Friday, August 4

No such thing as a pollution credit swap

"In 2015, the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection issued a report that said two-thirds of groundwater and one-third of surface water in China was unsafe for human contact."

A fisherman in Chaohu Lake, covered in blue-green algae, in Chaohu city, Anhui province, in 2013. REUTERS/China Daily 

This year's 'Dead Zone' in the Gulf of Mexico, "Stretching from the coast of Louisiana at the Mississippi River Delta westward to the shores of Texas, the area of severe hypoxia — when the water is so depleted of oxygen that it can’t sustain fish and [any other] marine life — encompasses 8,776 square miles." 

Graphic: N. Rabalais, LSU/LUMCON 

What causes the hypoxia? From the Vox report:
The dead zone in the Gulf has become a worrisome annual phenomenon mainly due to excess nitrogen and other nutrients that run off from rivers like the Mississippi into the Gulf and feed the growth of algae. When the massive blooms of algae and phytoplankton die, their decomposition consumes [almost] all the oxygen in the ocean [area], creating a hypoxic area, or dead zone. ["No" oxygen is actually anoxic, not hypoxic.] Fish that can swim away do, but the organisms that can’t, including the plants that fish feed on, die.
Almost every summer since 1985, NOAA has sponsored research and monitoring of hypoxia off the coast of Louisiana. It says the record-breaker this year is a result of higher rainfall in the Midwest and heavier river flows than usual.

The most problematic nutrients that end up in the Gulf and feed the algae are nitrogen and phosphorous, which run off from myriad big and small farms across the country. Farmers use the nutrients as fertilizers on their fields, but rain can then wash that fertilizer into nearby streams and rivers. The Nature Conservancy estimates that the Mississippi River and its tributaries drain from 41 percent of the United States, delivering quite a lot of nutrient pollution to the Gulf.

A recent report by the environmental group Mighty Earth blames much of the nutrient pollution in the Gulf on the meat industry. The report implicates the entire meat supply chain, but it identifies the fertilizer runoff in livestock feed production as well as the dumping of cattle manure as the biggest sources of pollution. The report calls on companies like Tyson Foods to reform unsustainable practices.
Given that voluntary efforts at curbing the fertilizer pollution haven't worked, Vox reports that Don Scavia, a former "top scientist" at NOAA recommends:
A broader national approach that includes more enforced regulations and a modification of the American diet to consume less meat is necessary.
Nowhere in the Vox report is there mention of the American beef export industry (or any U.S. meat export industry), which at least since the mid-1980s began putting the price of steaks and other quality cuts of beef out of reach of lower-income Americans, and made beef the most expensive part of Americans' average grocery bill. This happened because U.S. cattle ranchers found they could make a bigger profit raising cows for exported meat rather than domestic consumption. 

So while a March 2017 New York Times report offers a number of reasons for Americans eating 19 percent less beef in the years 2005-2014 it also quotes these blunt assessments:
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a trade group for beef producers, said the main reason for beef’s decline [in the American diet] was a reduced supply of meat because of increased exports: The United States was a net exporter of beef from 2010 to 2013.
Asked what prompted them to eat less beef, 37 percent of consumers surveyed cited its price as the No. 1 reason in research published in January by Mintel, a consumer research firm.
It could take a great deal of research (and heated debate) to establish whether there is a direct correlation between massive algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico and the large increase in feed for U.S. livestock raised for meat exports, but there is no question American beef exports are set to increase even more. See U.S. beef exports to [Mainland] China and Hong Kong have soared this year from a U.S. Meat Exporters Federation press release and Chinese beef buyers race to get hands on American steak; Reuters, June 19.

And certainly it doesn't take large-scale exports in manufacturing, agriculture, or meat to mess up a nation's waterways. See Soap Opera and Soap Opera 2, Pundita, 2015. In Brazil, in India, and many other parts of the world, untreated household runoffs and simply using rivers to wash clothes with modern detergents will turn waterways into toxic bubble baths.

However, India and Brazil can't boast of creating a vast "biological desert," as the Gulf of Mexico dead zone is also termed. Nor can they can match the horrors wreaked on China's waterways when that country became the manufacturing export engine of the world.

Yet it's tough to argue against the current levels of globalized trade, if the reaction from the U.S. beef association to global warmists' accusations is any guide. To return to the NYT report:
The [environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council] is hailing the plummeting popularity of beef as a victory in the fight against climate change, because greenhouse gases are produced when cattle are raised. The group estimates that the resulting reduction in pollution would equal the emissions of 39 million cars, or about one-sixth of the number of cars registered in the United States in 2015. 
The beef association said it was “fallacious” to draw a link between beef consumption and automobile emissions. Sara Place, the group’s senior director of sustainable beef production research, said consumers could do more to reduce carbon emissions by throwing away less food, particularly fruits and vegetables, than by eating less beef. ...
I imagine Ms Place would have a similar reply to any complaint that the huge U.S. beef exporting industry was doing serious damage to marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

Perhaps the tiebreaker is to ask about the health of the Mississippi River. We don't have far to look for the answer:
Thanks to the obscene amount of pollution that gets dumped into it, scientists and conservationists have dubbed the Mississippi "the most tainted coastal ecosystem in the world" and the "most polluted river in the river in the country." It's a massive, bona fide toxic cesspool.
That from a Vice Motherboard article in February 2014, The Mississippi River Was a Toxic Mess Long Before the Oil Spill.  From a Missouri newspaper article in 2012 we can surmise that the Mississippi would have stiff competition from the Ohio River if it wanted to hang onto the crown of most polluted river in the USA.  

To sum, the global warmists' ability to keep the conversation in the public forum on greenhouse gas emissions has crowded out the toughest questions about a manic level of globalized trade and its connection to unsustainable levels of pollution. How did the global warmists manage that feat? Maybe because there is no such thing as a pollution credit, as there is for carbon emission


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