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Effects of Geology on the Global Economy

Byron King, Whiskey & Gunpowder
[At the recent annual convention of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)] I had the pleasure of spending some time with a delightful man named Mr. Wang, from an institution called the “University of Geoscience” in Wuhan, China. Mr. Wang is a marine geologist, and teaches the subject at the university level. He is very smart, as I rapidly discerned after we sat down next to each other on a bus, and during a field trip to look at the rocks of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Mr. Wang and I discussed numerous subjects of a geological nature, subjects of which he has an excellent grasp, in both English and Chinese. Here is some of what we discussed.

…”So,” I asked, “can you give me some idea of how many students are studying geology in China today?”

Mr. Wang thought for a moment. “If you add it all up,” he said, “there are about 40,000 or 50,000 students studying geology in China today at the university level…”

…Are you impressed yet, dear readers? 50,000 students are studying geology in China today. That number is well over 25 times the number of college students who are studying geology in the U.S., which includes foreign students enrolled at U.S. institutions, and that is after something of a surge in enrollments in geoscience departments in the past two or three years. Back in 2004, according to statistics published by the U.S. National Science Foundation, there were fewer than 500 degrees granted in geology and petroleum engineering by all U.S. universities combined, and about half of those degrees were awarded to foreign nationals. The Chinese have 100 times that number in the pipeline.

…China’s massive educational effort to train geologists and related scientific personnel for the future indicates a national desire to, on the one hand, adopt the best scientific knowledge of the West. Yet China also intends, in its own unique way, to be among the civilizations that remain on any list of survivors compiled by any Arnold Toynbee of the future.

We live in a world in which the “easy” oil is gone, where Peak Oil looms, where the need for basic industrial resources and commodities is the key to the future existence of Western (and other) civilizations. And we live in a world in which the Chinese are training the scientific and technical cadre that will go out into the world and, one way or the other, find what their country needs and bring it home. There are armies, and then there are armies of geologists.
(18 April 2007)

China vs. Earth

Elizabeth Economy, The Nation
The message is clear: Shanghai under water, Tibetan glaciers disappearing, crop yields in precipitous decline, epidemics flaring. These are just some of the dire consequences that Chinese scientists predict for their country this century if current climate change is not addressed. Yet China’s leaders pay about as much attention to the issue as does George W. Bush. In fact, a report issued last year by the Climate Action Network-Europe ranks China fifty-fourth out of fifty-six countries for its climate change response, just behind the United States and ahead only of Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Beijing knows the costs of inaction: A recent major official study on climate change predicts up to a 37 percent decline in China’s wheat, rice and corn yields in the second half of the century. Precipitation may decline by as much as 30 percent in three of China’s seven major river regions: the Huai, Liao and Hai. The Yellow and Yangtze rivers, which support the richest agricultural regions of the country and derive much of their water from Tibetan glaciers, will initially experience floods and then drought as the glaciers melt.
(19 April 2007)

Climate Change Will Devastate South Asia

Daphne Wysham & Smitu Kothari, The Hindu via Counter Currents
A final draft of a report leaked from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to the authors lays out shocking scenarios for India and the rest of South Asia. The summary for policy makers that was released by the IPCC on Friday is a call for urgent action globally. While shocking, the fuller final draft version of the Second Working Group of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, which may be watered down before final publication, makes for even more sobering reading: It lays out in explicit detail what lies ahead for India and the rest of Asia. It also presents an opportunity for the country to take the lead in defining a more secure and sustainable future for itself.

Here are some of the devastating consequences detailed in the provisional February 16, 2007, IPCC report on Asia: Sea levels will rise by at least 40 cm by 2100, inundating vast areas on the coastline, including some of the most densely populated cities whose populations will be forced to migrate inland or build dykes – both requiring a financial and logistical challenge that will be unprecedented. In the South Asian region as a whole, millions of people will find their lands and homes inundated. Up to 88 per cent of all of Asia’s coral reefs, termed the “rainforests of the ocean” because of the critical habitat they provide to sea creatures, may be lost as a result of warming ocean temperatures.

The Ganga, Brahmaputra, and Indus will become seasonal rivers, dry between monsoon rains as Himalayan glaciers will continue their retreat, vanishing entirely by 2035, if not sooner. Water tables will continue to fall and the gross per capita water availability in India will decline by over one-third by 2050 as rivers dry up, water tables fall or grow more saline. Water scarcity will in turn affect the health of vast populations, with a rise in water-borne diseases such as cholera. Other diseases such as dengue fever and malaria are also expected to rise.
(18 April 2007)