Reclaiming China’s Deserts: A Tale of Two Videos

These two videos are about China’s vast reforestation project aimed at reducing the size of the Gobi Desert. The project, which started in 1978, has planted 68 billions trees altogether and reduced the Gobi Desert by 4,800 acres. It has also forced roughly 350,000 rural farmers to relocate to urban areas. Most are unable to find work and receive no government assistance other than housing.

The first film is by France 24 – the second by China 24. Although the latter is clearly a government propaganda piece, most of the facts appear accurate. It claims China is reducing the size of its deserts by 2,000 square kilometers a year, as well as offering training to all Silk Road countries in reforestation technology.

The Chinese government is also quite proud of endangered species laws they have enacted, which make harming endangered plants, animals and marine life a crime (hopefully they have also quit locking up environmental activists). They also boast about new laws to penalize companies for polluting their waterways, as well as decreasing urban air pollution by reducing steel production by 65% and coal production by 290 million tons.

The end of the China 24 documentary boasts about lifting millions of Chinese residents out of poverty, though it fails to mention China’s skyrocketing inequality. Nor the millions of Chinese farmers who have lost their livelihood after being driven off their land – nor the millions of urban street vendors whose businesses are being bulldozed for urban renewal projects.


*The Silk Road was a centuries-old trade route connecting Asia with Europe. China has invested billions of dollars in building superhighways and high speed networks along the Silk Road route through Kazakhstan and Russia.

France 24 (2017)

China 24 (2017)

 

A New Angle on Climate Change

Atmosphere of Hope

Pirate TV (2015)

Film Review

Atmosphere of Hope is a recent talk in which Australian environmentalist Tim Flannery summarizes the prospects for limiting and reducing atmospheric CO2 levels. Flannery is a new breed of environmentalist who questions the value of climate alarmism.

The upcoming COP21 conference in Paris will be very different from past climate conferences in that participating countries have already committed to specific emission reduction targets. Because these commitments have been made public (see How COP21 commitments stack up) environmentalists can already predict the effect they will have on total CO2 levels.

Thanks to the recent “decoupling” of reduced fossil fuel use and economic growth, Flannery is extremely confident that most governments will keep their commitments. While these targets are inadequate to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade (and preserving civilization as we know it), Flannery is extremely confident that new carbon capture technologies will make up the shortfall.

Successfully Decoupling Fossil Fuels and Economic Growth

The main argument our political leaders give against reducing fossil fuel consumption is the negative effect on economic growth. Thanks to a big drop in the cost of renewable energy (and a big increase in energy efficiency), this argument no longer holds water. Between 2013 and 2014 there was no increase in global fossil fuel consumption (causing an oil glut that dropped prices to $40 a barrel). Yet the global economy continued to grow, thanks to the substitution of cheap renewable energy for fossil fuels.

Flannery also believes that “wavy energy” technology also played a big role in this decoupling. “Wavy energy” refers to a distributed grid technology (developed in Germany) that compensates for the intermittent nature of solar and wind energy – at any given moment some place in Germany is generating some form of renewable energy.

The Role of Carbon Capture Technologies

For me the most interesting part of the talk was the discussion of all the new carbon capture technologies being developed. Flannery divides geoengineering technologies into two categories. The first, which he refers to as “second way, “involves blocking sunlight by injecting sulfur based chemicals into the stratosphere. In his view, this is highly dangerous due to the risk of climate rebound effects (to say nothing of the health effects of the chemicals).

In contrast, “third way geoengineering” technologies remove CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it. There are further subdivided into biological (natural) and chemical (industrial) based technologies. The latter require external energy input, which means they only reduce CO2 concentrations if they employ renewable energy.

Examples of biological third way technologies include
• Reforestation
• Biochar (charcoal produced from plant matter and stored in the soil as a means of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere)
• Wood waste based plastics
• Carbon farming – Australia rewards farmers for replacing annual grasses and crops with perennial varieties that store carbon.

Examples of chemical third way technologies include
• Carbon negative concrete which absorbs CO2 over its lifetime
• Crushed serpentinites – minerals that capture CO2 as they weather and can be used for beaches, playgrounds, smoke stacks and carbon negative roof paint.
• CO2 based plastics
• CO2 based carbon fiber (used in the Boeing dream liner and carbon fiber cars) – would be cheaper than current carbon fiber, aluminum or steal
• A South Korean technology that employs used coffee grounds to capture methane.
• Chiller boxes in Antarctica – powered by wind energy, they would cause CO2 to solidify and fall as snow and then bury it under regular snow.