Friday, August 15, 2008

Yesterday's depressing news today!

The Dead Zones just keep spreading. From the AP:

WASHINGTON - Like a chronic disease wasting a body, ocean "dead zones" with too little oxygen for marine life are spreading around the globe, researchers reported Thursday.

The experts counted 405 dead zones in 2007 — a third more than their 1995 survey.

"The number of dead zones has approximately doubled each decade since the 1960s," the researchers wrote in the journal Science....

Some of the increase is due to the discovery of low-oxygen areas that may have existed for years and are just being found, Diaz said, but others are newly developed....

Fertilizers, fuel, sewage blamed
Pollution-fed algae, which deprive other living marine life of oxygen, is the cause of most of the world's dead zones. Scientists mainly blame fertilizer and other farm runoff, sewage and fossil-fuel burning.
The biggest problem with the global warming debate (which ultimately is a debate about computer models) is that it detracts from evironmental causes that are more observable and far more troubling. These oceanic Dead Zones are more important concerns than Global Warming, also more immediate.

6 comments:

Pastor_Jeff said...

I'm fascinated by how business growth cycle dynamics play into this.

Like many causes, environmentalism began by identifying real needs, gathering resources, and applying pressure to achieve goals. But nobody simply closes up shop when goals are met -- you have to find new goals, ones farther afield and perhaps harder to justify. Before long, the institution exists to protect and serve itself rather than its original purposes.

So environmentalists will spend millions to protect three square miles of barren wasteland in Alaska and ignore thousands of square miles of ocean which are important to the climate, the food chain, fishing and agriculture. Why? Dead zones aren't sexy and don't bring in donations. Pictures of dead zones don't motivate people -- but an oil-soaked bird? That's gold, Jerry -- even if it has nothing to do with the reality of the situation.

You see the same cycle over and over with advocacy groups -- MADD, AARP, Planned Parenthood, NEA, NRA, etc., etc. If they're not careful, movements end up only protecting their institutional status and programs instead of addressing real needs.

Eventually somebody else comes along and recognizes a need that isn't being addressed, and they start a new advocacy group.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.

XWL said...

How much of this is better surveillance?

Also, what explains the almost complete lack of these zones around super-densely populated India? India's been a cesspool of bad sanitation and massive populations for centuries, yet only a couple of these dead zones have been observed there (according to the map accompanying the article).

If it's just population, then India poses a problem, if it's just agricultural practices, then that doesn't explain why the California coast is better than the Gulf and Eastern seabord (given that San Joaquin valley is a huge agricultural area).

I suspect, certain places are chronically bad due to human activity, but plenty of places are also bad due to ocean currents and geography, and would be bad, even if humans weren't around.

Don't know for sure though, but it smells like alarmism for the sake of alarmism to me.

(except when one of these dead zones hits near Santa Monica Bay, then it smells of dead fish for a few weeks, and that happens about once every three or four summers as long as I can remember)

Icepick said...

Clearly some of it is better surveillance, and the scientists admit as much.

But some zones have been under observation for a long time and are continuing to grow. For example Florida's coastal waters have been suffering from run-off and over-fishing for decades. Our coastal waters have been destroyed by human development. That's not better surveillance, that's a fact. And anyone who doubts the impact of agricultural run-off on water habitats is welcome to go fishing on Lake Apopka - once upon a time the greatest bass fishing lake in the South, now stone dead.

Seriously, human population has quadrupled in the last 100 years, and has increased by a factor of ~10 over the last three hundred years. Do you really think that kind of growth rate doesn't have consequences for the overall environment?

Pastor_Jeff said...

My understanding is that it isn't a matter of increased human impact (although that's a factor), but a particular kind of human impact -- the intensive use of fertilizers, fuel, and chemicals which become run-off from agricultural, manufacturing, industrial sites. The Gulf of Mexico catches -- what -- half the US' runoff?

Look at where the problems are concentrated -- not the largest populations centers necessarily, but those with the most advanced use of chemicals in farming and industry, and the most intense fishing.

I'm not an "environmentalist" but I am a conservationist. This is a critically important issue, but I would bet it doesn't get any press or political traction because 1) The danger still seems far off in the future, 2) It isn't a sexy issue, and 3) Dealing with it would require taking on the powerful farm lobby and associated interests.

Icepick said...

My understanding is that it isn't a matter of increased human impact (although that's a factor), but a particular kind of human impact -- the intensive use of fertilizers, fuel, and chemicals which become run-off from agricultural, manufacturing, industrial sites. The Gulf of Mexico catches -- what -- half the US' runoff?

Jeff, the point is that without these new farm techniques we couldn't support such a large population. One of the reasons (the execrable) Paul Ehrlich was so wrong is because he didn't have any clue (I should end the sentence here) about the Green Revolution. Without the Green Revolution, and without advances in agricultural techiniques in general, the world population would be a lot smaller today.

would bet it doesn't get any press or political traction because 1) The danger still seems far off in the future, 2) It isn't a sexy issue, and 3) Dealing with it would require taking on the powerful farm lobby and associated interests.

I know that on the area of oceanic health I'm prone to reading alarmists sites, but the problem is MUCH more immediate than global warming. I think the real problem is the combination of your second and third points.

Pastor_Jeff said...

the point is that without these new farm techniques we couldn't support such a large population.

Good point.

That raises an interesting thought. I wonder how much less farming we'd do if we were only supporting the US' food needs? Do the dead zones in the Gulf at least partly reflect that we feed a good portion of the world?

Overfishing is a related issue that we've been talking about for decades now (it seems), but it seems things aren't getting any better. We just deplete one stock and move on to the next one.