Exploring the Future...until we get there

Category: Politics of Water

Coral, Giraffes, and Oil

Irony abounds…and the more the prevalent species tries to fix things, the more ironic the consequences become.

I wrote in my last post, Evolution of Thought, that the world’s oceans are heating up faster than the scientific community previously thought. That’s not the least of it, of course. The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing catastrophic coral bleaching for the second year in a row now. Experts say this is a first, since usually ocean temperatures ease off from one bleaching event to the next, giving the coral time to recover before being thrown into its next environmental tumult caused by stressors it simply wasn’t built to withstand. That tenet is not holding up so well this year.

Ironic that a British cruise ship (the thing weighs 4,200 tons) ran aground on some of the fragile stuff in Indonesia, causing extensive damage to a large section of reef skirting one of the country’s bio-diverse marine habitats. The locals were none too happy, with livelihoods dependent largely upon a healthy tourism industry catering to intrepid divers and other water-loving adventurists. Well, it’s bound to happen, though, isn’t it? Something that large is apt to cause some damage when it accidentally scrapes bottom with something as delicate as coral.

I also mentioned the idea that civilization is riddled with these deep holes we call landfills, where we dump our used up wealth so we can go buy shiny new wealth. In Ethiopia, the landfill probably consists of more humble offerings than those here in the United States. Ironic there, as well, that a landslide at the city dump of Addis Ababa should kill some 60  people who had been living there amongst the rubble.

Tragic in the extreme on a number of different levels, not the least of which is that human beings in a third world country are subsisting in squalor on the rim of a dump, surrounded by stench, filth, disease, and fires caused by the methane of rotting things. All while the government claims that it is striving to relocate them to better environs; but where to put your displaced poor when your whole country offers little more than better poverty over worse poverty?

Meanwhile, a humble giraffe holds the world entranced with her impending birth of her little one in a zoo somewhere in NY (I haven’t tracked the specifics). The world celebrates, as though victory can be claimed while her erstwhile, wild-roaming relatives across the planet are on the brink of collapse, with numbers tumbling fast and a classification of ‘endangered’ probably just a year or three off.

I read a story by a journalist lamenting the ironic backwardness of it all and was amazed at how his opinions aligned with those I offered in my recent post Views on Zoos. We both mentioned the idea that a giraffe confined to the narrow margins of a zoo is, almost by necessity, something of a heart-wrenching tragedy to behold.

Also ironic is the fact that Scott Pruitt, a shameless Climate Change denier, is now heading up the EPA, the very agency officially and diametrically opposed with reference to the Big CC as the opinions held by the agency’s new chief. He has sued this agency more than a dozen times in the past as Oklahoma’s attorney general. It’s clear what he quite possibly intends to do to the very agency he now holds in his clueless hands – destroy it from the inside out, all with the full faith and confidence of our fearless leader, Mr. Trump.

Also ironic that Japan, the dark aggressor in WWII, and a peace-loving nation in the decades since, has recently felt it necessary to add to its military fleet the biggest carrier it has commissioned since the end of that terrible war. North Korea lobbing missiles into the sea, just shy of making Japanese soil its target, probably has something to do with it, prompting observers everywhere to view the situation in that part of the world as the powder keg it most assuredly is.

Ironic too, that China, now the aggressor on the world stage in too many ways to count, is playing a large part in the potential (and probable) collapse of some of the world’s largest and most diverse fisheries located in the South China Sea. Legal decisions ruling in favor of other nations with stakes in the area have not backed China off of its own overly ambitious claims. In short, it would seem the Chinese believe that possession is nine tenths of the law. Their approach seems to be working just fine.

So many of the waters, islands, and territories that were once rightfully claimed by as many as seven other neighboring countries (used as fisheries for generations to sustain their families and contribute to their nations’ economies) have now fallen into Chinese jurisdiction by fiat. Overfishing is the new law of the land, and with each succeeding catch becoming increasingly smaller, it may just be a matter of time before the abundance of the South China Sea is also a thing of the past.

Probably the most stunning irony among those appearing here is an article I just read moments ago about a huge oil field find in northern Alaska, purportedly containing some 1.2 billion barrels of oil. Here are a couple of paragraphs:

“First production from the discoveries could come as soon as 2021, with output of as much as 120,000 barrels a day, Repsol said. That would represent a lifeline for Alaska, which has seen oil revenues plummet after prices crashed in 2014. The state also needs new crude to keep oil flowing on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

‘We must all pull together to fill an oil pipeline that’s three-quarters empty — and today’s announcement shows measurable results of that hard work,’ Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said in response to the news of the discovery Thursday.”

So, let’s just scuttle the idea that we’re supposed to leave the oil that remains in the ground right where it pools if we’re to have a fighting chance of continued survival down here. No, it would seem we’re going to go right on exploring, discovering, drilling and refining until we’ve sucked the well fairly bone dry.

Ironic that what seems to be such a massive find (1.2 billion barrels) would actually keep America happily motoring at its current frenetic pace for all of about 62 days.

These are but a few of the ironies currently littering the stage, and all with the unpleasant mark of Climate Change (vis a vis anthropogenic activity) as the culprit of their occurrences. I’m quite certain that more of the same can be reported on soon.

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Hectic Eclectic

Well, I’ll be…China seems to be admitting that its claimed territories in the South China Sea may, after all, be intended to serve the country well from a military defense stance. Recent satellite imagery sure seems to confirm that some of the structures clearly visible on all seven of its artificial islands strongly suggest a military purpose. Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS…pronounced like “Sea Whiz”) seem to be present there, according to analysts.

These Chinese are whizzes at sea, too, persistently building their golly-gee-whiz-and-it’s-none-of-our-biz ‘artificial’ airbases with purpose and intent, all the while reassuring us that militarizing the area was the furthest thing from their minds. Nothing will seem artificial about it once the fighter jets sortie in and anchor there on a continuous basis. Now with the requisite artillery fully installed, one might surmise that defensive countermeasures had always been in the cards. Those darned Chinese, perpetually daring the West and its weaker Asian neighbors to blink. Obama seems to have been blinking hard for about eight years now.

But who can blame the People’s Republic? You build a little sand castle and nobody kicks your shovel and bucket over, you keep going. You dig and level and expand a little more and nobody does much else but yell and scream and holler. Big deal. You’re always going to get away with everything you can, I guess. Actually, the better question is Who’s willing to go up against them now? Taiwan? Forget about it. The Philippines? Noooo (Duterte loves China way more than he loves the U.S. now. He’s kicking us out so China has more room where we once leased. We’re giving up all the strategic spots, like Subic Bay, for instance, so the Chinese can park their stuff there). Brunei? Vietnam? You’re kidding, right? Big guns threatening to blow you out of the water you’re floating on have a way of quieting down the clamor over China claiming territory that was going to be theirs, anyway. Maybe everybody knew that and just pretended to be outraged. I mean, it’s not like the Chinese are going to walk away from their investments now.

Anyway, President Xi Jinping reassured us last year that there’s nothing to worry about with all this hoopla over the disputed territories. All that rhetoric came out one side of his mouth while progress progressed. Now, with all the emplacements…er, in place, his Asian political entourage can simply say (I’ll be paraphrasing here), “Well, what’s done is done. Nobody stopped us when they could have, so let’s everybody just play nice and roll with it.” Our military ships passing ever closer to what the Chinese now say is theirs is anything but “play nice” and should send a shiver up everybody’s spine.

Nobody needs to be reminded how much ocean-traversing commerce takes place in that area of the world, right? Here’s a crazy thought…what if the Chinese were planning on tightening control of the shipping lanes in the area? Surely I can’t be the first person to suggest such monkey business? It’s not totally “out there,” is it?

Just look at their engineering prowess with regard to those artificial fortifications (I think we can safely use that terminology now, yes? and if you aren’t impressed by the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, you are truly a tough sell). All that would be necessary now is the political will of the party to pull it off. Everybody seems willing to give China one stern warning after another regarding their bullying and aggressive tactics to stake out their claims. Yet look at how the Chinese have reacted. They blow us off, and they get away with it. They are clearly a big kid on the block now, and the world seems increasingly reticent about taking them on. And what do all big kids want to become? The biggest kid on the block. I dare say they’re getting closer to striking distance every day.

To build on that crazy thought just above, it’s probably not a well-known fact to most readers that the Chinese ‘virtually’ own the Panama Canal. Yes, the physical structure sits within the sovereign boundaries of Panama, and its daily operations are orchestrated by the Panamanians, but…

Well, here’s a really old name to throw out there-Chinese owned Hutchison  Whampoa Ltd., a previous subsidiary of the Panama Ports Company, controlling ports at both ends of the canal. You probably heard this rumor for the first time several years ago like I did, but didn’t run it down to confirm it. Well, it’s true, and boy what a dirty deal it was. Li-Ka Shing, the billionaire owner of Hutchison Whampoa, is happy to do China’s bidding, and is doing so very well. In fact, you might be a little shocked when you discover just how many ports around the world are, in fact, Chinese-owned. The buying frenzy continues unabated. Here’s one of the later developments.

Even though China’s bid wasn’t nearly the most favorable, losing out to both American and Japanese bidders, something ran amuck during the tail end of the process, and (Surprise!) the Chinese unexpectedly emerged as the Victor. There were the predictable calls for investigations over allegations of corruption and bribery, but, well as we can see, the Chinese are running the show pretty smoothly down there, and will be for quite some time to come. Panama Law No. 5 mandates it. Are the Panamanian children still being mandated to learn Mandarin in school?

The story grows much more horrific and sordid from there, and the U.S. has said from the beginning that this development was a serious security concern that should not stand. I don’t know what we call it now, however, since the situation seems to be entrenched and intractable at the same time. It’s interesting to note how we vigorously applauded the canal’s success when we owned it, and when we were also in the country, militarily. Now, with Rodman and other installations long since shuttered and turned back over to Panama, the gravy days are done and over with.

The canal’s success is nothing to us, economically, or at least not from the same perspective. Stateside, we’re trying to increase our own competitiveness against the canal with our own beefed up ports, interstate, and rail systems (and probably especially so in response to the Chinese presence always looming down there).

We’ll turn a corner and put a quick third leg on this tripod of speculation (and that’s all this is, which makes for fun reading). The Chinese are investing multiple billions of dollars in and around the operating areas of the Suez Canal in a bilateral agreement between their own country and that of Egypt, citing economic and military benefits for all concerned. Note that this does not necessarily mean that China is ‘all in’ (always preferring to keep its options open), only that it stands to reap glorious rewards through investment in expansion and infrastructure projects. No no…China, ever the opportunist, already has its eye on the Northwest Passage, as do many others, lower shipping costs associated with a traverse through the ‘bergs all too tantalizing.

Trump is a wildcard in all of this, as he must naturally be, even on his best days (is it just me, or does it feel like we have already had four years of him and are just begging for another chance at the polls?) In the meantime, tensions in the South China Sea continue to grow, especially in light of this newly confirmed situation involving anti-missile, anti-aircraft capabilities in the Spratly / Paracel Islands, with quaint little names for the reefs like Fiery Cross and Mischief (the Chinese have different monikers, to be sure).

Here are some really obvious questions: Doesn’t a runway look pretty obvious, even from way up in the sky? And a hangar? It’s got a distinctive physical outline, too, doesn’t it? These structures are big enough to accommodate refueling and transport aircraft, the biggest of the big, not to mention virtually any type of fighter plane the Chinese have in their arsenal. We’ve seen this progress shaping up across a very long timeline now, yet nobody has done anything, and the military aircraft are all but landing soon.

In my humble opinion, everybody’s blinking…and the Chinese want to be the new Biggest Kid on the block. The reason Trump will be running DC is because he too does not pull any punches. So, what happens when a Trump White House (sorry, I mean a Trump Tower) and the PRC square off? Maybe Climate Change and Water Scarcity will be the least of our worries.

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Troubling Times

South China Tea

South China Tea

Sometimes, when words intended to describe one thing are mentioned, they conjure up images that are quite different from what they once actually meant.  Such is the case we now find ourselves in with respect to the “South China Sea.”  I suppose the word “China” is the stickiest one of the three.  I don’t think of a body of water anymore when I read the headlines right now so much as an interesting and sticky political situation with the potential to destabilize the region quite quickly.

The political theater surrounding “ownership” of the South China Sea is really quite rich.  The claims and counterclaims, the history that is purported to be there, the ancient fishing grounds and relics of antiquated maps establishing primacy and all the rest.  Too many countries with too many claims.  How does one go about sorting it out?

Actually, a panel of judges, as we’ll call the decision-making body that China has basically pushed aside, even before a decision was handed down, did that very thing just a few weeks ago (July 2016). It concluded that China’s bold moves in the area are not to be seen as any sort of right to the body of water, or at least to very large portions of it, and that the country should cease and desist post haste.

It’s good that we have a clue as to what China’s true intentions might be, despite what their leaders might otherwise be spinning for us.  After all, we know that China is a rising superpower.  We know that it takes a whole lot of fire to keep an economic blaze like that going for the foreseeable future.  Fire needs fuel, and there’ve been reports that the South China Sea is awash in the stuff (oil and natural gas, of course).  Not to mention that the big boats carrying goods to all parts of the world crisscross through those same waters at a pace that puts at least some of the other important shipping lanes to shame.

So, it’s easy to see that a whole lot is at stake.  China is the bully on the block.  None of the other nations staking claims in the area come close to China’s military or economic might.  China knows this and seems to be intent on making a statement, despite the best efforts of others to stop it in its own dirty wake.

What one does have to admit as rather remarkable, no matter who’s side of the fight they’re on, is the transformation of some smallish spits of land into airfields, complete with facilities to house and maintain fighter jets. Truly astonishing if you look at the before and after photos. If nothing else, we have to hand it to the Chinese for their grit, tenacity, engineering ingenuity, and all the rest. But, in the meantime, the world will not stand for such bullish behavior, and the Chinese haven’t heard the last of it yet. Too many upraised fists still shaking in the air, and not enough of them showing anything for all their efforts but a big empty net full of nothing.

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Hectic Eclectic

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