken off will slide ‘downhill.’ It won’t go straight north, since Earth is rotating. That brings the Coriolis force into play.
Gaspard-Gustave de Coriolis published a paper in 1835, describing this inertial effect in rotating systems. He had waterwheels in mind, but other scientists realized that the Coriolis force applied to weather systems, too.
Most of an iceberg, about 90%, is below water; so the lowest parts occasionally scrape along the seafloor. That makes ‘doodles’ like the one in that image, and makes predicting just where an iceberg will go more complicated.
Tracking icebergs is important, since shipping routes go through iceberg territory.
Passenger ships like the Titanic are a small fraction of the world’s vessels.
The British merchant navy was the biggest for centuries. They’re still one of the major players, but these days British ships account for about 3% of the world’s tonnage.
With so many folks directly or indirectly depending on ocean transport, avoiding a replay of the Titanic disaster with any sort of ship is a high priority.
One of the lessons learned from the 1912 Titanic incident is that having tech is only part of the picture.
Folks using the tech have to know what it’s for and how to use it.
Getting everyone involved on the same page also helps, I think. I’m no great fan of regulation, but realize that having rules can be a good idea.
The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, SOLAS, treaty dates back to 1914. It defined minimum safety standards for construction, equipment, and operation. Folks signed off on a major revision in 1974.
It wasn’t the first set of rules for shipping. The Rhodian Sea Law, Nomos Rhodion Nautikos, for example, is well upwards of a dozen centuries old. The more recent Hanseatic League had rules, too; and that’s another topic.
I’d be astonished if everyone was happy about the SOLAS treaty, some because they resented ‘foreigners’ telling them what to do, others because it didn’t demand higher standards, still others for more reasons.
Accidents still happen. The steamer Taiping and freighter Chienyuan collided in 1949. We don’t know how many died. Estimates go up to about 1,500.
Most were folks trying to get out of China, before the current regime’s troops caught them. That most likely explains why something like twice the ship’s rated capacity were on board.
Cargo vessels can have trouble, too.
The April 16, 1947, Texas City disaster wasn’t, quite, a shipping accident. But it involved shipping, so I figure it counts.
The Grandcamp was getting loaded with about 2,200 tons, 2,100 metric tons, of ammonium nitrate.
The cargo was for farmers in Europe, part of the post-World-War-II recovery effort.
Ammonium nitrate is good fertilizer, and comparatively safe: if it’s carefully handled. Houston port authorities wouldn’t allow the stuff in their harbor, since folks aren’t always careful.
Someone had arranged for this load to get shipped at inappropriate temperatures, a lapse in judgment that let the stuff start heating up. Longshoremen reported that the bags were warm, but loading the Grandchamp proceeded. Another lapse in judgment.
After someone noticed smoke in the Grandchamp’s cargo hold, the captain had the hold steamed. That’s a good idea, if your cargo is stuff like wood or grain. Ammonium nitrate? Not so much.
The Grandchamp’s hatches blew off around 9:00 am. Yellow-orange smoke poured out. Someone noticed that seawater touching the Grandchamp’s hull was flashing into steam. Then the ship exploded.
That ignited ammonium nitrate that had been loaded onto the High Flyer, a ship docked about 600 feet, 200 meters, away. The blast also destroyed an onshore chemical plant, ignited refineries and storage tanks; and pretty much anything else flammable.
We’re not sure how many folks died. Recovery teams found 405 identifiable bodies. Unidentifiable parts indicate 63 more deaths. 113 folks simply disappeared.
The Texas City port was a busy place, and not everyone was on someone’s payroll or crew list. The death toll may have been higher. About 5,000 were injured, 500 homes destroyed. It was a mess.
I don’t think anyone’s rules will keep folks from making daft and deadly mistakes. But like I said, I think they help.
4. “Fish Gotta Swim and Birds Gotta Fly – – -“
(From Chongqing Liangjiang Voluntary Service Centre(?), via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Industrial pollution in Hebei province, found by the Chongqing Liangjiang Voluntary Service Centre.)
“Chinese anger over ‘acid pollution’ images”
Beijing bureau, China Blog, BBC News (April 26, 2017)
“Recent aerial photographs of extensive pollution at industrial sites in northern China have caused a public outcry, and calls for action from the authorities.
“The images, taken by a drone, show a cluster of dark red and rust-coloured pits occupying a big patch of land in a village called Nanzhaofu in Hebei province.
“The NGO which broke the story, Chongqing Liangjiang Voluntary Service Centre, said preliminary tests it conducted showed the waste water in the pits was strongly acidic.
“The pollutants have been been there for years, it said, meaning the underground water might have been contaminated….”
This is an example of why I don’t mind folks who aren’t part of a government sharing what they’ve noticed.
It’s not that I think government officials are malevolent. But they’re human, and might miss something. I see not wanting awkward facts to get out as more selfish than actively destructive, but the effects can be bad.
It’s generally a good idea to have someone else take an occasional look.
The same principle applies with writing and proofreading. Proofreading my own work isn’t nearly as effective as having someone else look for errors.
I doubt very much that someone thought poisoning folks in Nanzhafu would be a good idea.
Maybe those waste pits seemed like an inexpensive way to get rid of industrial byproducts. The original intent might have been what Americans call saving tax dollars, or cutting overhead.
An official returning a personal favor may have deliberately overlooked the toxic waste. That sort of thing is a tradition — probably everywhere. I’m not saying it’s a good tradition.
Whatever decision-making process was in play — BBC News gave these translations of how some folks responded:
“…’Those photos are shocking, the authority has been doing nothing, I am so angry!’ one social media user said.
“‘My aunt is from that county in Hebei, she died from cancer two years ago. Her grandson is suffering from cancer and her mother in law has cancer too,’ said another.
“‘I thought it was just coincidence but now I don’t. The government has to provide us a safe environment.’…”
(Beijing bureau, China Blog, BBC News)
The problem here isn’t so much not having government standards. It’s not having the standards followed.
China’s Environment Minister, cited in the South China Morning Post, said 36.3% of samples from heavy polluting industrial land and surrounding soil didn’t meet existing standards.
This could become an even more serious issue, since some of that land is slated for urban development.
The good news is that it looks like folks who are supposed to be in charge are apparently aware of the problem. Even better, they say it’s a problem. That’s two steps toward cleaning up the mess.
My guess is that folks have had trouble with someone not taking out the garbage, or taking it out and putting it somewhere inappropriate, for as long as we’ve been around.
I’m pretty sure that folks who should have known better have tried lying their way out of trouble, too. With the usual results. Happily, that may not be the case here.
What’s been changing, rapidly, is what sort of ‘garbage’ we produce, and the tech we’re using.
But I doubt that anyone really hankers for the ‘good old days’ of frequent famines and plagues. (June 25, 2017; May 12, 2017; October 30, 2016)
And I’m certainly not anxious for a return to pre-NEPA/EPA America.
That didn’t solve all our problems, which reminds me: I don’t know what Flint, Michigan, officials were thinking. Maybe they really didn’t know or remember what they’d decided. And that’s yet another topic. (April 7, 2017)
5. “- – – But They Don’t Last Long if They Try”
(From Reuters, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Chinese officials said they were evaluating plans to deal with heavy air pollution in many cities”
“Beijing pollution: Police force to combat toxic smog”
BBC News (January 8, 2017)
“A new team of environmental police will try to reduce hazardous levels of toxic smog engulfing Beijing, the city’s acting mayor has said.
“The police will look for local sources of air pollution, including open-air barbecues and dusty roads, Cai Qi says, according to Xinhua state news agency.
“The mayor has also promised to reduce coal consumption by 30% this year.
“Many residents have been forced to stay in their homes for days at a time to avoid breathing the poisonous air.
“The public has been calling on the government to do more to address major sources of smog, including reducing China’s reliance on coal-fired power plants, the primary source of electricity in the country.
Officials say unfavourable weather conditions in the capital have prevented pollutants from dispersing….”
Conspiracy theory enthusiasts, take note.
Vitality, a Canadian company, is bottling air and selling it — mostly to folks in China, India and South Korea:
- “The entrepreneurs making money out of thin air”
Vikram Barhat, Entrepreneur, BBC (May 16, 2017)
‘Obviously’ this is a capitalist plot to subvert — no, that won’t wash. South Korea and India aren’t workers’ paradises. Or would that be paradies? Paradees? Never mind.
Here’s another ‘plot’ idea: the bottled air isn’t from Canada, and it’s not air.
It’s hypno-gas, manufactured by space-alien shape-shifting lizard-men: part of their plot to enslave humanity. You know that’s true, since there’s no proof. This shows how cleverly they’re concealing their involvement.
More seriously, Vitality sells each eight-liter bottle of compressed Canadian air for about C$32 a bottle. The bottle includes a spray cap and mask, and provides about 160 breaths.
That could get expensive for folks who breathe regularly.
Cities, a Song, and a Smog Brick
(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
Maybe it seems like I’m picking on China. That’s not what I have in mind.
I think China is going through what places like England and America experienced over the last few centuries. On the whole, they’re going through the process faster than we did.
Beijing, for example, apparently skipped the manure crisis that threatened London in the 1890s, and is now dealing with their equivalent of London’s 1950s death fog.5
I’m talking about China’s situation because industrial and urban pollution is a very real and current issue for folks living there.
Besides, I’ve got these photos from 2015.
“A performance artist used a vacuum cleaner to suck up particles in super smoggy Beijing to make a brick of condensed pollution.
“Beijing has been swamped for days in a beige-gray miasma of smog, bringing coughs and rasping, hospitals crowded from respiratory ailments, a midday sky so dim that it could pass for evening, and head-shaking disgust from residents who had hoped the city was over the worst of its chronic pollution.
“But ‘Brother Nut,’ a performance artist, has something solid to show from the acrid soup in the air: a brick of condensed pollution.
“For 100 days, Brother Nut dragged a roaring, industrial-strength vacuum cleaner around the Chinese capital’s landmarks, sucking up dust from the atmosphere.
“He has mixed the accumulated gray gunk with red clay to create a small but potent symbol of the city’s air problems….”
(Chris Buckley, Adam Wu; The Seattle Times (December 1, 2015))
I think this sort of art may help, in the same way that the Tom Lehrer “Pollution” song helped folks stay focused on the issue. That’s where I got the “Fish Gotta Swim and Birds Gotta Fly” / “But They Don’t Last Long if They Try” headings.
“Imagine” and Assumptions
(From Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur, used w/o permission.)
I spent my youth in the 1960s. I wasn’t the craziest of ‘those crazy kids,’ but I was no great fan of the status quo, either.
In a way, it’s a bit surprising that I didn’t opt out of Christianity.
Having sensible parents almost certainly helped. They took their mainstream Protestant beliefs seriously, and weren’t crackpots or jingoists.
But toxic versions of Christianity had morphed legitimate patriotic sentiments into something very ugly. (July 4, 2017)
‘End Times Bible Prophecies’ didn’t, and don’t, help. (August 7, 2016)
I eventually decided that religion was not necessarily a psychiatric disorder. But I sympathize with folks who didn’t have my opportunities, and arguably-obsessive research habits.
The crazy ones aren’t just ‘those people over there.’
I occasionally run into self-identified Catholics whose expressed beliefs are every bit as toxic and screwball as their rabid Protestant counterparts. I figure they’re sincere. But I’m sure they’re wrong. (November 15, 2016)
Don’t agree with sentiments like these, either, but think I understand what’s behind them:
“Sometimes I wish I was religious so I could have an excuse for hating people.”
(Seen on Twitter, 2015; traceable to reddit.com, December 28, 2011)
“…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace….”
John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)
I’ve sometimes felt that replacing the United States Congress with lava lamps would save money, and produce about as much good sense as what we have now.
I wouldn’t recommend it, though. We’d need someone to interpret what the blobs were ‘saying.’ That might be worse than the system we’ve got now.
It raises an interesting question, though: do we really need any government?
We do, but as usual I won’t leave it at that.
Some scholars say that “politics” didn’t have sleazy connotations until folks started reading Machiavelli’s “Il Principe,” “The Prince.”
That’s likely enough, at least in post-Roman Europe.
A less-than-sunny view of politics is hardly new, though:
“…nam qui dabat olim imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses….”
“…The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddles no more and longs eagerly for just two things — bread and circuses!…”
(“Satire X,” Juvenal, ca 100 AD, via thelatinlibrary.com and Wikiquote)
“Your princes are rebels and comrades of thieves; Each one of them loves a bribe and looks for gifts. The fatherless they defend not, and the widow’s plea does not reach them.”
An early version of “The Prince” existed somewhere around 1513. The printed book came out in 1532, a few years after Machiavelli’s death.
“Il Principe” is noteworthy as literature, partly because it was written in vernacular Italian; not Latin. Machiavelli wasn’t the first to do that. Dante finished his Divine Comedy in 1320,6 and other authors were writing in their native languages, too.
Machiavelli followed the traditional mirrors for princes style, familiar since the early Middle Ages.
Most ‘mirrors’ were intended as textbooks for young or inexperienced monarchs. Think of them as self-help books for kings.
Folks are still arguing whether Machiavelli wrote “Il Principe” as a serious ‘how to’ manual for ethics-free rulers, a satire, or something else.
There’s considerably more agreement on how much influence the book has had.
Quite a few European rulers read the book, or at least knew about it: including England’s Henry VIII. That may or may not have helped him decide to set himself up as a mini-pope.
Propaganda and Turf Wars
I think blaming Henry VIII, the Thirty Years’ War, Age of Enlightenment, and French Revolution on “Il Principe” gives the book too much credit.
There was a lot going on; including Gutenberg’s printing press, socioeconomic fallout from the Black Death, and serious imbalances between northern and southern Europe. (March 17, 2017; November 6, 2016; August 14, 2016)
I think folks who wanted a more egalitarian society and better-informed public were on the right track.
Assuming that science, education, and good healthcare will solve all our problems — and seeing religion as a problem? I don’t see faith and reason that way. (April 28, 2017; October 30, 2016)
The notion arguably took root in 18th century’s Enlightenment. I think I understand why folks who lived after the Thirty Years’ War assumed that religion brings death and destruction. I see it more as a massive turf war.
My generation is more likely to remember the Cold War. I’m not entirely unsympathetic with Russia’s rulers wanting direct access to the Atlantic. But I also see the viewpoint of folks who were and are ‘in the way.’
There were real social and ideological issues involved, some of which had a religious angle. But I think the ‘Satanic commies/angelic America’ attitude made about as much sense as enthusiasm for a ‘worker’s paradise.’
Small wonder John Lennon’s song is still so popular.
Obedience, Within Reason
I’ve talked Ur-Nammu’s law code and international law before. (October 30, 2016)
I don’t think either are perfect. But I think government, some sort of authority, is a good idea. That is a far cry from assuming that all governments are good governments.
That brings me back to whether or not government is really necessary.
Folks throughout history have consistently cobbled together some sort of government.
It hasn’t always been a “government” in the American sense, but I suspect that most humans won’t willingly live as completely isolated individuals.
We’re very ‘social’ critters. We seem to like each other’s company, and having some way to coordinate what we do and how we make decisions. Some of our decisions work out better than others. (March 19, 2017; February 17, 2017)
I think we need some sort of government. (Catechism, 1884, 1898)
That is not even close to thinking I should blindly follow any daft, destructive order given by my territory’s boss. Blind obedience is a bad idea, and I shouldn’t do it. Some things are wrong, even if the boss says ‘do it.’ (Catechism, 2313)
Acting as if God outranks a king is what got Thomas More and John Fisher killed. Doing what’s right isn’t necessarily a ‘success’ strategy. Not in the short term. (July 24, 2016)
The difference between a “good” government and the other sort is a matter of legitimate authority. (Catechism, 1897)
Natural Law, Twitchy Folks
I see a government as “good” to the extent that it follows natural law.
As long as folks with authority work for the common good, and everyone’s reasonably comfortable with the system, details in how we pick leaders is up to us. (Catechism, 1897–1917)
Natural law, ethical principles written into reality’s source code, don’t change. How we apply them does. (Catechism, 1954–1960)
At the moment, my civilization’s using variations of democracy. America’s been tweaking a system that I see as a representative democracy with a dash of meritocracy, plutocracy, and assorted other ‘-cracies.’
It’s not perfect, but it’s been working moderately well for something like two centuries. I don’t see the basics of our system changing in the next century or two. A few millennia from now, that’s another matter.
Western civilization is — twitchy — compared to some. I don’t see that as good or bad: it’s just the way we are. (July 24, 2016)
Take the last 26 centuries, for example; starting with Psamtik I re-unifying Egypt, and the Neo-Assyrian Empire dissolving. Corinth replaced their traditional hereditary priest-kings with tyrants around that time. Quite a few other Greek city-states followed suit.
That’s roughly when Japan’s Emperor Jimmu conquered Yamato.
Folks living along the Mediterranean’s north shore had trouble with some tyrants. Big trouble. The word still has unpleasant connotations. They tried quite a few other governing styles, including early versions of what America currently uses.
Rome’s Republic became an empire, which fragmented after about five centuries.
Then Charlemagne became Emperor of the Romans, starting the Carolingian dynasty. Four dynasties later, Saxons and Franks were emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. That lasted until 1809.
Henry VIII of England was, by act of Parliament, ‘imperial:’ but never an emperor.
A little over two centuries later, English colonists in North America got fed up with micromanagement, revolted, and set up a federal republic. Folks in a whole lot of other places did pretty much the same, with varying outcomes.
Our first version didn’t work, so we scrapped that and are currently tweaking our Constitution. A few more centuries, and we may try something else.
Like I said, twitchy.
Meanwhile, back in Japan, Akihito, of the dynasty Jimmu founded, is the world’s only emperor. It’s a largely ceremonial role at the moment, but that could change in the next millennium or two.
Folks aren’t all alike. We’re not supposed to be. And that’s yet again another topic.
More, mostly about Earth and stewardship:
- “Climate Change, Whirligig Icebergs”
(May 26, 2017)
- “Pollution: Still Learning”
(February 17, 2017)
- “Bogs and Bison”
(February 10, 2017)
- “Climate Change Continues”
(January 20, 2017)
- “Gems, Metal, and Earth’s Core”
(January 27, 2017)
1 Economics, climate, politics, and all that:
3 Footnotes and a big iceberg:
- “Envisat shows behemoth B-15A iceberg breaking up”
Observing the Earth, ESA (November 7, 2005)
- “B-15A Iceberg Blocks McMurdo Sound”
Earth Observatory, NASA (December 15, 2004)
4 More icebergs, Saint Brendan of Clonfert, and a famous ship:
- U.S. National Ice Center (NIC)
5 Pollution, China, and London’s death fog:
- “The entrepreneurs making money out of thin air”
Vikram Barhat, Entrepreneur, BBC (May 16, 2017)
- “Artist in smoggy Beijing crafts a message: Brick made from air pollution”
Chris Buckley, Adam Wu; The Seattle Times (December 1, 2015)
- “Chinese authorities boost smog alert level in Beijing”
BBC News (November 29, 2015)
- My take, in part
- “Climate Change, Whirligig Icebergs” (May 26, 2017)
- “Bogs and Bison” (February 10, 2017)
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Would it be OK if I cross-posted this article to WriterBeat.com? I’ll be sure to give you complete credit as the author. There is no fee; I’m simply trying to add more content diversity for our com5munity and I enjoyed reading your work. If “OK” please let me know via email.
Thank you for taking time to comment, and am glad you enjoy the content here.
I see that Whiteout Press did a review on your “great Citizen Journalism website” recently. ( http://www.whiteoutpress.com/articles/2014/q4/writerbeatcom-great-citizen-journalism-website/ )
I am not at all sure that what I do here is “journalism,” citizen or otherwise, but appreciate your efforts to provide information. I also appreciate your concern regarding content diversity.
I will not, however, be responding via email at this time. I am, however, glad that you brought WriterBeat.com to my attention. It looks like a website/social media site with a reasonable goal.
Thanks again for your time and interest.
Wrong word: “That’s accurate, in an extent.”
Extra word: “see that as something to be preen over.”
Odd comma placement, maybe something missing: “how much carbon dioxide, water, and all, “should” be in Earth’s atmosphere”
Missing a negative? “but I was to great fan of the status quo, either.”
Missing word: “the extent that follows natural law.”
The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader
Fixed, and thanks!