Monday, October 15, 2007

A Tale of Five Countries

Today is international Blog Action Day and the theme this year is the environment.

I am really excited of the potential that of more than 7,000 participating blogs and 5 million readers can do to bring awareness to our environment. As humans I believe we have taken responsibility for our environment, but I'm disappointed with the actions (or lack thereof) we've taken toward that end of protecting and preserving our environment.

For my part I can share my observations of four countries I've visited in the past year.

North Korea:

This country might not have the pollution problems of the other four...yet. Being stuck in the comparative stone age, North Korea has preserved some aspects of their environment. But where they save the air from particulates and the water from excessive pollution, they strip the land bare of trees which caused the massive flooding of this past summer. The lack of capitalism might protect, but communism isn't the answer to environmental problems.

South Korea:

When 45+ million people try and squeeze into an area the size of Indiana you'd better have a good plan of how to handle waste and pollution. South Korea has an excellent recycling program. There are massive fines for mixing garbage. Garbage bags are very expensive which encourages use of the free recycling. Glass, plastic, paper and metal. However, despite their best efforts, they still fall short.


This pristine country is doesn't have the the obviously visual environmental problems of other developed countries in Asia. However, simple statistics can prove the downfalls of this country. Malaysia was home to 266 unique species of freshwater fish as surveyed by biologists. A recent biological survey as quote in Jared Diamonds The Third Chimpanzee, found 122 species of fish. That means that since first being discovered, 144 species (more than 50%) have become extinct. That is appalling and the sad part is that it happened without anyone even noticing.


Unfortunately this country has multiple downfalls. The first major problem is the air. Per capita their particulates output into the air is lower than most developed countries but there is an awful lot of people. Factories and cars put an incredible amount of pollution in the air. With the coming Olympics, Beijing has pledged to reduce the number of cars on the road by one million. But, yellow dust affects everyone from Korea to the Americas.

There was a glimmer of hope this year when locals claimed seeing a river dolphin researchers thought to be extinct. Pollution, fishing in the rivers, and the construction of dams killed off the majority of that species population if not the entire population.


Where do I start. I thought that blogging about the environment would be easy but as I try to compile my thoughts and observations about something I care very much about I realize how hard it is. I admire National Geographic magazine's ability to concisely relay the message of environmental protection. As a world leader, the U.S. should embrace environmental protection. Things like carbon sequestration, hybrid cars, wind and solar energy are all great baby steps but we need to have a collective effort that is greater than current actions. The plan needs to cross international boundaries and not be subject to lack of technology or lack of resources.

So, what can we do?
1. Recycle. Just do it. It is easy.
2. Buy recycled products.
3. Plant a tree. Carbon needs to be sequestered.
4. Support renewable resources....ethanol, hybrid cars, biodiesel, etc.
5. Educate yourself.
6. Educate others.
7. Do more.

How do you protect the environment?


Alex said...

If you liked "The Third Chimpanzee" you will really like Diamond's other books. "Guns, Germs and Steel" won a Pulitzer and I thought "Collapse" was even better. they are a fascinating mix of Anthropology, History, Pragmatic Environmentalism, and introspection. They are also written intellegently, but to read fast. It is like a Crichton Novel (interesting science concept, some basis in fact) without the two-dimensional characters and bad follow-up movie.

WF said...

I've already read Guns, Germs and Steel and loved it. Collapse is on my self and I'll probably start it soon.

dad said...

We do 6 of the 7 things on your list .... we don't do #7 (Do More)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I'm too informed to do as you say. Recycling can be bad and doesn't work in the US. Recycling metals work but not with paper or plastic.

With plastic, it not only cost more but also uses more energy to recycle. This means that more pollution is created then saved by recycling. Think about it. What better then using trucks to move used plastics, chemicals to clean them, machines to shread them in small pellets, and energy used rebuild for crappier products? How about a smaller amount of chemicals and energy to create new one.

Paper is even a better reason not to recycle in the US. Because we use paper companies plant and buy land to plant trees. Because we use so much paper is the reason why we have the same amount of trees as we did 100 years ago. By not recycling, it put more demand for paper and that means more trees.

Ethanol is very bad for the enviroment. I promotes farming which erodes the soil. Plus it takes away from forest/trees to supply the land to grow the corn need to make ethanol. I'm am for hybrid cars as long as there a good solution for what we do with the batteries.

Please follow your own advise and do steps 5. Think about the facts you been taught and think if they actually make sense. This isn't just me ranting, people like Paul Watson (co-founder of green peace before they went anti-everything) says this too. Look it up, and again think.

WF said...

So apparently we should do nothing. What?!?

No solution is without flaws I and I am not uneducated (as suggested) to think that my recommended actions steps would be the perfect solution to the aforementioned problems.

I do believe that the greatest boon of recycling in the U.S. is that it makes us more aware of our own consuption of products. It keeps the ideas of conservation and sustainable living in our daily attention.

In countries like Korea and domestically in the U.S. in places like California, recycling does work. As with everything, there has to be a critical mass to make the system efficient. Even if it doesn't meet that critical mass, should we abandon it? No, we should continue to make the system more efficient.

Yes, I will gladly admit that ethanol is not the savior everyone tries to make it out to be. Again we are dealing with an efficiency factor in production. Ethanol in theory is a renewable resource which is better than using fossil fuels. Unfortunately, a lot of fossil fuel is used in the production of ethanol. We need to continue working on making the system work not just abandoning because it doesn't work now. One thing we might be able to look forward to is biodiesel because that has the potential of a much higher energy output than ethanol.

I will follow my own advise is step 5. I will not take things at face value as my esteemed reader seems to have. I will continue to support environmental sustainablity. Not becasue I am an extremeist (which I don't consider myself to be at all) but because I care. At least I am willing to look for solutions rather than just giving up and then trying to justify my lack of action.