Government, energy & environment

The next big thing: pollution

By the year 2050, the world's population will have stabilised at around 9 billion. Extreme poverty is declining and the promise of a technologically-driven utopia is around the corner. However, before we reach the Promised Land we must first pass through what Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson calls "the bottleneck".This is the point at which population growth, economic growth and environmental destruction put maximum stress on both the planet and its people. We are close to this point already. We release 300% more CO2 than our oceans can absorb. India's CO2 emissions are likely to rise by 70% by 2025 and between now and 2030 emissions from China will probably equal that of the rest of the industrialised world. Part of the problem is that statistics like GDP do not measure environmental impact. They are a crude measure of industrial output - measures of cashflow rather than assets and liabilities if you like. Goods and services do not generally include the wider environmental costs and neither do companies include the wider social costs of doing business (eg, the impacts on the local community or the families of workers).This is not a sustainable situation.
Ref: Various, including Scientific American (US), September 2005, 'The Climax of Humanity', G. Musser.
Search words: pollution, climate, environment, CO2

New weapons

We've spoken about terrorists hacking into websites and virtual infrastructure before but here's a new threat. One day an undemocratic regime (possibly acting alone or in conjunction with a terrorist group) could bring the US (and hence the West) to its knees, simply by selling some currency. Almost 70% of global currency reserves are in the hands of developing nations, many of them undemocratic and unstable. Indeed most of the huge debt owed by the US is 'owned' by China, Saudi Arabia and Russia, none of which are entirely model democracies, to put it mildly. Iran and Venezuela also have substantial holdings of US debt. If a country like China decided to stop buying US debt (or sold a large chunk of the debt it already owns) this could trigger a collapse in the US currency. This could in turn impact on the US economy which could create global economic meltdown. The probably of this happening is quite low (10%-15% according to Ted Truman at the US Federal Reserve) but there is no doubt that the scenario of someone doing something stupid for short-term political gain is real enough.
Ref: Wall Street Journal (US), 9 May 2006, 'Holdings of U.S. Debt Become Potential Weapon', F. Kempe.
Search words: weapons, terrorism, debt, currency, US, economy, threats

Planet earth turns up the heat

News that eight US States have begun a federal action against five of the largest power companies in the US for not cutting CO2 emissions could be the shape of things to come. Meanwhile, pollution trading is set to be one of the fastest growing markets of the future. CO2 is already trading at 29 Euros per metric ton while sulfur dioxide (SO2) trading is worth US$ 7 billion annually. That's right, there is a market for trading pollution whereby one company can buy and sell the right to pollute the earth's atmosphere. Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley are all active in this new market. But is an exchange for polluters and non-polluters a good idea? You'd think not. According to a Washington DC think tank the existence of this market stifles energy innovation and promotes the idea of pollution. In China, 400,000 people per annum die due to air pollution, and on some days up to 25% of the air pollution in Los Angeles comes from China. Global warming is well and truly here and it would appear to be happening much faster than the experts expected. Of the 20 hottest years on record, 19 have been since 1980. Since 1970, the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has doubled globally, while the wind speed and duration of severe storms has risen by 50%. So what else can we expect to see between now and 2050? One consequence of global warning is hotter summers. In August 2003, extreme heat killed 20,000 Europeans and this could be the tip of an iceberg if you'll pardon the expression. Conversely, increased rainfall in some regions could lead to larger mosquito populations spreading malaria into new regions, while decreased air quality could lead to an increase in asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Thirteen of the world's biggest cities also exist at sea level, which means they are not only at risk from flooding but also at risk from reduced drinking water quality, due to floodwaters invading crucial infrastructure.
Ref: Various, including The Independent (UK), 15 January 2006, 'Global warming to speed up as carbon levels show sharp riser', G. Lean., Time (US), 3 April 2006, 'The Tipping Point', J. Kluger.
See also The Times (UK), 28 January 2006, 'Carbon capitalism', D. Rowan.
Search words: water, CO2, climate, risks, pollution, global warming

Political protest songs (MP3 version)

Last year the President of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was secretly recorded speaking to Virgilio Garcillano, an elections commissioner. The president allegedly says, "So I will still lead by more than one (million votes)", despite the fact that the election results had not been counted. In other words, the election was being fixed. The government immediately banned the tape but a few short seconds found their way onto the Internet. Over a million people then downloaded the snippet of conversation and a few imaginative individuals decided to use the conversation as the basis for mobile phone ringtones. One individual even managed to produce a mash-up using the conversation mixed with Billy Joel's song 'Honesty'.
Ref: The Times (UK), 18 March 2006, 'Political ringtones', D. Rowan. '
Search words: ringtones, protest