Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Environmental News Roundup

A few brief notes between grading essays:

1. The Southwest is so, so screwed when it comes to climate change. I am extremely skeptical of projections for massive population growth in the region over the next 50 years, more because of the already existing lack of water than problems with climate change. But the kinds of superdroughts (up to 60 years) that will likely afflict the region over the next 1000 years makes long-term intensive population seem unlikely. And I don't want to be around when Americans start becoming environmental refugees in their own land.

2. Although I generally oppose farming in the Mountain West due to its lack of water, often inefficient growth measures, and environmental sensitivity, I have no real problem with the government stepping into to assist farmers and ranchers in Wyoming devastated by a grasshopper infestation. What I do have a problem with is the knowledge that damn near every one of those ranchers cashing their government checks are bitching about big government while doing so.

3. It's sad, but hardly surprising, that efforts to restore the San Francisco Bay delta have faltered so badly. No one wants to give up water, no one wants to pay for restoration, no one wants to limit development. Everyone wants someone else to do it. This is what a powerful federal government is for, but of course, the Great Society-style liberalism that could do this job is dead and buried and having dirt kicked on it as we speak to make sure.

4. A real threat to our economy is the demand for so-called rare-earth metals. These are the rare but increasingly in demand minerals we need for a high-tech economy. China controls most of the supply right now, giving them even more power over the world's economy. What's concerning to me isn't the Chinese monopoly, though their recent, if brief, refusal to sell any of them to Japan is a sign of Chinese power, but the fact that we are so reliant on these materials for computers and for green technology. I have a hard time believing in the long-term feasibility of technologies that require rare materials. This includes computers. Do I believe computers will be as a publicly available in 50 years as today? No, because we are simply running out of the materials that go into computer chips. Similarly, this doesn't bode well for climate change if we can't create enough lithium batteries and other green technologies to end fossil fuel production permanently.

5. The government may be suing BP and other companies over the Gulf oil spill, but I'm rather unimpressed. While the suit will force the oil industry to pay for much of the clean-up, it hardly does anything to prevent future disasters. I'd much rather see the government institute stringent regulations that put the oil industry on the defensive. I'd also like a billion dollars deposited in my bank account tomorrow. Both scenarios are equally likely.