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Offline thedoc

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Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« on: 15/11/2016 12:01:41 »
Rowan Padayachee  asked the Naked Scientists:































































   































































I believe that there is definitely a lack in the world's general lifestyle.  Tell me if you disagree.































































































































A lack of happiness in the collective ethos: To me, most people seem like aimless 9 to 5 drones working hard to support a somewhat gloomy existence. Most don't enjoy their jobs- they do it because they 'have to'. And usually spend majority percentage of their lifespan doing it.































































































































They know no other way. It seems to be happy; you have to be in some way lucky...































































































































The world is built around economics. Is our current economical system the best way to regulate the human race? I think not, but finding the ideal alternative is a challenge. (The best I've come up with is on the lines of a laid back hippie culture and community, (with influences from Hindu and Buddhist teachings).)































































































































I personally am not a disadvantaged individual. I'm young, intelligent and good-looking (and above all modest). I have the potential to do almost anything. But I am extremely hesitant to join the world in a blind destructive pursuit. I don't want to adhere to an evidently flawed system.































































I'm most drawn to the business world, with its unlimited and entirely independent prospects. I'd like to be a business owner, a philanthropic business owner. But it seems joining or running any business would just be feeding the bigger problem. And it's the same for any profession.  































































































































I think science and technology is wonderful, nowadays I'm not at all surprised with new gadgets and the impressive feats they can accomplish. But my mind gets focused on the factories and assembly lines, used to make these goods, producing emissions harmful to the environment.































































































































It seems ignorance was exponentially more blissful than we would ever have thought.































































































































There's far too much irony in this world and nothing being done, as far as I know, to change things.































































 































































 ·         Question 1: Is our Earth polluted beyond repair? Is it irrational of me to be concerned about the growth of industries resulting in an increase of emissions into the environment? Is the damage minimal and insignificant? How much time do we have until climate change distinctly ‘inconveniences' us?































































































































 ·         Question 2: Is the current structure implemented to run and organize things (economics, politics, import/export, stock markets, industrialisation, housing, vehicles & transportation) the best system possible?  































































































































It seems when we build and optimize things we break far more than we've fixed in the process, and will forever be compensating until we've depleted all natural resources.































































































































What do you think?
« Last Edit: 15/11/2016 12:01:41 by _system »


 

Offline schneebfloob

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #1 on: 05/08/2012 11:46:30 »
1) I have no idea if things are beyond repair.  That's really the $1million question, isn't it? On the brightside, I have read recent reports showing the levels of NOx in the atmospere above Europe have dropped in the past few years. Having said that CO2 is a different ballgame and people are very attached to their fossil fuels. It is not irrational to be concerned about it. The changes in actual CO2 levels are small, but are highly significant; I think we are already starting to feel the effects of it. Just take a look at the heatwave in the States. This is beyond mere 'inconvenience', it's damaging.

2) This is the old Cold War capitalism vs communism debate. I think it's fairly apparent which of these systems was the more successful. That's not to say capitalism is perfect or flawless, but it's the best system we have. Its power is the use of the market to allocate resources, thus minimising wastage that was so prevalent in the USSR. The solution to the whole mess is inherently simple: make it profitable to be 'green'.
 

Offline peppercorn

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #2 on: 06/08/2012 16:55:09 »
The only, slight problem with saying "The solution to the whole mess is inherently simple: make it profitable to be 'green'" is a newly invented phenomenon called 'Green-wash'.
BP and Dow chemicals, for example, are making an art form out of it at the Olympics at this very moment!
 

Offline schneebfloob

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #3 on: 07/08/2012 20:41:43 »
By making it profitable to be green, I mean that you've got to make it cost-efficient for firms to replace their capital with environmentally friendly equipment, reduce their emissions (or make them less damaging), reduce pollution and harmful waste, and change any of their practices that may be damaging to the environment.

The tradable 'emission permits' introduced by the EU are a viable idea, but only if they're implemented on a global scale. These permits have to be bought by firms in order to release x amount of pollution. Bigger polluters have to buy more, whilst cleaner firms are able to sell any of their excess emission allowance. This provides a cost incentive to go clean. They have a few issues, mainly getting the pricing of the permits just right and that they need to be implemented on a global scale to stop firms just jumping abroad. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen because there's simply no political will in the USA, the Far East, and now seemingly Canada.

The solution needs to be market based, it needs to be a real incentive not just brownie points from Greenpeace. The biggest obstacle to any proposal, however, is getting the whole planet on board.
« Last Edit: 07/08/2012 20:47:19 by schneebfloob »
 

Offline Mazurka

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #4 on: 08/08/2012 12:30:57 »
The problem with "making it profitable to be green" is that to do so requires governmental influence of markets.  Such interferrence reduces market efficiency and will also result in some organisations actively trying to subvert regulation.

The emissions trading scheme is a brilliant idea, poorly executed and its failure has lead to a reduction in the viabillity of carbon capture and storage capacity and the development of non fossil fuel related power generation.

The other (dangerous) assumption is that the "market" and businesses that operate within it are rational.  An example of this is a new pea processing plant in Norfolk.  This state of the art pea processing and freezing plant requires a lot of cooling.  The operator had the choice of cheaper, less energy efficient fans or more expensive, more energy efficient fans.  The "pay back" time was around 5 years on a plant with a design life of 20.  However, the operator only had a 5 year contract with the frozen food company so installed the cheaper fans...

In answer to the original questions posed - in an absolute sense, no the unstable equilbrium that we call the planets environment / biosphere is not irrepairably damaged.  In a human sense, it remains to be seen - changing weather paterns or increased unpredictability of weather and intensity of weather is likely to pose increasing problems in resepct of food supply.

In respect of the second system, no the current "free market capitalist" model is not the best system, if for no other reason that it is predicated on infinite economic growth.  Whislt the planet is not going to run out of any chemical element, the system may run out of minerals that are viable to extract.  This concept (when appleid to hyrdocarbons) is sometimes called Energy Retruned on Energy Invested (EROEI) and does not appear to fit within the current model...     
 

Offline schneebfloob

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #5 on: 08/08/2012 15:19:18 »
Quote
The problem with "making it profitable to be green" is that to do so requires governmental influence of markets.  Such interferrence reduces market efficiency and will also result in some organisations actively trying to subvert regulation.

It is no different to how taxes and subsidies operate. The permits are in essence a tax on pollution. As for the pea plant, well that's an exception rather than the rule isn't it. No solution is going to be perfect, but that's not a reason against implementing schemes to try and tackle the problem.

I completely disagree for a number of reasons. First of all, I don't think that the Earth is going to be our only source of minerals for much longer *cough* James Cameron *cough*. Secondly, if you work on the assumption that a model doesn't work because we have a finite amount of resources then no model will work. That wall is going to be hit under whichever system you use, be it capitalism, communism or socialism -- the key difference being that under socialism and communism you get huge inefficiencies that are going to help you hit that wall even sooner. I think that this is a false assumption because, under the free market, costs are going to be pushed up as supply runs down and it's going to encourage firms to search for alternative sources and drive innovation (once again, a la James Cameron with his aim to mine asteroids). However, I will re-iterate that despite this system being far from perfect, it is by far the most suitable.
« Last Edit: 08/08/2012 16:09:23 by schneebfloob »
 

Offline Mazurka

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #6 on: 09/08/2012 09:38:04 »
It is difficult to address such a large topic in the limited space of a forum.

I disagree. The emissions trading scheme - as I said brilliant concept - but if you analyse the underlying reasons for its failure – why there were too many permits issued and why companies over-claimed historic emissions – you may understand my point better. 

The scheme can be caricatured as a tax on pollution but that fails to appreciate the complex interaction between government and the market and more importantly the practical issues of how/ where you start measuring CO2 from.

I have little evidence either way about the example of the pea plant, although would comment that a couple of the companies I have worked for would rather pay things out of generated revenue than in the capital cost up front – it looks better on the books.  This may change over time, but I remain to be convinced that most companies do much more than plan for the immediate term.  A symptom if this is using service companies and contractors to be “flexible” and “reactive” in the market place. 

Mining asteroids - what next, Nuclear Fusion? – its only been around the corner for 30 (?+) years now…  I think this illustrates that there is a considerable difference between a scientifically sound / feasible concept and its realization.   

I am also amused by the argument that governments should interfere massively with the market (emissions trading) yet state lead economies result in economic inefficiency.   As you rightly point out, emissions trading would only work on a global scale – given the failure of Rio+20 it is clear that there is no political will to try to do such a thing and any economic bloc that implements a meaningful system will be economically hammered by its manufacturing base moving to somewhere “cheaper to do business”. 

This discussion is very hard to put on a sound scientific basis – crystal ball gazing has never been “science’s” strong point…  and most of the questions are more political or economic than scientific.
 

Offline schneebfloob

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #7 on: 09/08/2012 21:39:48 »
Quote
Mining asteroids - what next, Nuclear Fusion? – its only been around the corner for 30 (?+) years now…  I think this illustrates that there is a considerable difference between a scientifically sound / feasible concept and its realization.

That's unfair. You can't say that something's not going to happen because it hasn't happened in the past 30 years. That's rubbish. Frankly, there have been excellent strides towards nuclear fusion in recent years, and there is growing interest in the idea to mine asteroids. The issue is funding; funding that could appear from the private sector as our supplies of resources become ever more depleted. It's fairly apparent the strong interest in space exploration from the private sector at the moment, and that's interest that's only going to grow over time.

Quote
I am also amused by the argument that governments should interfere massively with the market (emissions trading) yet state lead economies result in economic inefficiency.

You're partly right. The difference being that state intervention is being used in this instance in one form of government, and in all instances in the other. It's selectivity. Socialism requires state allocation of pretty much everything, whereas the market system does not. This is one instance where state intervention is favourable, but that doesn't serve to justify your point that there's essentially no difference between market intervention and state-led economies. The difference is selectivity in that intervention. All governments are socialist to some extent, and the question has always been how much do you need.

As for the permits, they're just one idea. I fully accept that they have their failings (and never said they did not), but they're one of the better ideas for cutting emissions when very little is actually being done about it.

Regardless, this has moved too far into economics on what is a science forum. I think I'll leave it where it is.
« Last Edit: 09/08/2012 23:16:49 by schneebfloob »
 

Offline Mazurka

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #8 on: 10/08/2012 14:57:14 »
You are right, it is not reasonable to write off any particular solution to a foreseeable problem.  However, it is perfectly “fair” to point out that technology does not develop in a predictable way or on a predictable timescale (however obtusely the point is made).  The adage “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” can (and should more often) be applied to ”long range” technological optimism.  I am the first to point out the (inconceivable) technological advances my grandmother had witnessed – from the first motorcar in the village all the way through to the first man on the moon and beyond – although by the same token, I still don’t have a jetpack  or get my nutrition from a handful of pills, although I do have a phone that is more powerful than my first computer…

I disagree that the only barrier to asteroid mining is private sector funding, for example, there are some significant technological issues surrounding the “landing” of ore safely  – ok it could be argued that this is an engineering problem, so throw enough money at it and it will disappear – but I am not convinced that the private sector is currently (or foreseeably) prepared to speculatively put  in that much cash and in the current economic climate, I am not certain that any state would either.  For a bit of context the space shuttle had a return payload of 14 tonnes – less than a single lorry). The other question – is the environmental cost of such an operation.  Personally, I suspect processing seawater is a cheaper and more viable solution to future (viable) mineral shortages.  http://blog.modernmechanix.com/gold-from-the-sea/    :o[:0];)

I also disagree with the analysis of socialism vs free markets – the obvious example is that the co-operative economic model is “socialist” but does not require any more state intervention than the existing model – indeed I would suggest that if the pea plant was being built by a co-operative I suspect they would have gone for the higher capital lower running solution  – but as you say, to discuss this is to drift away from the “science” approach of the forum (although of course it was an explicit question in the first post)  However, I would recommend reading Tim Jackson’s excellent book “Prosperity without Growth” which challenges some of the assumptions of the free market, infinite growth model.
« Last Edit: 10/08/2012 15:00:34 by Mazurka »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #9 on: 10/08/2012 18:50:53 »
As far as "polluted beyond redemption", time would cure a multitude of sins.  So, if humans were to cease to exist, then much of our civilization would disappear within 1000 years, and by a million years, almost all traces of humanity would be wiped out.

It is, however, my belief that Earth is now somewhat overpopulated, and that Earth and humanity would benefit from a mild reduction in population.  It is hard to set figures to the population, and, it is not uniform around the globe, but my goal would be to see a reduction the global population by perhaps 50% in the next century or so, perhaps even greater in some places.

Unfortunately, none of our politicians seem interested in taking action about population control.

One of my concerns would be not as much pollution, as resource depletion.  With our current rate of mining resources, not much would be left after a few thousand years.  It is hard to say what needs to be done, but certainly more effort needs to be put into extracting minerals from our waste stream.

I don't foresee space mining as being feasible.  Certainly not shipping ores back to Earth, although perhaps we will be able to refine metals in space and ship the raw refined products back.  However, I would foresee a lunar colony as being an active place for building and launching spaceships and satellites.  And, overall, many of the issues with resource depletion on Earth could occur with potential future space colonies.  With that in mind, I would not be in favor of a policy of mining space for terrestrial elements. 

Fusion may answer some of our prayers...  but, I don't believe any of the current fusion plans use plain 1H hydrogen, but rather they all use far more rare elements such as 3He, so energy supply in the future is not certain. 
 

Offline damocles

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #10 on: 20/08/2012 04:06:45 »
So, Rowan, Is the world polluted beyond redemption?

Well, the modern agricultural revolution has been a remarkable achievement. In the last half century the world has been transformed from a place that could not provide basic food for a population of 4.5 billion to one where there are 7 billion people, and where there IS malnutrition and starvation, but only as the result of poor distribution infrastructure and/or murderous political ill-will.

But the side-effect of that has been continuing loss of good soil and arable land. The only foreseeable solution lies in a smaller population, and achieving that would spell disaster for our present growth-based economic systems and/or widespread epidemic or famine and the associated human suffering.

The atmosphere is a very delicate part of our environment. Since around 1850 the industrial revolution and the development of modern technologies has made life more comfortable, and, in spite of the gloomy picture painted by you, more enjoyable than it has been in previous ages, or would be if we had not gone down that path. Do not make the mistake of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles! But a consequence of that has been an increase in the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide to 40% higher than its highest natural value in the last half million years. There is no real prospect of us being weaned off our reliance on fossil fuels, the increasing trend is continuing, and any political action that will not be "too little too late" is quite impractical and impossible to implement. So a "natural" level around 290 ppm in 1860 has increased to 395 ppm today, and in less than another half century it will reach 450 ppm. The best modelling we have suggests that at 450 ppm several of the important atmospheric/oceanic cycles will switch from negative to positive feedback, making some Earth systems that have been relatively stable for the last half million years quite unstable. It is totally unpredictable what might happen then, but our grandchildren will find out!

So in the short term I think that in practical terms the Earth is polluted beyond redemption. In the longer term I suspect that the planet as a whole is a sufficiently resilient system to recover, or to shrug off the effects I am describing as insignificant. Redemption will probably occur, but not without a few major human tragedies.

I am damocles -- I see the sword hanging there, over my head. I do not fear for myself -- I am too old and in too poor health to suffer its effects in my lifetime. But I greatly fear for my much-loved grandchildren!
 

Offline Mazurka

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #11 on: 21/08/2012 15:44:17 »
Rowan,

You should be no more ashamed of being Indian than I am of being British – it is not our fault – nor is it the fault of our parents.  You have been born into a rapidly growing society and I into one that consumes resources in an unsustainable manner.  We can both as individuals try and reduce our impacts to the environment (how depends on our circumstances) and we can both try to persuade others of the wisdom of doing this, however we are both individuals with no more power to stop the momentum of the many than we have the ability to stop a locomotive… We can occasionally vote to change the driver of the “train”, but they have so many competing things to consider, the environment and thorny questions such as population and consumption are never the highest priority.
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #12 on: 15/09/2012 13:30:57 »
Having kids of my own I'm of two minds :)

One tells me we're all a bunch of greedy idi**s that actually are sawing of the limb we sit on. The other is looking at my kids and seeing the future through their eyes and then I think there might be a redemption. Another thing that I really find stinking in all such discussions are the comparison between communism and capitalism.

The fact is that both of those ideas are outdated. But it is true that if one of them will survive then it will be capitalism, and the last survivor will have a whole depleted world to claim as 'his own' :) Ant that's what I say, stupidity, greed, shortsightedness, all of those rule. But then I think of my kids again and somehow I feel that they might make a difference, as yours too :)

But it seems that most people are having a hard time differing between ideologies and life.
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #13 on: 15/09/2012 13:39:18 »
What's not outdated is democracy, 'one vote one man' but we make a mockery of that, don't we? Trying to 'sell' democracy by lobbying is not the most democratic thing that exist. One vote, one computer, one Internet, one world is more to my taste than the sh* I see around me. But then one has to respect oneself, keep ones integrity and stop running others errands.
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #14 on: 15/09/2012 13:46:27 »
As for you Edge, relax a little. Life is in a way what you make of it, and you can surely make it better than that. Empathy, democracy, a trust in the future all exist. Caring for your neighbor is never wrong, although you can't always expect people to love you for it :) Don't know your age, but study. Get yourself a mental flash light and see what you can make of it.
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ahh Twenty three huh :)
Get that flashlight man, and use it to find better paths,
« Last Edit: 15/09/2012 14:02:49 by yor_on »
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #15 on: 20/09/2012 06:02:50 »
Ever thought of writing Edge :) In one way the lazy mans solution, in another a very serious pursuit. As for the rest of it, life, teatime, and the universe, I have no good answers. It's up to you to find the ones that work for you, as it is for us all. But don't despise, or maybe just ignore, work. It can be very fulfilling, if you're in the right place having the right kind of people around you. But yeah, life is definitely more than just money, and running around just to gather for ever more things anticipating my death seems a rather pointless vocation to me too, if that is what you think? Anyway, I think we're here to live and interact, but we also need our food on the table. It's a balance act :)
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Twenty one huh, not twenty three, I will blame that one on galloping senility, a well known medical condition..
« Last Edit: 20/09/2012 06:09:37 by yor_on »
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #16 on: 22/09/2012 00:00:19 »
I think you will find it rewarding, but hard, to write. You will need a structure and preferably an idea of a ending. Because starting is easy (well usually at least:), the middle become tricky the more you want/like it to 'flow', and the ending is definitely where one get stuck. But I say go for it, just write and see. Whatever one do only get better with practice right? And you're okay, just don't get stuck on becoming disillusioned before your time :) so to speak. Youth is that time when everything is possible, at least, eh, a little more possible than when your passing sixty ::)) So, enjoy it Edge, and make the best you can from it.
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #17 on: 22/09/2012 18:03:08 »
Give it a try Edge, and read and travel as much as you can if you're serious. There's always a point of view more to any situation, if you look hard enough.
 

Offline yor_on

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #18 on: 23/09/2012 20:09:19 »
A writers dilemma :) Read John le Carré to see, he was good in catching them. To see the shades. Otherwise it easily becomes propaganda, or at the least extremely simplified, aka 'boys books' of hidden treasures, righteous wars, as in the right way of thought, aka the 'mind police'. My own opinions of course.
 

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Re: Is the world polluted beyond redemption?
« Reply #18 on: 23/09/2012 20:09:19 »

 

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