Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Is the Fate of the Earth Irreversible?

Global warming has been a topic of concern that continues to pose a problem for the current and future state of the Earth. As populations continue to increase and areas of the world work towards becoming more industrialized countries are contributing a greater ecological footprint with significant consequences on global climate. The greenhouse gas effect enables the Earth to maintain a steady balance of temperature within ranges that are suitable for life on Earth (Lallanilla, 2015). However, human resources in developing and developed countries continue to contribute to emissions and further progress an unequal balance of these natural occurring greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. For example, power plants are guilty of burning fossil fuels such as coal to generate electricity to power vehicles yet many are unaware that these efforts release significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere offsetting the natural balance (Bckibben, 2016). Bill Bckibben refers to the issue of climate change as a world war that we are losing because of our refusal to ignore the warnings and take preventative action (2016).

 NASA released alarming data that the Earth’s surface in 2016 was on record the warmest temperatures in history affirming that we cannot afford to continue to live in denial (Cabbage & McCarthy, 2017). Some environmentalists believe that the state of the Earth is past the point of no return. While preventative efforts are no longer possible we are now faced with a choice; will we continue to excel rates of climate change or will we implement lifestyle changes to slow Earth’s degradation? Unfortunately, this is easier said than done as politics play an integral role in the solution.  Last December the world took steps in the right direction agreeing to sign the Climate Accord in Paris (Cabbage & McCarthy, 2017). In signing this accord Government leaders agreed that change would not happen overnight however, if the world made climate change a priority steps could be taken to reduce emission and limit global temperature rise (Cabbage & McCarthy, 2017). Through this agreement all nations unite under a common cause in order to fight climate change with a mission to keep global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius (United Nations, 2014). Unfortunately, much can happen in a presidential term and Trumps presidency is doing no favors for positive environmental changes. One country’s actions do not make or break the state of the Earth however, because the United States is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases if environmental concerns are placed on the back burner for an entire presidential term it will have drastically negative effects on the Earth (Sneed, 2017). Not only is the United States recent election putting a damper on climate change, but recently China’s actions have done no favors for global warming as China surpasses the United States contributing twice the amount of greenhouse gasses (United Nations, 2014) Even more unfortunate, while environmental improvements are far from the Trump administrations radar climate rules that would actually increase U.S emissions are being considered including removing restrictions on production of oil and natural gases (Sneed, 2017). Even if Trump administration were to retain its current emissions-reducing policies, it is possible that the United States may still emit an excess of 1.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide over its Paris target in 2025 that would have severe repercussions for climate change (Sneed, 2017).
 Fig. 1 Global temperature data averaged; this graph shows the Earth’s escalating temperatures over time. This graph shows the trend toward continual increase and seems that drastic actions must be taken if we want to see a future for the Earth.     

Although the United States current presidential inauguration appears to put a damper on the global outlook of the Earth, not all hope is lost as other areas of the World are devoting efforts towards utilizing techniques and implementing systems to reduce emissions.
Lauri Myllyvirta, a researcher for Greenpeace in Beijing, remarked that although China has contributed substantially to global warming it is working towards taking the necessary steps in the right direction to eliminate their contributions to greenhouse gases (Forsythe, 2017). Recently China’s National Energy Administration announced that plans to build 103 coal-fired power plants are being cancelled. This is extremely helpful for the environment as energy generated from coal is perhaps the greatest source of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming (Forsythe, 2017). Other positive efforts include the latest discoveries from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s regarding new ways that farmers can reduce excess nitrogen produced from farmers. Nitrogen gas remains a large contributor to greenhouse warming however, researchers claim that these potent gases can be bypassed in soil and fertilizers and broken down into non-reactive products removing large amounts of excess nitrogen that farming creates (Malquist, 2017). India, the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases has also developed a carbon offset plan, which involves increasing its energy efficiently (Moore, 2014). Because India is a developing nation it cannot completely reduce carbon emissions because it will drastically impact its citizens however, the country will incorporate emissions reducing projects and earn credits it can sell to industrialized nations (Moore, 2014)
Climate change can be a rather daunting topic of conversation if we choose to look at the negative aspects such as human contributions to greenhouse gases. It is extremely sad that issues that really matter such as the state of the Earth are ignored so that government leaders can focus on problems that man created such as conflicts that arise from individual differences as well as money affairs. Perhaps the greatest problem related to environmental issues lies in man’s misconception that we have time and that these concerns can be dealt with at a later time (Bckibben, 2016). However, the joke is on mankind because if we continue to ignore environmental warnings such as increased temperatures there will be no Earth for man to engage in the insignificant issues that we so highly value. Although it may seem that the future of the Earth lies in the hands of the political leaders of the world, it does not mean we throw in the towel and accept the lamentable fate of the Earth. Although small steps will not transform the Earth over night, individual contributions ca n make a substantial difference. As individuals we can take it upon ourselves to do everything in our own power to salvage the destruction we have created through simple strides such as recycling or reducing the amount of electricity we use. Countries and organizations that create advances in technology such as China and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science restore hope and provide motivation to work towards a better, healthier Earth.
Fig. 2

Cabbage, M., & McCarthy, L. (2017). NASA , NOAA data show 2016 warmest year on record globally. NASA. Retrieved from http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2537/nasa-noaa-data-show-2016-warmest-year-on-record-globally/
Forsythe, M. (2017). China cancels 103 coal plants, mindful of smog and wasted capacity. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/18/world/asia/china-coal-power-plants pollution.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FGlobal%20Warming&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=collection
Lallanilla, M. (2015). Greenhouse gas emissions: causes and sources. Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/37821-greenhouse-gases.html
Malquist, D. (2017). Researchers discover greenhouse bypass for nitrogen. Science Daily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170118163725.htm
Mckibben. B. (2016). A world at war. New Republic. Retrieved from https://newrepublic.com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii
Sneed, A. (2017). Trump day 1: global warming’s fate. Scientific American. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/trump-day-1-global-warmings-fate/
Moore, S. (2014) India’s role in the international climate negotiations. Brookings. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/planetpolicy/2014/11/26/indias-role-in-the-international-climate-negotiations/
(2014). The Paris Agreement. United Nations. Received from http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php

Food Production and the California Drought

The California drought has been all over the news the past few years and more recently many think it to be over because of the massive amount of rain to fall over the state. This, however is not thought to be the case and the hardships that the drought has caused Californian’s—and people all over the world—is not over yet.
The San Diego Tribunes and L.A. Times are both reporting historic rain fall with up to 2 inches of rain in San Diego. Both newspapers, however, emphasis that without many more years of continued rainfall, the dangers of drought are not over and most reservoirs in the state are not back to half of what they usually hold (L.A. Times). In addition to decreased water usage for the residents of California and surrounding states, there are many greater issues related to multi-year drought. It was reported “at one point, more than 1 million trees in the Sierra Nevada died” (San DiegoTribune). Wildlife populations including geese, ducks, and Joshua trees are being damaged due to the loss of water. (ProPublica). One of the largest problems is that of agriculture and the concern of feeding a high population area when you cannot water crops.
ProPublica: a drying up canal between farms
Like the reduced water usage for residents, farmers have also been told to use less water but many of them refuse (ProPublica). ProPublic also reports that many are protected by “arcane laws” allowing them to take more water than they need. Many have turned to switching crops from things like cotton and grain—which require a lot of water to grow—to high value crops like almonds. These crops bring in more money compared to the amount of water used (Bloomburg). This is an issue to many Californians because these crops are often exported; using California’s water but not feeding Californians.
Many crops in California are exported, for example the almonds and other luxury food many farmers have started growing are popular in Asian countries and are making farmers money. They also, however are leading to a much bigger problem; global food shortages are becoming a danger. BusinessInsider reported that by 2040 food prices would be quadruple what they were in 2000 and that they are already half way there. They report climate change and specifically the drought in California to be one of the main causes for the rising prices, citing specifically a USDA report stating prices of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and eggs could rise further. This problem would seem to compound if farmers continue to switch over to high price, high water crops.

The drought in California is affecting people worldwide through crop export but these countries are facing droughts themselves. The NIDIS, also reports droughts in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America as recent as September 2016, and in many cases, they affect agriculture. The corn-yield forecast in Europe has been lowered and in Africa, hippo and buffalo herds have been culled due to poor vegetation. I believe these examples are just a look into how climate change and it severe weather patterns will change how people live in the future. 

Water Shortage Problems

        With almost 75% of the surface of the Earth covered in water one would think, “How can there be a shortage of it?” Well the difference between what all the Earth is covered in and how much of that is actually able to be used for purposes of drinking, or irrigating, or other means human use is quite large.  The amount of water that is accessible for humans to be able to drink is just only 1% and 2-3% is tapped in glaciers and snowfalls that we cannot get to (National Geographic).  With so little water accessible for human consumption it is important to make sure we never run out, but that is starting to become a problem in many areas of the world today.  This is due to a number of reasons, which includes droughts, mismanagement of water sources, and overpopulation. Because of these factors a number of problems have arose with wildlife being killed, farmlands drying up, and also people moving in large numbers to bigger cities.                 Drought is a huge problem that is affecting many regions of the Earth including; the American Southwest, Central and South America, most of Africa, and the Middle East.  Right here in the U.S the Southwest is facing a huge problem where they could be facing a drought for the next 35 years (LA Times) and this would be bad for the already drying up Colorado River because it will cause even more reduction in the river.  The Colorado River, which once ran into a lush delta in Mexico, is now drying up due to a lot of consumption from the US (NY Times). According to the NY Times the delta is not officially dead, but its once vital estuaries are now shrinking very quickly.  The wildlife that swam and ran around the delta, the forests that once surrounded it and the farmlands that once flourished are all now dying because of this shrinking (NY Times). This is not the only area this is happening to though.  In South America 98% of the Caimans and 80% of Capybaras population have died because of the drought of the Pilcomayo River (National Geographic).
When it comes to farming drought is really the main problem because the ground dries up and the soil can no longer be farmed. There are also problems with this in Africa and the Middle East as well.  Africa may be seeing this worst because there are countries with poor irrigation and with a drought soon to hit that is going to have a huge negative impact on the natural water resources there (Nature World News).  Also, this will have a huge effect on those countries being able to grow crops and they are going to have to rely on more developed countries in the area to help provide the foods that they need (Nature World News).
            Another problem that is affecting the shortage of water is the mismanagement of the water resources themselves. In South America this is being seen with the Pilcomayo River where both Argentina and Paraguay are being said to have laziness, inefficiency, and irresponsibility in the rehabilitation of the Paraguayan canal (National Geographic).  Because of the inefficiency of the water in the channels and canals that has led to them drying up because there were not monitored closely and has been a factor in why the wildlife are dying in the area.  But recently Argentina has been improving efforts greatly to build up canals to be able to have a water surplus again and help maintain the wildlife (National Geographic).     
            A third problem contributing to the water shortage is that of overpopulation.  This is seen a lot in the U.S. especially in the California area of LA because so many people have moved to that area and water is being used so much more than expected now because of it.  Now city planners have to make sure they have ways to know how much water should be used by people every year and have to make sure people are not exceeding that so there is still enough water for everyone.  A place though that is really being affected by this is the Middle East.  It is said that the war that started in Syria in 2011 was caused by war shortage because of drought 1.5 million people had to leave their land and move to bigger cities, which caused general destabilization in Syria, which sparked the war (The Guardian).  Many small cities and towns in the Middle East are and have in some places already ran out of water because of this many people are going to bigger cities in the hundreds of thousands and causing water shortage there because there was a sudden increase of so many people (The Guardian). In Damascus the rich are making their own wells taping into the water supply, but by doing so contaminating the ground water, which makes it so the millions in the city do not have clean water to drink.  By there being overpopulation in cities where they are not use to it causes there to be water shortages because the city was not prepared well enough to handle that many people and know how much water that many people can use up.
            Water shortages are a big problem all around the world, but in places like the American Southwest, Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East where they have hot climates and constantly lots of droughts happening. But, the droughts are not the only effects with mismanagement by some countries and overpopulation lead to a lot of problems.  This problems include a lot of different wildlife being killed off, which those can have their own effect on other wildlife in the area. Also, farmlands being destroyed because there is no way that it would be possible to farm on top of dried out soil and also with the farmlands drying up people are moving into larger cities and making those too crowed and over populated. In the end I feel that even though some things like drought are out of countries hands, there are other things like overpopulation and how much farming is done on land that can help the water problem in some places. By controlling how much is being used the water would be monitored more and lead to less shortage problems.   

Thursday, February 16, 2017

China Gets a Second Child

       For roughly the past 60 years, there has been discussion about the population of the world, and whether or not we will reach our carrying capacity. To reach carrying capacity would mean that the number of people on the earth would have just the right amount of resources to survive. However, this is not an easy thing to measure, and has much variance around the world. There are places that people have more than enough, as well as places where people are running out of supplies. The world is too large of a scale to look at. By narrowing our lens, we can see effects of population control in areas, and how it affects the demographics of the countries being studied.
There are many varying predictions as to how much the population will grow, and which countries will have the highest over the next few years (Barnes). While predictions help us to plan for the future, there is so much variance in them that they may not even be useful. For example, the population of the world varies between whom you ask. Some estimates lead us to believe that we could be between 9 and 13 billion after the 21st century (Mazur). It truly shows us how little we know about how our population is going to grow.  One tool that can be used is a population pyramid. It gives us a good idea of what the demographics of the population looks like, and what is to be expected in the years to come in the work force. Fig. 1 shows the 2014 population pyramid of China. The fact that it is decreasing as the population goes down is not a good sign, and will probably lead to issues in the years to come.
Figure 1: Population Pyramid for China in 2015. Notice how it is not a traditional pyramid, but that it cuts back below the age of 40.
Since 1972, the One-Child Policy of China has been limiting the number of children being born in the country. This policy was in place to reduce the rate of growth and the size of the population so that the famines and crop issues that had plagued the country would be less impactful (Clarke). Surely at the time, it would have made sense to reduce the population size, but the time for it has come to an end. Due to the policy, the large working class is growing old too fast, and there is not enough replacement coming from the younger population to fill all the jobs available. 

Figure 2: Here, China looks like they are overpopulated, but in fact, their population is growing so slow, they will soon begin to decrease if a change is not made. The hope is that the change of the One-Child Policy will help to correct this issue. 
 In 2015, the fertility rate for a woman in China was 1.05, (the lowest in the world) thanks to the one-child policy (Tatlow). This rate was low, and as a result is putting major strain on the economy and the workforce. Starting in 2016, the One-Child Policy was revised, allowing many more people to apply for a second child. This was a huge step, as the government saw the effects of not having a large enough working class and had to change their policy to increase the population.
After a year of the policy being in place, the birth rate has risen by almost 8 percent, adding about 1.3 million more children to the country’s population (Haas). They hope that over the next few years the fertility rate would continue to increase to better stabilize the population. Some citizens think that other changes need to be made to make it even easier for the population to grow. One of the most prominent ideas is to allow single women or gay couples to become pregnant. This would allow a significant proportion of the population that is currently restricted to begin a family.  This policy has driven a large portion of these people out of the country so that they could pursue the life they desire. By revoking it, they would keep these people from emigrating, and they would also get the increase in the fertility rate (Tatlow).