I do not think humanity is doomed to extinction, or that life on Earth will end because we built factories. I do, however, think we need to use our brains: and take care of the planet we live on.
- China's Air Cleanup Plan
- EPA and Toxic Emissions: Law, Preference, and Ethics
- European Union Climate Position Statement: The Lords of Creation Speak?
(From Hansueli Krapf/Simisa, via Wikimedia, used w/o permission.)
(Pārśa, some two dozen centuries after the Achaemenid Empire's heyday. (November 24, 2009))
It's easier to spot our cities from space now, compared to the days when Dārayava(h)uš helped bankroll the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Kūruš, another Achaemenid ruler, had okayed that project. Those names came to my language by way of Latin, so they're called Darius and Cyrus in my Bible's translation of Ezra 5:7 and 14: and that's another topic.
Psalm 8 is one of 73 that folks say King David composed: which would make it about three millennia old.
Back then, cuneiform was the latest thing in data storage and retrieval tech, and the crane and lewis irons were five centuries in the future. But folks realized that humans weren't ordinary critters:
"4 What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?We've learned quite a bit since then: sometimes from our mistakes.
"5 Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor."
(from the United States Library of Congress, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
" 'The Monitor.' Print shows hydraulic mining for gold in California. Published in The Century illustrated monthly magazine; 1883 Jan., p. 325" (Detail of a Library of Congress print, via Wikipedia)
(Paul Telford, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
("Malakoff Diggins hydraulic mine. In Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park: An open air mining museum in the Sierra Nevada, in Nevada County, eastern California." Photo by Paul Telford.)
Roman engineers removed overburden with water, exposing gold-bearing strata, two millennia back. Pliny the Elder called the technique ruina montium, wrecking mountains. Las Médulas, a World Heritage Site, is what's left of a Roman-era mining operation.
My Spanish is quite rusty, but I think las médulas means something like "the piths:" which would be a rather poetic way of describing the cored landscape left by runia montium.
Today's hydraulic mining tech started in 1853, during the California Gold Rush. Sluicing the landscape downstream gave California tax revenue by the millions — and major flooding in the Sacramento Valley.
Farmers sued miners when mining debris buried croplands, and eventually the Supreme Court got involved. That lot called hydraulic mining "a public and private nuisance;" Congress passed the Caminetti Act of 1893,3 and today we're a whole lot more careful.
I'll skip the usual moralizing about wealth being evil. It's greed and a love of money that gets us in trouble. (1 Timothy 6:10; Hebrews 13:5; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2536)
Badlands National Park looks a bit like Las Médulas, but its rugged terrain isn't the result of mining. The oldest exposed rocks are about 75,000,000 years old, formed when the Western Interior Seaway covered that part of North America.
At least one asteroid hit Earth, most of the dinosaurs died — we call the survivors "birds" — and life went on. So did the Laramide Orogeny. We got the Rocky Mountains and Black Hills out of that, which brings me back to the Badlands.
Central North America was well above sea level some 56,000,000 years back, and Earth was enjoying a nice warm spell. That peaked out after a few million years, followed by a cooling trend that lasted until another asteroid hit where Chesapeake Bay is now. (May 8, 2015; September 27, 2013)
Back then, lush subtropical forests covered much of North America: including palm trees in what's now Wyoming. Oxygen levels were high, on average — around 130 percent what we're used to now.
But like I said, things were already cooling off when an asteroid hit. Glaciers spread over Antarctica's pine forests, primates were getting less squirrel-like, and more like the assorted lorises and lemurs, tarsiers, monkeys and apes we've got now.
We didn't show up until the latest big freeze, about two and a half million years back, maybe longer: and that's another topic. Topics. (January 16, 2015; July 11, 2014; August 30, 2013)
- "The First Primates"
Dennis O'Neil, Early Primate Evolution, Behavioral Sciences Department, Palomar College, San Marcos, California
- "Secrets of Antarctica's fossilised forests"
BBC News (February 8 2011)
- "Geology of Badlands National Park: A Preliminary Report"
Philip W. Stoffer, U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, California (2003)
(From 3dparks.wr.usgs.gov/badl/images/of03-35.pdf. (July 2, 2015))
Earth cooled slowly for the next 10 million years. Central North America was dryer, but still warmer than today's climate. Eight million years ago Antarctica's glaciers were almost as thick as they are today, and Earth's temperature plummeted.
Geologists put the official start of the current ice age at 2,580,000 years before this year's big United Nations climate meeting: or the Italian Renaissance. On this scale, a few centuries don't amount to much.
The last time I checked, scientists figure that the last glacial period, the "Ice Age" you hear and read about, isn't the last one in the current ice age. We may or may not be able to stave off the next glacial period.
Or maybe my joke about 'Save the Mammoth' and 'Dino Power' activists will resemble political wrangles in the not-too-distant future — a thousand or so years from now. (February 20, 2015)
I think it's prudent to remember just how old Earth is. I don't see a problem with knowing that the "ancient mountains" mentioned in Psalms 76, 5 are comparatively new. (July 11, 2014)
Being a Catholic, I recognize discoveries as opportunities for "greater admiration" of God's work. (Catechism, 283)
A thirst for truth and God is buried in each of us: deeply, in some cases, I'll grant. We're made from the stuff of this world, "in the image of God:" creatures of matter and spirit, with senses and reason, able to observe the world's order and beauty. (Genesis 1:26, 2:7; Catechism, 27, 31-35, 282-289, 355-361)
Using our brains is optional, and I've talked about free will before. (July 27, 2014)
Nitrogen Dioxide, Industry, Being Human (and More than you Need to Know about the Congo River Basin)
(From the European Space Agency, used w/o permission.)
(Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in Earth's troposphere, between January 2003 and June 2004.)
Folks at the University of Heidelberg's Institute for Environmental Physics prepared that map, using data from the SCIAMACHY instrument on ESA's Envisat.
SCIAMACHY stands for SCanning Imaging Absorption SpectroMeter for Atmospheric CHartographY, and isn't the most-pronounceable — or memorable — acronym I've seen.
Nitrogen dioxide is one of many ways nitrogen and oxygen combine. There's nitric oxide (NO); nitrous oxide, laughing gas (N 2O); and dinitrogen trioxide, tetroxide, and pentoxide (N2O3, N2O4, and N2O5). They've got various uses, nitric oxide shows up in our biochemistry, and I'm drifting off-topic.
Where was I? Earth's lower atmosphere, acronyms, nitrogen and oxygen. Right.
Nitrogen dioxide comes from internal combustion engines, and thermal power stations; plus a bit from pulp mills, butane gas heaters, and electrical storms.
Electrical storms might account for the slightly-above-average levels of nitrogen dioxide over the Congo River basin. Oddly, there isn't nearly as much over the Amazon basin.
Europeans ran the Congo Free State from 1877 to 1908, and the Belgian Congo from 1908 to 1960. That's when European colonial empires finally went out of fashion.
The place was called République du Congo/Republic of Congo for a few years. Folks running the former French colony of Moyen Congo/Middle Congo called their turf Republic of Congo, too. Folks added the Congo capital cities' names to make the names different: Congo-Léopoldville and Congo-Brazzaville.
The name Republic of Zaïre lasted long enough for to get now-obsolete maps printed. I think the territory got its current name, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 1997. The place is still a violent mess.
Mining is a big part of the regional economy, but that's mainly in the eastern part of the Congo River's drainage. Maybe someday, when folks living near the Congo River find decent leaders, and start rebuilding their homelands, they'll have industrial pollution as a crisis.
Right now, survival is looking pretty good. My opinion.
That brings me to nitrogen dioxide, and why there's a glob of it over my country's rust belt, Flanders, and a disturbingly large fraction of China. That's a problem, since NO2 is a toxic gas. Concentrations found in and downwind of industrial areas won't necessarily kill you: but it's not healthy.
That, finally, brings me to a cluster of recent news items. I expect to read the usual 'and we're all gonna die!' op-eds, as a series of international environment and global climate meetings approach. Chicken Little's ardent disciples may be sincere: but sky is not, in my considered opinion, falling.
However, getting back to Psalms 8:6, we really are "little less than a god," with the power and responsibilities that go with our nature.
One of our jobs is taking care of Earth's resources: for our reasoned use, and for all future generations. The natural world got along without us, but now that we're here — we're responsible for its maintenance. (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:7; Catechism, 339, 952, 339, 952, 2402-2405, 2415, 2456)
(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"China climate change plan unveiled"Reading this makes it easier for me to take this year's international 'climate change' meetings seriously. There wouldn't, I think, be much point in discussing North American landfills or Germany's Autobahn, if the diplomats were going to politely ignore China's industrial boom.
Helen Briggs, BBC News (June 30, 2015)
"China - the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases - has announced details of its climate action plan.
"The office of Prime Minister Li Kegiang said that emissions 'will peak by around 2030' and China would work hard to achieve the target even earlier.
"The statement echoes China's declaration last November following a US-China summit.
"China's pledge comes ahead of talks late this year in Paris to seek a new global deal on climate change...."
The good news, from my viewpoint, is that China is finally recovering from the Qing dynasty's meltdown. Folks there have a long, hard, road ahead: but it looks like the country's current leadership is starting to realize that what looks good on paper isn't necessarily practical.
I think it helps that tech like ESA's Envisat lets us see what's really happening.
There was a day when reading official reports from bureaucrats and political appointees, and occasionally getting permission to collect on-site samples, was the best — or only — way to collect environmental information. I'm glad those days are over.
This BBC News piece included an op-ed/analysis:
"...Analysis by the BBC's science editor, David ShukmanAbout "the size of cuts, and the timescale," I emphatically don't think it's "too little and too late."
"This is a significant moment in international climate negotiations. For years China argued that it was too poor and underdeveloped to even consider accepting any obligations to curb its greenhouse gases.
"Now we're witnessing the world's largest emitter playing by the UN's rules and promising even deeper cuts that those suggested some months back. For diplomats and ministers hoping to see a meaningful deal at the climate summit in Paris at the end of the year, this will be a welcome step.
"The size of cuts, and the timescale, will of course be judged by many as too little and too late. But for anyone who endured the collapse of talks at the Copenhagen summit six years ago, China is playing a very different and far more constructive game. Will it actually make any difference to global warming?
"Scientists always say it does not matter to the atmosphere where the emissions come from and China's will continue to rise for the next 15 years or so, and on their already gargantuan scale.
"And today's announcement does not mean that Chinese use of fossil fuels is coming to an end any time soon. On the same day that China has announced this climate plan it also began construction of a massive pipeline that will bring it a lot of gas from Russia...."
Sure, it'd be nice if everybody everywhere could agree to never produce anything harmful — starting tomorrow.
But it took centuries of steam engines, powered vehicles — mostly burning fossil fuels — and industrial-scale chemical production, to get where we are today.
China's leaders started developing industry in their territory in the 1950s: but in the 1960s, 60 percent of China's workforce was still agricultural. The idea had been to build an industrial worker's paradise by 1961. Droughts and famine didn't help that plan succeed, and that's another topic.
Not even wildly-optimistic futuristic visions, like Menzies and Korda's "Things to Come" imagined that Utopia could be created overnight.
I think planning to get emissions of an emerging industrial civilization under control in only 15 years, just eight decades after industrialization began, is optimistic. But I also think it may be an achievable goal.
For me, the comparatively modest French-Chinese statement of intent is much more reassuring than a rehash of the Great Leap Forward (大跃进). It sounds like the People's Republic of China's Premier of the State Council, Li Kegiang (李克强) is ready to let his country get back on its feet:
"...China will work with the international community to seek a 'fair, reasonable, win-win' global climate governance system, Li said."
(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"US Supreme Court blocks new toxic pollution changes"I've long since stopped trying to figure out why or how folks on the Supreme Court come up with their opinions. Whatever their idealistic or Constitutional role should be — the practical reality is that they don't like the EPA's proposal, so it can't be used. End of story. This chapter, anyway.
BBC News (June 29, 2015)
"The US Supreme Court has blocked a key government attempt to limit pollution from the country's power plants.
"In a 5-4 split, the court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency failed to factor in the full financial cost to industry of the changes.
"The government introduced new rules to restrict emissions of toxins, including mercury, three years ago...."
My guess is that the EPA will try again, and see if the Court likes the new version.
Interestingly, the Court's claim that EPA regs should take cost into account makes sense.
The Decalog says theft is wrong. It's even in the short list our Lord recited for a wealthy young man. (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19; Matthew 19:18)
Since loving our neighbor should be a very high priority, we're not even allowed to steal if we're powerful and it's technically-legal to take what's not rightfully ours. That includes any sort of "excessive expenses and waste." Top priority is loving God, of course. (Catechism, 2083, 2196, 2409)
Getting back to the EPA emissions proposal, it'd be nice if government agencies had to think about how much their regulations will cost the rest of us — and explain why we'd lose more without them.
(From Regis Duvignau, via Reuters, used w/o permission.)
("An aerial view shows sea walls on the beach that protect sand dunes from erosion along the Atlantic Ocean coast in Anglet, southwestern France, June 20, 2015."
"EU ministers seek ambitious, binding deal at Paris climate talks: draft"I'm — impressed — that the European Union apparently has decided that Earth's average temperature will rise no more than two degrees Celsius, presumably over a five-year period. I've discussed King Cnut and the limits of executive authority before. (September 21, 2014)
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.
"EU environment ministers meet on Sept. 18 in Brussels to iron out their joint position ahead of the U.N. talks in Paris in December. Diplomats have already drawn up a draft text.
"The Paris climate agreement must be 'legally binding in order to enshrine the strongest expression of political will and provide predictability and durability', says the EU ministers' draft seen by Reuters.
"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...."
Somewhat more realistically, they also seem to realize that dealing with "the impact of changing weather" is a good idea: and will cost money.
It's also a tad reassuring to read that Europe's leaders say they'll cut emissions by 40 percent — at least — compared to 1990 levels. Their target date is 2030. I'm pretty sure that some folks won't like that because it's too much change, and others because it's too little.
The good news is that European industry's contribution to Earth's atmospheric fug peaked in 1979. European emissions, according to the Reuters article, amount to about 10 percent of the world's industrial effluvia. China is the current world's champ in that area, at 25 percent.
But, like I said before, that may be changing in the next few decades.
Decreeing that Earth's climate shall obey the dictates of the European Union seems to involve some whopping 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 powerful. (March 29, 2015; June 15, 2014)
And that isn't another topic.
More of what I think about life, the universe, and being human:
- "Climate Change, Deccan Traps: Still Learning"
(May 8, 2015)
- "Climate Change, Science, and the Vatican"
(May 1, 2015)
- "Setting Earth's Thermostat"
(February 20, 2015)
- "Asteroid Readiness, and a SpaceX Test Landing"
(January 16, 2015)
- "Environmentalism: Using the Brains God Gave Us "
(June 15, 2014)
1 "Even a paranoid can have enemies." Attributed to Golda Meir by Daniel Freeman, in "Overcoming Paranoid and Suspicious Thoughts." (2012)
2 "Even a paranoid can have enemies." Attributed by others to Golda Meir, during the 1973 Sinai talks, after he accused her of being paranoid for refusing to grant the Palestinians additional concessions: and to Henry Kissinger by a whole bunch of folks who don't say where they got their information.
3 "...The Caminetti Act of 1893 was benchmark legislation for later state-federal cooperation in altering the delta landscape." ("Land and Water Policies in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta," Martin D. Mitchell, Geographical Review, pp. 411-423 (October 1994))
The U. S. Congress gets something right now and then.