Thursday, July 7, 2011

choking on growth

Chinese cargo ships are everywhere. In Miami, we're used to seeing large container ships coming into port loaded with finished goods headed for American warehouses and big box stores. But in the Baltic, we saw a lot of bulk cargo ships carrying coal, scrap steel and other raw materials. This ship in Riga seemed to be taking on the mountains of Estonian coal piled on the docks (though we're not sure what the rail cars with the Russian writing were doing there). At the same time, we saw Chinese ships offloading coal at the Polish port of Gdynia. That's a whole lot of fossil fuels moving around there. Are we sure there isn't a healthier way to power our iPods?

Two articles in today's New York Times relate to this cycle of unsustainable energy generation.
One deals with today's welcome announcement by the EPA that American coal-burning power plants need to take stronger measures to cut emissions of pollutants. The EPA estimates that for less than $1 billion a year in improvements to existing plants, we'll prevent 34,000 deaths annually. We'll also see benefits to natural habitats that continue to suffer the effects of acid rain. This is good news. We're not going to eliminate coal burning power plants for a long time, so it is vital that we make them as clean as possible.

Another article, though, has more gloomy news. The explosive growth of Chinese cities is being financed with unprecedented borrowing, backed by the speculative value of land. Apparently, someone didn't get Marx's memo about all that is solid melting into [polluted] air. We used to worry that Chinese growth was producing an environmental nightmare. Now there's the specter that a major trading partner, holder of our debt, and nuclear-weapon-wielding superpower is building the same kind of Ponzi scheme economy that just imploded in the West. Yikes. I am not an expert on this, but I have a feeling it won't end well.

But at least it'll leave us with some awesome video of huge cranes at the docks in Gdynia...

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