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Is the Environmental Improving Overall?

Post in 'The Green Room' started by semipro, Jan 7, 2011.

  1. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    This topic came up in another post and some of the folks here that I respect made the statement that things are getting better with respect to our environment. I took issue with those statements but didn't really have much in the way of compelling evidence to support my stand.

    My take on the subject is similar to population growth.

    That is, while we may not be destroying our only home as fast as we were we're still going down hill; much the same that the population growth rate has slowed but the population is still growing fast.

    (Interesting that I would pick population growth for comparison ;))

    I'd like to hear what others here think.

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  2. Sisu

    Sisu Feeling the Heat

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    We are going to have 7 billion people on this planet this year. Despite improvements via technology etc., consumption is still increasing. That fact alone overshadows any gains.

    The human species is like brewer's yeast in fermentation. In fermentation, sugar is the resource and alcohol is the waste product. That is why you can only get up to around 13 percent alcohol via fermentation (you can go a bit higher if the fermentation is nurtured). We will increase in population, until our resources are used up and our waste products kill us.

    I don't like being a pessimist, but I think things are going to get a lot worse, before they get better. We are slowly killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
  3. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Semi - I think I may have been one of those folks (not sure about the respect part %-P )

    There are areas that improvements are being made, but it seems like for every positive action we have a negative one (or six). By nature, humans are a polluting type of critter. In the cave man days we polluted with open fires to cook food. Did it have a negative effect - yep - but a very small one due to the population. With increasing population in big energy consumer nations (USA, etc.) and an even bigger population of emerging countries just starting to consume - we have a global problem.

    My point was to simply point out one of the few improvements that I could confirm - not state that it was a global improvement overall. I don't think that anyone that is being intellectually honest can state that global pollution has gotten better. It clearly is/has not.

    The big question is "What to do about it?"
  4. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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  5. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I'm optimistic - long term I think things will get better.
    I won't be here for most of the changes, but that is another story.

    I think there is some truth to what the old man in the park said - in my blog entry:
    http://www.craigsfire.com/?p=48
    "An old man with long grey hair, a beard and ragged clothes was brought to the podium and introduced as the Hermit of Fairmont Park. He spoke the following words “Children, I have been living in this Park for 40 years and all the time I was waiting for this day. The day when people would again realize and understand that the Earth was theirs and when they would come back to it. This is that day.†– and with that he started crying and left the stage."

    I think that, to some extent, describes a general movement in our times. Up until that time the industrial revolution was "full speed ahead, and damn the pollution", while after that....slowly at first...we came around to a couple of basic understandings.....
    1. We live here. Industry is meant to serve us, not to poison and enslave us.
    2. Many of the real pleasures of life are to be found in both the natural world and in simple things.

    As with anything relating to modern life, this is a complex subject. No talking point will suffice. However, I say that long term we are headed in the right direction.

    The next step, IMHO, is to understand that poisoning China and Indias and Mexicos air.....is not the solution. We have to have the same standards worldwide, as we all have to live in the filth that is created making our newest toys.
  6. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    The elephant in the room are the wealthy -- they always will be able to afford to adapt to environmental change and continue to exploit everyone else. So long as the wealthy control the economics, government and the military, the rest of us will suffer, be poisoned, and die. Hopefully the wealthy too will act reasonably before war for resources and revolution from despair are again visited upon the world.
  7. CALJREICH

    CALJREICH New Member

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    I agree that our population is a huge factor.Whether we like to admit it or not, our very own rapidly multiplying presence on this planet is the biggest environmental problem there is, and it’s getting bigger by the minute. We voraciously consume resources, pollute the air and water, tear down natural habitats, introduce species into areas where they don’t belong and destroy ecosystems to the point of causing millions of species to become endangered and, all too often, go extinct.

    CO2 Levels in the Atmosphere
    Average temperatures could increase by as much as 12 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century if emissions continue to rise, a figure that would easily make the world virtually uninhabitable for humans. A global temperature rise of just 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit would cause a catastrophic domino effect, bringing weather extremes that would result in food and water shortages and destructive floods.

    Polar Sea Ice Loss
    Polar sea ice is melting at an unprecedented rate, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. It’s perhaps the most dramatic, startling visual evidence of global warming, and it’s got scientists rushing to figure out just how big of an effect the melting is going to have on the rest of the world.

    Destruction of the Rain Forest
    ‘Saving the rain forest’ has been at the forefront of the environmental movement for decades, yet here we are facing huge losses in the Amazon all the same. You might have thought that, with all the attention the rain forest has gotten, it wouldn’t need so much saving anymore – but unfortunately, global warming and deforestation mean that half of the Amazon rain forest will likely be destroyed or severely damaged by 2030.

    Collapsing Fish Stock
    Millions of people across the world depend upon fish as a major staple in their diet. As such, commercial fishermen have been pulling such a huge quantity of fish from the oceans that we’re heading toward a global collapse of all species currently fished – possibly as soon as the year 2048. Like large-scale mammal extinction, the collapse of fish species would have a major impact on the world’s ecosystems.

    The Ocean Dead Zones
    In oceans around the world, there are eerie areas that are devoid of nearly all life. These ‘dead zones’ are characterized by a lack of oxygen, and they’re caused by excess nitrogen from farm fertilizers, emissions from vehicles and factories, and sewage. The number of dead zones has been growing fast – since the 1960’s, the number of dead zones has doubled every 10 years. They range in size from under a square mile to 45,000 square miles, and the most infamous one of all is in the Gulf of Mexico, a product of toxic sludge that flows down the Mississippi from farms in the Midwest. These ‘hypoxic’ zones now cover an area roughly the size of Oregon.

    Mammal Extinction
    One in four mammals is threatened with extinction. That’s 25%, a huge number that will totally change the ecology of every corner of the earth. We could see thousands of species die out in our lifetime, and the rate of habitat loss and hunting in crucial areas like Southeast Asia, Central Africa and Central and South America is growing so rapidly, these animals barely have a chance.

    Hopefully things will get better and future generations can continue to enjoy animals and nature. Heating with wood is a postive.
  8. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I don't think it is quite that dire.
    The "wealthy" are, in fact, often the only people who can affect change on a very large scale.
    If you look at prominent environmentalists, you will find many of them among the wealthy.

    I think you should replace "wealthy" with "thoughtless" or "selfish".
    For instance, the person who lives in the woods and has dumped all their trash and old cars over the hollow for a couple generations....might not be wealthy, but surely is thoughtless!

    On the other hand, the people backing large scale science and R&D and environmental efforts these days...are often very wealthy....one dude who supports the Sierra Club and a number of other efforts is detailed here:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/09/business/09green.html

    Wealth is no different than many other kinds of power (arms, strength, fire, etc.) - it can be used for various means. Obviously someone very evil with wealth (the Koch brothers, who back the Tea Party come to mind) can do great environmental harm. However, you can't fight against them by rounding up some homeless people and picketing! You need to fight against them with strength and power (wealth).

    The reason so many wealthy people, for instance in the Northeast, are relatively liberal...and environmentalists...is that they are wealthy enough to have some time and energy to devote to the cause. The wealthy person can buy organic food at Whole Foods, the poor person cannot.

    A poor example, I know, but when you buy locally grown organic food at Whole Foods, you might just be helping the environment a little......

    In other words, wealthier people and societies have more time to think and more time to make choices. The person scraping by and working in a polluting factory can't say much about it.
  9. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    Holy Crap Craig, I agree with most of what you said there! Before you know it you'll be a Conservative! :lol:

    I'll just add that it's best to lead by example and not scream green while driving or flying your personal jet around. I think if we all did what we can to make the world a little better place it would be.

    I don't think the whole foods example is a bad one, but I'd go further and suggest a small garden in the back yard. A heck of a lot of pole beans can be grown out of a flower pot. Same with tomatoes and squashes.

    Matt
  10. woodchip

    woodchip Minister of Fire

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    So you would like our veggie plot and orchard with chickens free ranging everywhere then.......

    And on the subject of the topic............
    Track every recession since WW2 and look what started it. Forget bankers or greedy people, or even stupid people. Look at the price of oil.

    Now put that into perspective over the next couple of decades, the environment, and the ability to feed 7 billion people..........

    The environment will be totally unimportant once oil runs out, and the ability to move food from one place to another gets a tad difficult.

    There will be quite a few of us sitting guarding our wood piles and veggie plots as the masses go on the rampage looking for food, or heat, or someone to blame :)
  11. midwestcoast

    midwestcoast Minister of Fire

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    The way I see it, our most pressing environmental issues are changing from local problems to global problems. Our dirtiest cities have seen air quality improve, many rivers and lakes are less polluted than a generation ago, but that is not the case in the developing world and it doesn't mean the health of the global environment is improving. All the problems CAL listed plus some, are indicators that we're stressing the limits of the planet to sustain us. Continued population growth will increase that stress. Rapidly accelerating industrialization and commercialization of the developing world will increase it even more. Meanwhile consumption of resources and production of waste is still accelerating even in the developed countries.

    I consult for industry on environmental contamination and regulatory compliance so I'll use that as an example. I can vouch that many of the nastiest sites I've worked on are the result of very poor practices from several decades ago that wouldn't fly today, so in that sense, things may be getting better. On the other hand I still see current poor practices and even the best practices causing large scale pollution that is unsustainable in the long run.
    For instance, virtually any industrial plant operating in full compliance with the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, State & local regs as well site-specific emissions permits is still adding a contaminant load to the environment. All of those regs were & are written & implemented to allow industry to continue operating, but to reduce pollution by applying appropriate (read cost effective) mitigation strategies. That's great, but it assumes the premise that the activity must be allowed to continue regardless whether or not it's sustainable. We don't regulate pollution from an ecological perspective. That is, we don't evaluate the amount of pollution that the earth system can deal with (globally) and then divy that alloted amount up amongst nations, businesses, people... We just assume a right to pollute, and then try to mitigate the impact. That doesn't work when the pop'n of the planet is expanding and the per capita ability to consume and pollute is exploding.
  12. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    If people want chickens it's ok with me. Roosters too, although I find them a bit loud.

    I once appraised a 95 yo woman's house and listened to her stories of how her entire back yard was a victory garden during WWII. She didn't have a large yard.

    I like it to become more trendy to have a garden. I think it would serve the country well.

    Matt
  13. woodchip

    woodchip Minister of Fire

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    Our rooster lives in a cosy soundproofed house by night, and by day everybody is at work so he can crow to his hearts content.

    Our own little area of the environment is definitely better than, say, 25 years ago.
    Chook poo is great fertilizer, all the veggies grow better, which means more food in the shops for those who do have to buy :)
  14. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    The average open-air cooking fire is 3% efficient. The problem is that annoying paradox that tells us whenever a gain in efficiency happens we find a new way to burn through the savings.
  15. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    Haven't heard that before -- this is one to commit to memory.
  16. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    So you have an open-air fire running at 3%. You can do better to about 40% with a clay stove, but how are you going lug that around? You're not, so now you need a place to live and go out and bring your wood to the stove. Pretty soon you're commuting to work for 2 hours and you never see your kids.

    When I was a kid I wasn't even allowed to fish in the Merrimac river, to touch the water. We've simply out-sourced our pollution, and eventually we'll bring it back when we have to make our own alarm clocks again.
  17. Later

    Later New Member

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    At least here the environment is much cleaner than it was in the 1950s. I do however think that our nation is one of the few that has taken the steps necessary to maintain a clean earth. India, Russia and its former satellite states, China and the rest of the developing world are some of the worst polluters. In my opinion we can only maintain our back yard and really can't do much for the world in general.
  18. SandManConservation

    SandManConservation New Member

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    All this snow makes me think that it's getting a lot worse a lot faster. As the oceans heat up, more water vapor goes into the atmosphere, in winter it comes back down as snow. The more precipitation there is the hotter the ocean/world is getting.
  19. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Outside of Japan, Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, etc. I suppose that is almost a fair statement. :)

    However, in some ways India and China have enacted even stricter controls than we have. They just have a ton more vehicles, people and other sources of pollution.
  20. Later

    Later New Member

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    Japan: a few years ago (1980's) I had the opportunity to talk with the president of a company that made sewage grinder pumps, he indicated that his major market would be the far east. It seems that many cities and towns in Japan at that time had sewage exiting homes in open troughs to an open sewer in the middle of the street. I have no reason not to believe him.

    Remember the mercury poisoning in a Japanese harbor a few years ago.

    How about the Bophal poisoning? Granted it was Union Carbide, but operating in the open without proper government supervision.

    Would the US allow the same type of tar sand mining that is going on in western Canada?
  21. Later

    Later New Member

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  22. henkmeuzelaar

    henkmeuzelaar New Member

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    Took me awhile to figure out who said what in Retired Guy's last post. Seems it needs a bit of re-editing in order not to put words in BeGreen's mouth that he probably wouldn't want to go on the record for.

    Henk
  23. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Facts would be more helpful than opinion. http://www.epa.gov/ogc/china/initiative_home.htm

    China has been enacting very aggressive environmental reforms in the past few years. Actually China and India enforce these regs quite strictly and directly. When you have populations their size they don't mess around. For example, they declared in Delhi that kerosene and diesel could no longer be used for tuk tuks (ubiquitous 3 wheelers in much of SW Asia). A few years later we were there (2004) and they were all running on compressed natural gas. All of them.
  24. Vic99

    Vic99 Minister of Fire

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    We are aware of many pollution and health related issues that we didn't know about 50 years ago. Now some people make greener choices than they would have.

    Both a positive and a negative, I think, is the sensitivity of pollution detection equipment. We are able to detect parts per billion (ppb) for many substances . . . up from ppm. Does this matter? For some of the more toxic heavy metals it does, for for other substances, not so much.

    Of course this all spawns the sticky discussion of how clean is clean enough?
  25. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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