Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Word Desertification Day

Every June 17 is recognized as World Day to Combat Desertification by the United Nations. This year the day's theme was the linkages between climate change and desertification.

This past April, the UN's top scientific authority on global warming warned that higher global temperatures could significantly worsen desertification by changing rainfall patterns, melting glaciers and diminishing snow melt that the world's major rivers depend upon.

China, one of the world's worst hit countries, has seen thousands of Chinese villages disappear before its expanding deserts. The problem has been made worse by the legacy of Mao's Great Leap Forward, which sought to make China a self sufficient food producer by bringing marginal lands under cultivation. However, overuse of the land and over dependence on well water for irrigation have turned the land into desert. Duststorms from the ruined land cloud skies in South Korea and Japan and have even been linked to respiratory problems in California.

To try to control the problem, the Chinese are spending billions of dollars planting trees, moving farmers off of marginal land, and enforcing logging and grazing bans.

Even regions without advancing deserts are vulnerable. About 40 percent of the world's cultivated surface is considered drylands, where low rainfall and high evaporation make the land vulnerable to climate change. Even countries not typically known for their deserts, such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile are vulnerable to degredation of their drylands due to overuse aggrevated by climate change.

The U.S. is not immune either. Much of the West has experienced nearly a decade of drought conditions, including some of the states experiencing the fastest population growth. The water system in the U.S. Southwest is "on a slippery slope toward breaking point," according to climatologist Mark Svoboda of the U.S. National Drought Mitigation Center.

Only significant changes in water use will prevent a major catastrophe. The age of extravagance is over; the era of limits is upon us.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Oil Liquid Exports Have Peaked

The most recent newsletter of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil has compiled data on oil exports for all kinds of liquids for the last five years. This data includes conventional, heavy, and extra heavy oil, oil shale, oil sands, natural gas liquids, lease condensates, gas-to-liquids and biofuesl.

Exports peaked toward the end of 2005. Exports amounted to 46.3 mbd in 2004, 47.1 in 2005, and 47 mbd in 2006. Early data from 2007 also show exports running around 47 mbd.

Total production of oil liquids increased by nearly 1 mbd between 2005 and 2006, but increased demand in the exporting countries have put a cap on total exports.

Increasingly, the numbers show us at the peak. Looking ahead it is easy to see the downhill roller coaster ride approaching.

Monday, June 04, 2007

China's National Climate Change Program

The Chinese government has published its first national climate change program. The Chinese claim to place great importance to the issue of climate change, but as a "developing country," they will only address climate change within the overall context of "national sustainable development strategy."

The report estimated that global warming emissions in China have doubled between 1994 and 2004 from 3 trillion to 6 trillion tons of CO2 equivalent. However, they view these emissions in per capita terms, by which measure they are very low. Their immense population provides them the cover they need to avoid any mandatory emission caps.

The Chinese plan to deal with global warming emissions includes decreasing relative reliance on coal, developing renewable energy sources, a nationwide tree planting campaign, population control, and other regulatory and public education measures.

The problem, of course, is that in absolute terms, the Chinese economy is huge. Nominally, China now has the fourth largest economy in the world, after the U.S., Japan and Germany. After adjusting for China's deliberately undervalued currency, China is the second largest economy in the world, roughly eighty percent as big as the U.S. economy.

Estimates are that China is emitting about half the amount of global warming gasses as the U.S. and with its economy growing at ten percent a year, may overtake the U.S. by the end of the decade.

In short, the world's two biggest contributors to global warming are in denial about the problem, unwilling to make serious changes out of fear of harming their economies. Until these two countries realize the seriousness of the problem, there is little hope for any progress.