India Could Save Lives By Reducing Air Pollution

Air quality is not just an environmental issue but also a public health issue. Yale University’s 2012 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranks India last (out of 132 countries) with a performance score of 3.73 (out of 100) on the effects of air pollution on human health. Air pollution is the fifth leading cause of death in India according to the 2010 Global Burden Disease Study (GBD 2010). People should not be worrying that every breath taken negatively affects their quality of life. Many argue that it is a human right to breathe clean air.

The common pollutants that affect health are particulate matter (PM), more specifically black carbon (BC). Generally we look at two types of PM: PM10 consists of coarse particles such as the output from factories, farms, roads, and construction whereas PM2.5 consists of smaller, fine particles such as heavy metals and toxic organic compounds like the emissions coming out of vehicles for example. According to Air Info Now, PM2.5 is more hazardous than PM10 because the smaller particles can travel farther and can stay in the air longer. The main sources of BC are combustion engines (diesel engines for transportation and industrial use) and the burning of biomass (wood from cookstoves) and fossil fuels (coal). According to the Indian think-tank, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) assessment, the urban population is breathing particulate pollution, which exceeds national standards, with one third of the urban population already exposed to critical levels of pollution.

Smog enveloping the presidential palace in New Delhi

Smog enveloping the presidential palace in New Delhi

Over 620,000 premature deaths were related to outdoor pollution alone in 2010. PM has contributed significantly to the decline in health, mainly in the elderly and children. According to a UNICEF funded research study, there is an increase in health issues such as acute respiratory infections (ARI), chronic pulmonary diseases (COPD), asthma, heart diseases, cataract, pneumonia, low birth weight, and tuberculosis all due to indoor air pollution (IAP).

India’s transportation sector has contributed greatly to poor air quality. In urbanized areas, the main contributing factor to outdoor pollution are vehicles. About 76% of vehicles are two-wheelers (SIAM). As for one measure, to tackle the emissions output, several Indian cities adopted the European Fuel Specifications for petrol and diesel. As cities continue to grow and become more populated, the CSE has been pressing for India’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards to be more strictly enforced.

Those are the facts but could India tackle the problem? Awareness and educating the public is critical. Rural communities do not know much about the effects of indoor pollution (BC) coming from their indoor cookstoves. UCSD’s own, Professor Ramanathan is the Principal Investigator of Project Surya, which replaces the traditional highly polluting cookstoves with clean-cooking technologies.  In addition to improve human health and agriculture productivity, Project Surya will “mitigate the regional impacts of global warming by immediately and demonstrably reducing atmospheric concentrations of black carbon, methane, and ozone.” Strategic community planning in urbanized areas, which helps ease traffic congestion, and enacting federal legislation that requires an annual vehicle check can help curb carbon emissions. Hopefully these ideas will soon become a reality.

-Rachelle Lagman, intern

** The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent the Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California San Diego. **

 

Watch Battling Global Warming One Stove at a Time on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Two Thoughts About Food Security

First, food security contributes to national security.

I guess the best way to illustrate this is to give a real world example concerning the case of Egypt and China. Let’s look at Troy Sternberg’s essay, “Chinese Drought, Wheat, and the Egyptian Uprising: How a Localized Hazard Became Globalized,” which can be found in a series of essays entitled, The Arab Spring and Climate Change. Sternberg explains that the severe 2011 drought in China devastated China’s wheat harvest to the point where the global market price of wheat went up significantly. The skyrocketing price was especially felt in far off Egypt where wheat is a staple ingredient in a majority of foods (See Time’s article on Bread is Life: Food and Protest in Egypt). Globally, Egypt is the leader in importing wheat. The impact on the economy is exacerbated because roughly 40% of an Egyptian’s income goes directly to food. Egypt’s inability to respond to the overwhelming demand for wheat contributed to the development of protests and civil unrest. The stress of food insecurity helped fuel further questions of legitimacy regarding the Egyptian government. U.S. relations with Egypt are important because we share interests of peace and stability in the Middle East. Egypt has been a key partner with the United States in a wide spectrum of security issues in the Middle East. Across six administrations, aiding Egypt in times of difficulty, whether it be in economic or military development, has been essential to maintenance of that partnership. Initiatives to ensure that a nation is food secure would be more efficient than reacting to a food insecurity crisis which might lead to future conflicts. This is just one real world example that shares numerous similarities with others around the world.

Second, climate change affects food security.

There are so many dimensions to this issue but let us examine a real world example. According to the Food Security and Climate Change report by the High Level Panel of Experts (HPLE) on Food Security and Nutrition for the World Committee on Food Security, climate change variations in temperature and precipitation will have impacts that vary by region. For example, Sri Lanka has already seen their rice harvest wildly fluctuate because of the unpredictable amount of rainfall. Nearly 20% of their harvest was wiped out due to floods followed by a harsh drought in 2011. Sri Lankan climate change expert, Riza Yehiya said, “Sri Lanka, being closer to the equator, is more vulnerable to climate change impacts (than other countries).” Too much or too little rainfall affects not just rice paddies but all crops. The WorldWatch Institute reports “climate change has been attributed to greater inconsistencies in agricultural conditions.” The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego led a study that could help forecasters predict the appearance of monsoons in Asia, which could hopefully lead to the prediction of the magnitude of these monsoons with their impact on food and water security in the region. The Asian Development Bank’s report, Food Security and Poverty in Asia and the Pacific: Key Challenges and Policy Issues, predicts large crop losses in the coming years, of as much as 50% by 2100 compared to 1990 yields. With Asia being the most populous continent, significant drops in crop production does not bode well for food security. Keep in mind; climate change is just one factor, albeit a very important factor that threatens food security. According to International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) report (on Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaption), “agriculture and human-well-being will be negatively affected by climate change…”One of those impacts being that the U.S. would have to invest around $7 billion in agriculture productivity “to offset the negative impacts of climate change on the health and well-being of children.”

Clearly, food security links to a variety issues, ranging from climate change to national security to poverty to political instability.

-Rachelle Lagman, Intern

** The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent the Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California San Diego. **

Violence Fueled by Africa’s Environmental Dilemma

The severe environmental situation discussed in the previous blog is playing a role in the instigation of violence across Africa. The decline in biological diversity and agricultural production due to depleting aquatic and land habitats and fertile lands, respectively, has influenced Africans to take matters into their own hands to try and rectify the situation. A growing number of people choose to relocate to safer areas in order to attempt to escape the deteriorating conditions. Others turn to armed conflict to feed themselves, gain wealth and resources, or express frustrations with their government’s lack of aid.

The inability of African governments to fully adapt to and mitigate environmental degradation (failing states) has resulted in increased violent behavior and instability on the continent. Food insecurity reflected in rising food prices and a lack of food aid being delivered to those that truly need it, causes citizens to grow increasingly aggravated with leaders who don’t do enough to solve these problems. Some communities take it upon themselves to form factions and rebel groups to address these frustrations in various ways. A number of these organizations simply steal food aid or other resources that will enable them to acquire sustenance because they have

Food aid being delivered to a refugee camp

no other means to feed themselves or make money. Other groups use famine victims to collect food aid and make a profit. In Somalia, armed factions accomplish this by taking control of refugee camps or places where there is a continued supply of humanitarian food assistance and withholding aid from the refugees to feed themselves or resell. The innocent people are prevented from leaving the area to ensure that food aid continues to be delivered.

Sometimes, these groups turn into militias driven by a political goal. They have a certain politically charged message that they rally around and want to accomplish (i.e. want for a change in government policy or autonomy). In Nigeria, controversies over oil resource access and use and subsequent environmental pollution have been a major factor in the increasing formations of local armed groups, especially among the Ogoni and Ijaw indigenous peoples. This has resulted in the militarization of the local socio-economy, including increasingly violent competition over economic infrastructure and resources and non-polluted habitat areas.

An armed group of Somali rebels

Such political desires (e.g. sole control over the oil industry) influences the militias to commit acts that further complicate food security. Aid groups have been banned from operating in certain areas controlled by these groups because of different ideological views. Other factions kidnap foreign aid workers for ransom or to internationally publicize their political intentions. Both of these examples impede humanitarian aid from getting to those that really need it, frustrating more innocent people and increasingly influencing them to use dire means to acquire sustenance.

These types of actions force the government to engage groups in order to stop any threats to their country. But in order to effectively battle the various armed groups and end their reign of devastation, the governments need a budget to support their mission. More often than not, this requires shifting already scarce resources and money away from humanitarian and environmental projects. This leads to the weakening of the country’s critical development programs which attempt to successfully combat environmentally caused socio-economic problems. When violent conflict between the governments and militias occur, each side attempts to recruit new members to boost their numbers and chances of beating each other. This action takes away productive labor from individual households, further hindering the ability of common people to find a peaceful solution to environmentally-induced dilemmas.

A refugee camp in Chad

Food and physical insecurity influences many Africans to flee their homes in order to try to find better living conditions elsewhere. Kenya currently houses more than half of the estimated 680,000 Somalis who have fled to neighboring countries. These refugees, many of them women and children, face many dangers during their journey to relocate. They travel on their own with little resources to prepare them for the often-times long and difficult trek. Many are already weak and malnourished before the start of the journey and not all survive the trip. Gender-based violence is common during these migrations. Some women have to participate in “survival sex” in order to attain food, shelter, or transportation needed to complete their relocation to a safer region. Many women stay silent about attacks from fear that their families, communities, and culture will reject them or simply because they feel ashamed or afraid to talk about their experience. Even after arriving at refugee camps, violent attacks are still common.

Human trafficking is a problem as well. Traffickers and smugglers prey on refugees since they make easy targets because of their vulnerable situation. They are able to trick refugees with the simple but false promise of a better life elsewhere and end up selling many of them into forced labor or prostitution. Smuggling and trafficking networks also tend to have links to political and government officials in some manner in order to successfully conduct their “business.” This level of corruption makes it hard to curb this issue, even if the government in question passes strict legislation or steps up law enforcement efforts.

Many refugees that are able to successfully make the journey without being attacked or sold into slavery face another dilemma: illegal immigration. In order to escape the insecurities and conflict of their home countries, refugees are forced to illegally cross borders in search of a safer and better life. This causes diplomatic and military border issues between many African countries. Refugee migration into other parts of the continent tends to spread the pressure on resources of that region and results in conflict spreading into other areas as well. This conflict is influenced by the prevalence of arms ownership along border areas. Due to the rural and remote nature of these territories, it is regarded as necessary to own firearms for the protection of oneself and their community and livelihood. The recent Libyan civil war has increased the number of arms being smuggled and traded all over the continent and on the black-market, allowing certain refugees to acquire weapons as well.

Even after a refugee successfully completes the tough challenge of surviving the migration process, there is no guarantee that their destination will be safer and more secure than their home country. Sometimes, it is beyond the capacity of the host country to provide basic assistance for immigrants because they may already be overwhelmed by large numbers of refugees or their own conflicts and dilemmas.

– Sasha Schukin, Undergraduate Intern

** The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent the Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California San Diego. **

Creating the Environmental Conditions for Violence

The environmental catastrophes in Africa are often seen or heard about in the news but seldom connected to the on-going violence and crisis erupting in the region. Based on intense climate change and various causes introduced by human actions, these environmental problems cause numerous humanitarian issues which lead to various forms of violent conflict.  This is the first part of a two part personal view on the relations between environmental degradation and societal violence in Africa.  In this part, we shall explore the environmental conditions conducive to societal violence.

Changing rain patterns due to the Intertropical Convergence Zone determine the areas which experience warmer temperatures and drought during certain parts of the year.

Climate change is one of the major environmental concerns in Africa. Although it is has been a common issue in the region and around the world for decades, rising temperatures are proving to be more severe than ever before. Many of these changes in heat are initially caused by variations in the sea-surface temperatures of the Pacific Ocean, also known as the El Niño and La Niña phenomena. Atlantic and Indian Ocean warming is correlated with the Pacific’s climate temperature oscillations, causing extreme African weather due to changes in traditional rainfall patterns and the release of large amounts of heat into the atmosphere. The changing Intertropical Convergence Zone, an area surrounding the equator where winds originating in the northern and southern hemispheres come together, affects rainfall in many equatorial African nations as well. These two weather phenomenon produce drier-than-normal periods in various regions (depending on the season), leading to the severe African drought conditions seen today.

Due to these circumstances, essential rain seasons do not occur frequently, if at all. Any rain that does come falls on the extremely dry and arid earth, washing away any fertile soil that remains, along with any hopes of using the land for harvesting crops. A study done by the International Center for Trade and Sustainable Development suggests that such climate change could cause farm output in sub-Saharan Africa to decrease by 12% by 2080, while the figure for other African countries could be as high as 60%. Prolonged droughts and unseasonal heat are also reaping havoc on livestock. According to Jean-Cyril Dagorn, a policy and advocacy officer for economic justice at the humanitarian organization Oxfam, the Horn of Africa’s “cattle breeders and shepherds have lost between 30% and 60% of their livestock due to extreme weather conditions,” aggravating the region’s food security situation even further. For African farmers, most of whom are unable to come up with their own resources to stem these environmental problems, the current challenge is to find ways to adapt to this changing climate as soon as possible.

The source of Africa’s environmental dilemmas is also generated by human activity, particularly the causes which stem from over-population. A recent study entitled “Africa’s Demographic Multiplication”, released by the Globalist Research Center, points out that Africa’s population has more than tripled during the second half of the 20th century, becoming more populous than Europe for the first time. At this rate, the study states that “the continent would account for nearly a quarter of the world’s population” by 2100. With the number of Africans growing, their has been a steady increase in the number of people moving to urban areas to find work and live more comfortable lives. This has greatly increased the levels of pollution in these areas. A prime example is the mismanagement of already-scarce water sources near urban centers, which creates issues for accessing safe water supply for a growing populace.

Environmental hotspots across Africa

The growing number of inhabitants has also put a strain on energy resources. There is a constant demand for inexpensive, reliable fuel sources that are easily accessible to the masses for daily use. One such resource is wood. But growing populations have strained the areas that provide this precious energy fuel by causing flora depletion (i.e. the degradation of arable lands due to deforestation). Plants help stabilize soils, recycle nutrients, and regulate the quality and flow of water for agriculture. Without them, agricultural goals become unattainable. The predominant use of wood for fuel throughout the continent has also led to atmospheric pollution.

The over-cultivation of lands and seas has also become a human-induced cause of environmental degradation due to overpopulation. As populations grow, the majority of African poverty levels remain unchanged at best, making it a necessity for local communities to exploit their natural resources for survival. Rapid growth rates place enormous pressure on agricultural and marine industries to feed the growing populations and subsequently places more pressure on natural habitats and resources.

The developments of new technologies by humans, such as those that exploit fossil fuels, also heavily contribute to degrading the environmental situation. In his letter to AFRICOM, Professor John T. Ackerman states that Africa contains a large variety of natural resources “that includes approximately 30 percent of all of the earth’s minerals.” As a result, there has been an increase in solid mineral mining, oil exploration, and the numbers of plants and factories that have sprung up all across Africa, thanks to international corporations taking advantage of these assets. These and other applications of manufactured tools lead to an increase in pollution of land and marine environments, affecting endangered bio-communities and its inhabitants.

Due to human behavior and climate change, Africa’s environment is taking a serious toll due to the depletion of agricultural and habitat lands. Deforestation and desertification are enhanced by international industrial exploitation and uncontrolled fuel use by local inhabitants for energy and survival. This results in less arable land to cultivate and utilize for agricultural food production. There is also a decline in biological diversity as a result of the depletion of natural habitat for aquatic and land animals and poaching of endangered animals. This is influenced by the expanding African populations and their dependence on any and all resources for subsistence. Land, aquatic, and atmospheric pollution adversely affects the livelihood of various animal specie communities as well, also leading to environmental and humanitarian dilemmas. The next blog will illustrate how these issues play a direct and adverse affect on violent conflict in Africa.

- Sasha Schukin, undergraduate intern

**The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California, San Diego**

China’s Water Woes Affect its Neighbors

Although China’s trade policies, currency, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea have garnered much attention as of late by those concerned with regional security, there is another pressing problem in China that is slowly receiving more attention from outside observers: China’s growing water crisis. China’s unprecedented economic growth has of course come at great cost to its environment, including its water. But these ill effects are not purely a domestic problem. Just as air does not respect borders, waters often flow freely from one state into another. As China continues to grow, water security issues will become more acute, more obvious, and more dangerous for regional security. China’s growing need for water, both to provide for industrial expansion and to meet the potable water needs of a growing population in its megacities, has the potential to destabilize the region and warrants close observation over the next few years.

China’s water woes can be broadly broken down into two categories: scarcity and quality. Both of these problems are exacerbated by the accelerated pace of urbanization we see taking place across the country.

China’s rapid economic growth goes hand in hand with the increasing pace of urbanization, especially in the megacities of the north. The flight of rural residents seeking economic opportunities in the big city has put stress on already limited supplies of water in northern China. According to a standard put forth by the United Nations, when water supplies drop below 1000 cubic meters, or 260,000 gallons, per person per year, a region faces water scarcity. Beijing has about 100 cubic meters of water, or 26,000 gallons, per person per year. The Chinese government is acutely aware of this problem, which has only been exacerbated by climate change, which has the potential to reduce access to clean water supplies in the near future and to increase the pace of desertification that has been slowly encroaching on Beijing for years. Excessive pumping of surface and groundwater has also intensified desertification in the area. The more water the parched region pumps from surrounding areas to meet the needs of the city, the quicker the desert threatens to choke the region in a sea of sand. Elizabeth Economy, C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, explores the intricacies of China’s water problems in her book, “The River Runs Black.” She explains that the pace of desertification has doubled since the 1970′s, with dust storms from the north falling on Japan, Korea, and even the western United States.

Desertification continues to encroach upon Beijing

Economy goes on to state that water scarcity from changing ecosystems, skyrocketing demand, increasing pollution, and less than successful conservation efforts have limited access to water for more than 60 million people, with almost ten times that number drinking contaminated water daily. Water demands will not abate in Beijing. According to Hou Dongmin, a scholar of population development at Renmin University of China, migration from the countryside means that the city’s population is now growing by one million every two years.

So why should Beijing’s water woes concern the rest of us? Is a little dust the only thing we have to worry about? One thing must be clearly understood about China’s growth if nothing else. The leadership in Beijing has determined that it must be sustained for the foreseeable future due to fears about unemployment and the subsequent social unrest that would follow a significant contraction in growth. Although China is becoming more cognizant of the environmental impacts associated with its industrial activities and has been engaging in efforts to mitigate these adverse effects for some time, sustained economic growth remains the paramount concern. This growth and the economic benefits it generates are seen as essential to maintaining the legitimacy of the CCP. If we view China’s recent actions in the South China Sea as a signal that it may engage in aggressive actions against its neighbors when valuable resources are at stake, this may also indicate that there may be future tensions over coveted water sources in border regions, especially if water is seen as necessary for sustaining economic growth and social stability. As Peter Gleik, one of the world’s leading experts on water and co-author of the biennial series “The World’s Water” states, China’s water problems are threatening to slow economic expansion and weaken political stability in a variety of ways. Companies are canceling business deals due to water concerns and there is growing internal dissent over how water is allocated as well as its quality, ratcheting up pressure on the central and regional governments to solve the problem.

The Irtysh River is a prime example of China coming into conflict with a neighbor due to water issues. In recent years China has been seeking to quicken the pace of development in the western province of Xinjiang, which has traditionally lagged behind the rest of China. The Irtysh River flows through Chinese territory for 618 km before crossing the border into Kazakhstan.

The PRC has set the goal of raising Xinjiang’s GDP to the average level in the country by 2015. According to some experts, China is taking so much water out of the Irtysh to meet these development goals that Kazakhstan and Russia will have to make due with a flow of less than a cubic kilometer a year. This is an amount, Russian ecological commentator Dmitry Verkhoturov warns, that will put “the future of entire regions of Russia and Kazakhstan in the hands of China”.

Political analyst Paul Goble writes, “By unilaterally taking out of the Irtysh far more water than ever before, China has put at risk the economies and populations of downstream communities in Kazakhstan and Russian Federation, threatened a delicate eco-system and raised questions about Beijing’s plans regarding other trans-border rivers in the Russian Far East.” The proposed Black Irtysh – Karamai Canal water diversion project continues to be met by staunch resistance from Russian and Kazakh environmentalists. There is no international treaty governing the use of trans-boundary rivers, however both Moscow and Astana have pressed China to accede to the 1992 Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of Trans-Boundary Watercourses, which requires that upstream states ensure that downstream states receive water in approximately the same amount and in the same quality as the former took in from rivers passing through both, in the absence of separate bilateral agreements modifying these rules.

Many Southeast Asian nations have also expressed fear that China’s Ministry of Water Resources will control their access to water in the future. The Mekong River, which stretches 2,700 miles from the Tibetan plateau into Yunnan Province, then through Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam is a growing source of concern. The river has been targeted for several hydroelectric projects by China, which have resulted in the construction of three dams, with a fourth to be completed soon. With the Mekong River at record lows last year, leaders in these nations began to accuse Beijing of damming the river to benefit Chinese citizens, while disregarding the livelihoods of those downstream. In all of these nations Mekong River water is essential to agriculture and therefore national security. More than 60 million people in these nations rely on the Mekong for food, water, and transportation. In addition, various NGO’s and governments have also warned that the dams are adversely affecting fish migration patterns and the natural cycle of water flows. Further complicating the situation is the fact that China has refused to join the Mekong River Commission, an inter-governmental agency whose members include four of the downstream nations. Although China is increasingly courting its neighbors in Asia with trade, investment, and energy cooperation in an attempt to create China-centric regional integration, this strategy may backfire if Southeast Asian nations come to the conclusion that China is hindering their development goals through irresponsible water policies on the Mekong.

Mekong River

China's construction of dams along the Mekong is of great concern to downstream Southeast Asian nations

In both of these border regions, in the north and the south, China’s water policies are creating frictions with its neighbors. Not only is water scarcity a concern for China’s neighbors, so is the threat of cross-border water pollution that has become commonplace in China, which has persistently had issues with the implementation and enforcement of environmental protection policies. Strategic water sources that flow from China into other nations will continue to be a security concern in the region for the foreseeable future. Indeed, tensions are likely to increase, as China’s water demands show no sign of abating.

- Leland Butisbauch, graduate intern

**The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California, San Diego**

Potent Greenhouse Gas Should Be Brought To Market

When it comes to greenhouse gases, perhaps the most infamous is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels. However, methane is extremely potent and enters the atmosphere by a wide variety of sources, both anthropogenic and natural in origin. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “methane is 21 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere when compared to CO2 over a 100-year time period.” By analyzing air bubbles trapped in ice sheets, it is apparent that methane is now more abundant in the atmosphere than at any other time in the past 400,000 years.

Methane is produced by anaerobic decomposition, (decomposition of organic material without oxygen) and by livestock enteric fermentation. It is estimated that over 50 percent of current methane emissions are anthropogenic in origin, from sources including agriculture, mining, oil and gas systems, and landfills. Natural sources of methane include wetlands, oceans, permafrost, and forest fires. Methane emissions differ regionally depending on land use and variability in natural terrain.

But despite it’s detrimental effect on climate, methane isn’t completely bad. In fact, methane is the primary component of natural gas, which is a popular energy source for homes and transportation. If properly captured rather than released to the atmosphere, methane could be further maximized as a power source for our benefit. This strategy would not only provide a useful alternative to heavily carbon-based fuels such as coal and oil, but would also reduce the amount of methane emitted to the atmosphere by human activity.

At the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), a 2.8 mega-watt fuel cell converts excess methane collected from the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant into power. The methane would otherwise be burned at the treatment plant, but instead is piped from Point Loma to the campus. Once converted into electricity and heat by the fuel cell, the methane provides 7% of the electricity used by the UCSD campus. This is the first instance of a fuel cell of this size being powered by a distant source, and is the largest such fuel cell utilized by any university in the nation.

Recognizing the great potential of methane, the Methane to Markets Partnership began in 2004 as a collaboration of the United States and 13 other countries, focusing on the recovery and use of methane for energy. In 2010, the Methane to Markets Partnership grew to 38 governments and more than 1,000 private sector entities, becoming what is now known as the Global Methane Initiative. Since the inception of the Partnership in 2004, the United States has committed approximately $50.5 million to support methane reduction projects which, when fully implemented will result in an annual reduction of 61 MMCO2E (million metric tons of CO2 equivalent).

The Center for Environment and National Security is strongly in favor of the capture of methane for productive use and recycling. We recently proposed to the Department of State an evaluation of the Methane to Markets Partnership and the particular impacts of State Department funding. We are excited for the future of this proposal, and for the future of methane as a useful energy source.

-Claire Freeman, undergraduate intern

**The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California, San Diego**

The State of Global Water Security

Earth, our solar system's Blue Marble. Image: NASA image by Robert Simmon and Reto Stöckli

Earth, our solar system's Blue Marble. Image: NASA image by Robert Simmon and Reto Stöckli

 

From the lens of NASA’s space satellite Terra, Earth is a luscious blue gem, wrapped in one of the universe’s rarest resource, liquid water. Observing from up in the outer reaches of the ionosphere, one would be inclined to assume that water is a boundless resource of Earth—and assuredly, as long as her atmosphere exists, water should indeed remain plentiful on the third rock from the Sun. However, we humans are a fragile organism, and it’s no great mystery that we cannot subsist on any type of water—we need fresh water. Hence, it seems a cruel irony that only 2.6% of our blue planet’s water is potable, and less than half of it accessible in non-glacial form.

The perception of freshwater as a renewable resource is a destructive fallacy of humans’ collective intelligence. Usable water, is in fact, limited on this earth, and efficiency of its use becomes a more and more salient issue as the world population grows and the global climate warms.

Here in Southern California, although we desert-dwellers have encountered our own concerns about water security, particularly desertification and the declining health of the Colorado River, the costs upon consumers have been relatively painless. Although the state has been in a ‘water crisis’ for some years now, I cannot feel as though the California microcosm is completely reflective of other trouble areas around the world wracked by problems of water security. As a resident of the developed world, the issue of limitedness of freshwater is not always salient, and it is quite easy to become oblivious to the fact that by 2025, nearly 2/3 of the world’s population will be living under water-stressed conditions.

With the dogged protraction of global warming, regional desertification, unsustainable water extraction practices, and man-made pollution, obtaining uncontaminated freshwater becomes more and more of a challenge. These handicaps are exacerbated further by an exponentially growing world population, which according to the “moderate” projection of the UN, is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050 (we are currently at 6.8 billion).

So where does that put us today? Barring population control measures, is the survival of our species doomed to a bleak outlook?

Not necessarily so, assures Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher, David Pierce:
“The water shortage problem that the world faces today is indeed a serious one; however, the history of regional water security has shown that water crises often lead to cooperation and innovation.”

As the world nears the halfway mark of 2011, we have indeed observed many sorts of cooperation and innovation in addressing the world’s water security problem.

The parched desert nation of Saudi Arabia, for example, has taken advantage of its vast fossil fuel resources to power its desalination infrastructure. Every year, 30 desalination plants produce 70% of the drinking water for the desert kingdom. The technology of desalination is not without its costs and externalities, however, as thousands of pounds of salt becomes an inevitable byproduct of the freshwater producing process.

In other regions of the world, emphasis has been placed upon water efficiency. In California alone, nearly 60% of freshwater allocated to farming is lost to evaporation and runoff alone because of inefficient farming techniques. In response to this, many California farms have implemented drip irrigation (microirrigation), which increase the efficiency of water use significantly. In the cities, California has increased its water efficiency through “Toilet to Tap” wastewater reclamation facilities, as well as through local water conservation campaigns.

To date, many of these sorts of measures have brought short-term reprieve to many water deprived regions of the world. Their long-term sustainability and success, however, will only be told in time.

Woe to the human race, attaining freshwater is only part of the world’s water security problem. Another paramount dimension of water security lies in the distribution of freshwater. Here, the discussion of political corruption and exploitation may take place. According to governance adviser of the World Bank, Jannelle Plummer, “When water is scarce or absent, countries and their citizens suffer incalculable costs – economic, political, social, cultural and environmental. Corruption exacerbates these impacts and amplifies the pivotal challenge of water governance.”

Hence, going forth, humanitarian policies like USAID’s Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, coupled with a sensitivity towards equitable water distribution practices will be crucial in ensuring that the politically disenfranchised around the world will not bear the brunt of the world’s water shortage.

- David Huang, undergraduate intern

 

** The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent the Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California, San Diego **

 

Yes He Can: Obama’s Vision for U.S. Energy Security

On March 30, 2011, President Barack Obama spoke to the students of Georgetown University on the topic of United States’ energy security policy. Jokes about Georgetown’s early departure from this year’s NCAA March Madness Tournament aside, the President addressed a wide array of issues, ranging from exploration of offshore oil to the imperative for spurring American innovation. Although the President’s speech fell short of committing to detailed numerical benchmarks for his administration’s energy initiatives, his address nonetheless provided a candid blueprint for his vision of the American energy policy for the next decade.

However, the President did offer some specificity in one area:

“And today, I want to announce a new goal, one that is reasonable, one that is achievable, and one that is necessary.
When I was elected to this office, America imported 11 million barrels of oil a day.  By a little more than a decade from now, we will have cut that by one-third.  That is something that we can achieve.  We can cut our oil dependence — we can cut our oil dependence by a third.”

Citing this goal as part of his administration’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future”, Obama reiterated his administration’s partiality against reliance upon foreign oil. In support of this, the President brought to light the realities of the United States’ limited reserves in oil—only 2% of the entire world’s reserves—and reminded his audience of the imperative to explore new avenues for energy sources. While the tone of his address was clearly fixed upon singing high praise of alternative energy and energy efficiency, the President grounded his rhetoric in realism and qualified the substantial role of foreign oil in the nation’s energy portfolio for some time to come.

Writing for the Brookings Institute, Charles Ebinger describes Obama as being “practical in his assessment of oil markets, the reasons for the recent run up in gasoline prices, and in his inability to offer any short term palliatives,” and adding further that Obama correctly evaluated the country’s dependence upon oil for the near future. Meanwhile, Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute questions the economic soundness of weaning off cheap, market-controlled oil, especially when the majority of the US oil comes from “friendly” suppliers.

Though Griswold’s economic valuation of importing cheap oil certainly deserves merit, especially in a time of hardship for everyday Americans, Obama’s point of America’s need to develop alternative fuels and cut dependence upon foreign oil provides a goal for the longer term.  We are now at a crossroads where the decisions of today’s bureaucrats and politicians will dictate the United States’ energy security for the next half-century—possibly more. With a menagerie of issues like population growth, climate change and increased energy consumption of developing countries at the world’s doorsteps, sustainable energy practices are no longer a choice, but a requisite for the survival of our nation and species.

In response to the energy challenges that lie ahead, President Obama, in addition to outlining specific alternative energy options, offers a simple and idealistic solution:

“…our best opportunities to enhance our energy security can be found in our own backyard—because we boast one critical renewable resource that the rest of the world can’t match: American ingenuity. American ingenuity, American know-how”

Up until now, alternative energy has benefitted from relatively little research and development because of the US’s use of cheap imported oil as the predominant source of energy.  Hence, the alternative energy sector has immense potential for growth.

Going forward, two policy initiatives will be crucial in the success of Obama’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future.” First will be the strengthening K-12 education in areas of science, math, engineering and technology. Second will be collaborating internationally to develop new technologies and elevate “American know-how.”

Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” program, which is a collection of measures designed to help American students “learn deeply and think critically” in the aforementioned areas, is a positive step in the direction of developing America’s human capital. If the US is to reap the benefits of “American knowhow,” investments must be made in the education of its youth.

The Obama Administration has also been proactive in enhancing international cooperation in developing a sustainable energy future. When it comes to scientific cooperation, China, our biggest economic rival, is one of our most valuable partners. Beginning as early as 2008 at the onset of his administration, President Obama has set the tone for what his stance will be in terms of energy cooperation. It is important for Obama, and presidents after him, to maintain this precedence with China, as well as others of the international community.

Here at the Center for Environment and National Security, we firmly believe in transnational cooperation for alternative energy development. A recent grant proposal from our center involved the introduction of a pilot project in Vietnam for collecting locally available agricultural residues and using these materials in commercial scale bio-gas digesters for conversion into fuel that can be used by vehicle fleets. Involvement in such projects by partner organizations of the government will be equally important as any enterprise undertaken by the executive branch in developing new energy technologies.

As of today, the United States has much room for growth in diversifying our energy portfolio. On March 30, President Obama candidly evaluated the current state of the US energy policy, and skillfully delineated the challenges that lie ahead. It is imperative that moving forth, we heed the President’s call for mobilizing America’s next generation of technology innovators, and pursue policies that propel, and not hinder, increased independence from imported fuels.

-David Huang, undergraduate intern

Aquaculture For Economic and Environmental Sustainability

As part of the quest for sustainability, we believe marine aquaculture could be one of the most viable solutions to the growing worldwide demand for leaner proteins in diets. Defined as “the means, the propagation, and rearing of aquatic species in controlled or selected environments, including, but not limited to, ocean ranching” by the National Aquaculture Act of 1980, it has become a highly globalized industry with US aquaculture valued at $1 billion out of the $70 billion worldwide.  Fueled by the continued exponential growth in the demand for seafood, aquaculture has come to encompass everything from the commercial fish farming most people are familiar with, to the research to vaccinate fish, improve feeding methods for cultivated sea life, and even raising seaweed for human consumption.

Salmon is one of the most popular seafoods in the United States and is regularly imported from countries including Chile and Norway. Image: Great Planers Trout & Salmon Club

The original regulatory act of the 1980s was meant to address the increased demand for seafood that was leading to unsustainable yields from wild stocks.  It also attempted to address the fact that in 1980, the US was already importing approximately 50% of all its seafood from outside sources.  However, despite increased research and improved technology over the last two decades worldwide, there is still a marginal commercial aquaculture industry in the US.  Part of this may be due to misinformation regarding the quality of imported seafood as well as the quality of fish coming from aquaculture in general.

Many arguments opposing aquaculture have already been debunked by scientific research just in the last 15-20 years, according to Dr. Paul Olin, an expert in aquaculture from the extension office of California Sea Grant that is affiliated with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California.  One project in particular which is partially funded by Sea Grant and headed by Mark Drawbridge of the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute (HSWRI) in San Diego, developed a fish feed that relies less on fishmeal, one of the arguments of farmed fish opponents.  They tested the feed on fish fingerlings from a hatchery in Carlsbad, CA also maintained by Hubbs-Sea World.  Their findings indicated that this new feed, developed using high quality poultry by-products and algae, did not hinder fish development and has the potential to be the answer to the feeding of fish proteins to such species as yellowtail tuna and sea bass.  If this feed could be mass produced and made for other species, including the highly prized Bluefin tuna, sustainability of such fish in a controlled environment could be a much more viable solution to the dwindling wild stocks.

Another aquaculture myth that has been debunked by research is in regards to the use of antibiotics to treat cultivated fish.  According to Dr. Olin, fish feeds used twenty years ago may have included antibiotics due to the lack of research and technology in the early years of aquaculture.  However, with research partially funded by cooperative public and private sector partnerships such as Sea Grant, vaccinations against fish diseases have resulted in a 97% drop in the use of antibiotics.

HSWRI has operated small surface cages using standard containment net technology in southern California as part of its white seabass enhancement program for over a decade with no escapement incidents.  HSWRI has also participated in demonstration projects in Northern Baja, CA, Mexico designed to promote the development of offshore aquaculture using regionally important species raised from egg to market.  These projects have used both standard surface cages and submersible cages with no escapement incidents.

View from inside a Hawaii offshore aquaculture cage with Moi swimming near the surface. Image: NOAA

Lastly, the argument regarding opening up the 200 nautical miles of ocean, which comprises the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), could turn the tide for fish farming in the US. Currently, most farms operate within state waters but opening up the EEZ could encourage larger commercial finfish cultivators to help reduce the gap between imported and local seafood.  One high-profile project in particular, spearheaded by Hubbs-Sea World suggested creating the first commercial-scale aquaculture farm off the coast of San Diego.  Unfortunately, with the release of the recent NOAA aquaculture draft policy, it was decided to table the project after two years of trying to get permit approval.  As the project demonstrated, the process of obtaining all the necessary permits is lengthy and can result in companies moving to Mexico’s waters instead where it only takes a few weeks to gain approval.

That is why it is crucial for NOAA and the Department of Commerce who have drafted complementary aquaculture policies to implement regulations that encourage commercial aquaculture industry in the US.  Having a regulatory system in place that makes it reasonable and affordable for a company to want to come in and develop within the EEZ is vital. There is significant scientific research that shows fish raised in aquaculture are no more harmful than fish caught in the wild. So long as organizations have the resources and support, research will continue to improve the industry as a whole.  This means that there should also be a greater movement to encourage public knowledge of this research to prevent misinformation. There are not only economic benefits of fewer imported seafood species but the notion of ocean sustainability and public trust that the products they are consuming are both safe to eat and beneficial for our environment.

– Alyssa Magat Crutchfield, Undergraduate Intern


** The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent the Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California San Diego. **

Catch Shares: An Antidote to Overfishing

Tuna being cut in a fish market in Japan. Bluefin tuna is an integral part of sushi and sashimi. Image: WikiCommons

As a food staple that has captured the hearts of people everywhere, there is little doubt of the healthful and delicious qualities of fish as alow-fat, high-in-omegas alternative to red meat.  However, if rising consumer demand continues to be met unabated, it is clear that increased accountability is absolutely necessary to conserve dwindling fish stocks and the imminent economic collapse of the fishing industry.  Yet, it is not difficult to understand how overfishing has continued generally unabated over the last five decades.  When a single Bluefin tuna can go for over $100,000 in a Japanese fish market, the drive to meet those demands can be a strong motivator to limit restrictions.  The Chilean Sea Bass, Atlantic cod, haddock, various species of Marlins and even the Orange Roughy are also in danger due to increased demands on ocean fish in restaurants worldwide.  However, as the United States and a few other nations are demonstrating, there are viable solutions to prevent and possibly reverse potential devastation.

According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), overfishing can lead to the economic collapse of the commercial fishing industry.  Their conclusion is that implementing catch-shares has the potential to rebuild fish stocks while protecting commercial and fishing from economic failure.  So as overfishing continues to meet increased demand, the long-term consequence for the industry as a whole is far grimmer. Unfortunately, economic profitability in the short-term tends to be the overriding factor preventing international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) from effectively enforcing more policies that would protect both declining fish species and the fisheries.

Domestically, the US has recognized the necessity in conserving fish stocks both economically and environmentally within its own waters for several decades.  Passing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976 officially claimed and recognized the sovereign rights of the US to manage fish and resources within the 200 miles of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  The Act also created eight Regional Fisheries Management Councils who create management plans for the fisheries within their jurisdiction.  In turn, RFMCs must abide by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) national guidelines for conservation.  Various amendments since 1976 have reflected growing concerns over the years regarding the rebuilding of overfished stocks as well as the management of highly migratory species of such fish as the Bluefin tuna.

In a recent lecture at the University of California, San Diego, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator for the NOAA,  reiterated the importance of sustaining ecosystems and discussed the NOAA’s newly enacted policy of “catch share.”  Although domestic RFMCs have been using forms of catch share in their management of regional fisheries since the 1990s, the NOAA policy effectively echoes its efficacy at a national level.  It was also studied and implemented within a year of inception, which indicates that given adequate resources, it is more than feasible to put such a program into place without too much difficulty.  Internationally, Australia, Iceland, and New Zealand have been using catch share as the only policy in their management of EEZs since the 1970s.  While this is a testament to the catch share program in striking a generally successful balance between fish stock rebuilding and preserving economic viability domestically, there is still significant difficulty in enforcing fishing regulations on a global level.

Alaskan purse seiner lifting a catch of herring to the deck. Image: NOAA

Following the US’ lead in the creation of RFMCs, the UN implemented the UN Fish Stocks Agreement of 1995 (FSA) which gave RFMOs responsibilities that mirror those of RFMCs but on an international scale.  Made up of individual nations who voluntarily participate as member states, there are approximately thirty different RFMOs that govern various species of fish, including the Bluefin tuna.    Unfortunately for the UN, perhaps due to the large scale on which RFMOs must regulate international policy, there are increased problems in successfully enforcing conservation policies.

In particular, a handful of individual nations have been vocal in reducing the effectiveness of international attempts to protect stocks.  France, Spain and other countries that greatly profit in the industry exert an unequal influence on fishing regulation, especially in the European Union (EU).  In 1995, the EU readily defended Spain and Portugal over an accusation of exceeding fishing quotas set forth by the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) by Canada off the coast of Newfoundland. This accusation included proof of using illegal practices to catch turbot (black Halibut.) While they would eventually reach a settlement, it goes to show the lengths to which individual countries continue to ignore conservation efforts.  Spain alone has received over €2.7 billion from the EU which has gone to subsidize vessels recognized for overfishing, something which the EU admits as a failure on their part despite regularly making attempts to protect declining fish stocks.

While the UN has tried to do what it can in terms of setting forth more policies, it is clear that more accountability must occur in nations who fail to encourage their enforcement by commercial vessels. RFMOs who are responsible for implementing fishery management plans also need to reassess current fishing quotas to adequately account for the rebuilding of fish populations.  However, more countries must also choose to act.  Scientific observations of hugely declining fish stocks seem to go largely ignored, especially by the EU, as evidenced by the continual overfishing of Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.

Countries that regularly allow for the abuse of fishing regulations must reassess to what extent short-term gains are worth possible extinction of the very fish species that provide such significant profits. Research regarding overfishing and the need for greater conservation continue to provide grim forecasts, especially if perceptions about conservation equating to lower profit margins do not change.  One solution is for the UN and RFMOs to consider a comprehensive catch share program as implemented by the US, to protect the interests of prized fish species while making conservation a more attractive proposition to an industry in danger of disappearing with their stock.

– Alyssa Magat Crutchfield, Undergraduate Intern

** The views expressed in this article are purely personal and do not represent the Scripps Institution of Oceanography or the University of California San Diego. **

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