Archive for the ‘ China ’ Category

Made in China–ahem, Italy

The tragic fire at a factory on Sunday, December 1st, 2013, which cost 7 employees their lives, has barely begun to shed light on the industry’s illegal insurgence and Italy’s lack of capacity to do much about it.

Credit: wantchinatimes.com

Pronto moda is a case of what The Economist tags as “reverse globalization.” Cheap materials are shipped from China to Italy–as are the workers, as are the sweatshop concept and conditions. One city, Prato, just northwest of Florence, plays host to over 5,000 factories like the one that burned down on Sunday and some 50,000 Chinese workers buried in 16 hour work-days. Faux-designer products are pumped out at superhuman rates with the facade of labels from designer brands (although the “Made in Italy” label remaining true) and are sold for extremely cheap prices to locals and tourists. Before Italian taxes can even make their claim, more than half of the $2.7 billion profits find their way back to China undeclared.

Chinese utilitarianism and black labor practices are brought to Italy to take advantage of the necessarily perfect combination of an apt market for the pronto moda scheme and weak rule of law in Prato (as what may be an indication of the weaknesses sustained at the national level; consider Rule of Law 1 and Rule of Law 2 to observe Italy’s troubles). Workers, essentially indentured servants, are likely to be left with their promises of a return back to China unfulfilled as they work, bathe, eat, and sleep (in cardboard accommodations as was the case for the victims) within the same few square meters.

The devastating event made headlines in international media; however, the problem for Italian officials isn’t anything new to them. Roberto Cenni, Prato’s mayor, claims that they investigate hundreds of the 3,000+ illegal business every year. The proliferation is too much to handle, he claims, and the operations that Italy is able to shut down only sprout back up the next year. As China merely renders, capitalizes, and improves on what domestic organized crime has done in the country for so long, Italy is forced to drastically improve from the inside-out if it is to have any chance at beginning to address the complicated issues at hand in Prato.

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The Crisis of the Anthropocene: Part 2

Continued from The Crisis of the Anthropocene: Part 1.

by Dr. Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus Political Science, California State University East Bay

Cheap fossils

Peak oil refers to the gradual increase in the cost of extracting fossil fuels causing higher prices, decreasing demand, and declining production. As peak oil is reached, the volume of extraction declines. Peak oil was reached years ago in the US. In 2010 the International Energy Association announced that peak oil may have occurred internationally in 2006. The price of gasoline has been erratically ratcheting up. Conventional petroleum is probably less available at the same time that rapidly growing economies demand more oil. Most Americans are likely to continue to buy gas as if there were no tomorrow and blame politics, oil companies, and speculators for a problem inherent in the earth’s crust. The timing of the ratchet is unpredictable. Crudeoilpeak.info/global-peak has excellent data on the past, but less certain projections for the future.

Credit: theresilientearth.com

Unfortunately, the benefit peak oil might provide to reduce global warming is being more than offset by other fossils, which seem well short of any peak. Higher oil prices so far only serve to stimulate more extraction of oil from risky deep ocean platforms, coal, dirty oil from shale and sand, and natural gas from fracking, which pollutes huge volumes of clean water. Fossil fuels are still in under-priced over-abundance and consumption is even increasing. The earth’s crust appears sufficiently generous in fossils to assure the demise of the climate that supported human development. However great for the money economy, it is not sustainable in the whole economy.

Under-pricing reduces the viability of non-fossil alternatives—solar wind, photovoltaic and thermal energy, energy efficiency, conservation, non-auto modes, and efficient land use.

Water

Humans appropriate more than half the world’s fresh water. Ancient aquifers in the world’s bread baskets, including the Ogallala in the Great Plains, are being drained. California has diverted so much water from the Bay Delta system that its historic ecology has collapsed. The salmon, steelhead, and striped bass are mostly gone, leaving the tiny Delta Smelt as the remaining indicator species. Water shortages are increasing. A federal court recently ordered water released into the Klamath River to prevent fish kills, at the expense of farmers who wanted the water. The San Joaquin Valley has sunk many feet in some places due to over-pumping of ground water.

In December 2012, the Interior Department said by mid-century the Colorado River will not support demand from the seven states it supplies, including California. The main reason is expected population growth in the region from 40 million to as many as 76 million people. “Phoenix continues to grow at one of the highest rates in the country,” said Jerry Karnas, population and sustainability director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “There is no discussion about what the future Phoenix is going to do when the Colorado River is done.”

As rains diminish and the climate dries in some areas, increased pumping from falling aquifers becomes more expensive due to the cost of electricity, itself dependent on water supplies and fossils. As diets improve, demand for food higher up the food chain requires more water. Only 2 percent of major U.S. rivers run unimpeded to the sea. California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has been entirely re-engineered. The last time the Colorado River reached the Sea of Cortez was in 1998. The Nile, Indus and Ganges rivers have been reduced to a trickle. (See chellaney.net for information on the most pertinent international water issue.)

Credit: thelivingocean.net

 

Pollution

Pollution of water, air, and land comes from burning fossils, hazardous chemicals, excess nutrients, and solid waste. Small amounts of a chemical can devastate amphibians and bees. Residues from 100 million tons of synthetic chemical compounds produced each year commonly appear in polar bear tissues, whale blubber, and human breast milk and umbilical cords. Nitrogen can be a fertilizer; the excess is a problem. Human activity surpasses nature as a source of nitrogen emissions, altering the planet’s nitrogen cycle.

Radioactivity has been an evolutionary background reality and a minor pollutant since the Strontium 90 scares of the 1950s, but is now looming much larger as radioactivity from the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi Reactor melt-down drifts across the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast of North America. Radioactivity has proven deadly from the earliest research to the bombing of two Japanese cities. In theory and most practice radioactivity is one of the most strictly regulated pollutants, but the difficulty of failsafe nuclear energy and the possibility of nuclear war and nuclear terrorism are still there.

Bioengineering is not usually thought of as a pollutant, but at the micro-scale of DNA it could be considered to be one, much like an invasive species in a habitat. So far, research and industry safeguards have prevented acute problems, but secrecy about Genetically Modified Organisms, lack of consumer choice, and industry assurances motivated in part by profit-seeking do not inspire confidence. Wind-blown GMO seeds have already contaminated some organic crops. We are still learning the most basic things about DNA, let alone how it can safely be manipulated.

California has eight of the 10 most air-polluted cities in the country and 725 metric tons of solid waste are washing up on our coast each year.

Higher, higher still Credit: InternationalComparisons.org

Credit: InternationalComparisons.org

Land

Humans have converted more than 40 percent of the earth’s land, usually the most biologically productive land, to cities and farms. Urbanization often destroys prime farmland. Roads and structures fragment the habitat of much of the rest. The increasing need for food and decreasing yields due to climate change, salinization, soil erosion, soil depletion, and conversion to other uses have led to converting more marginal, unfarmed land to crops. Farms and logging are big sources of deforestation and also causes greenhouse gases and loss of sequestration of atmospheric carbon.

Oceans

A third of world fisheries are exhausted or degraded. Forty percent of coral reefs and a third of mangroves have been destroyed or degraded. Most species of the great predator fish are in decline. Ocean acidification, a product of fossil fuel burning, is dissolving calcifying plankton at the base of the food chain. Coral reefs are disappearing as warming, over-fishing, and pollutants cause massive bleaching, i.e., the ejection by the coral of the algae it needs to grow. Less life in the oceans reduces sequestration of carbon. A garbage gyre at least twice the size of Texas swirls in the Pacific Ocean. “We can’t just continue dumping nitrogen into the ocean at the same rate and expect everything to be fine,” Santa Clara University’s Marvier said.

Auto-dependency

The world is rapidly increasing the number and use of cars, while other, healthier, modes of transportation, especially walking, are shrinking in proportion. Underpricing of fossil fuel drives land use dispersion, resulting in a suburban system which makes other modes uneconomic and unavailable. Californians own 32 million registered vehicles for 29 million people aged 16 and older.

Misconceptions

The problem is not consumption as understood by economists, but rather the over-consumption of some things due to their under-pricing which fails to consider full economic cost and allows externalization of costs, degrading the whole economy: “problem consumption.” The whole economy includes values of obvious economic worth that are not reflected in prices. We cannot conceive a sustainable economy because it is too complex, but we can have policies which push us towards one, with sustainable consumption replacing the unsustainable over time, and an improving status of women reducing population growth.

There is no “birth dearth,” at least, not yet. World fertility rates have fallen from 4.9 births per woman in the 1960s to the current 2.6, still too high. The rate in about half the world—Japan, Western Europe, China, Vietnam, Brazil, Iran, Thailand, and other emerging economies—is below the 2.1 births per woman needed for zero growth. The United States, the world’s third-largest country behind China and India, and the only rich country still growing, nevertheless recently saw its birth rate fall to 1.9.

The improvement in the status of women has driven birth rates down through education, economic opportunity, legal protections, family planning, and, to a small extent, therapeutic abortion. Across cultures, women choose to provide a better life for fewer children.

The revolution, however, is incomplete because high economic costs are still imposed on most women who choose to have children. Historically, the duties of child-rearing have been assumed by women, but, with improved status and given a choice, women reduce the burden. Once a developed country chooses to tax itself to ease the cost, women, if need be, are ready, willing, and able to have more children, because few things in life are more fulfilling.

While the population gets older, the ratio of dependent seniors on younger workers does not tell us what we need to know. The ratio is less relevant, possibly irrelevant, because health is increasing faster than age, and many older people want to work at work they choose. Also, if there are tax penalties, like loss of retirement income if one works, people will work less for money and more at other things. I retired to avoid tax penalties and to work voluntarily on sustainability analysis and advocacy. My wife retired and is almost fulltime at granddaughter care so that our kids can work for money. Rebalancing incentives for having children and for older working can solve problems, if they occur.

Major source: Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle Washington correspondent, SF Chronicle, Sept. 3, 2013.

Dispelling the Obamney-China relationship

In previous debates, either candidate touted promises of his ability to to be “tough on China.” The tough rhetoric slowed to a minimum on Monday night, October 23rd, at the third presidential debate. Feedback from China of discontent may have been the catalyst, yet during the debate neither candidate could afford to be so forthcoming as to acknowledge that it’s not only in the best interest of the US from an international relations perspective to cool the rhetoric, but also that the US is unable to assume a superior position over China or to bully it. This is not to say the US are subordinate to China; rather, it’s a relation of codependence as articulated by Thomas P.M. Barnett in his article “The New Rules: Hubris Drives Mistrust in U.S.-China Relations.” To simplify it as an economic codependence (our trade for their labor) would be a gross misconception. Barnett investigates the relationship in terms of military and security, the meaning of the democratization of China and its effects on the US, as well as the US’ waning global prominence in politics or economic consumption. Barnett opines that the nature of the US-China codependence escalates both cautiously (albeit relatively quickly) and defensively as neither country can afford to give the other an upper hand in a seemingly paradoxical struggle that is delicate yet bearable. One thing’s for certain: although neither candidate can admit otherwise for the sake of his candidacy, “tough on China” rhetoric is a romantic glorification of our position in relation to our cross Pacific neighbors. Cooperation, codependence, and co-struggling is a more realistic appraisal of the situation for both today and the near future.

The US, China, and clean energy investment

The U.S. for the second consecutive year has lost a spot in the rankings for highest investment in clean energy. The U.S. now ranks behind Germany and China and has also fallen to 11th among developed countries in clean energy investment growth rate over the last ten years. Chairman of the Sierra Club Carl Pope contends in an article on the Huffington Post website, that the results from the Pew Report are indicative of a growing complacency to the potential in the clean energy market being swallowed by China’s aggressive approach. Pope argues that arguments favoring a more complacent outlook which include concerns over whether other countries have cheaper labor, looser environmental standards,  less regulation, and easier access to raw materials are all thoughtfully considered and repudiated. Pope urges that the requisite component that is missing is a revived manufacturing sector. Without it, the U.S. will only continue to fall further behind in the clean energy market.

Think tank statistics

The Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program’s latest report “The Global ‘Go-To Think Tanks’: The Leading Public Policy Research Organizations in the World” gives a comprehensive appraisal of think tanks in 169 different countries. These evaluations are drawn in order to further underscore the importance of the relationship between research and a more effective policymaking process. Internationalcomparison.org will add two new statistics to the “Higher Education” page: Think Tanks and Think Tanks per Capita. The United States hosts by far the highest number of think tanks (1,816). The next closest country is China (425) and the United Kingdom is the closest country out of those studied on Internationalcomparison.org (278).