Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Choking to death

At one time pollution was viewed as one of the likely causes of man-made self destruction.  There were a number of eco-warning collapse novels written (for a review of one).  The cleanup within the United States helped put pollution on the back burner.  To the frustration of some, the closely related topic of global warming has gobbled up much of the attention.

But the increasingly globalized economy has in many cases pushed the polluters overseas.  There is still a lot of pollution, but we aren't in its immediate neighborhood.  And it won't do much good to slow up global warming, if we choke ourselves to death.

Earth’s Acidity Rising -- Major Causes and Shifting Trends Examined to Guide Future Mitigation Efforts, (full report), Karin C. Rice, Janet S. Herman, USGS, January 2012 (hat tip: The Daily Impact)

This comprehensive review, the first on this topic to date, found the mining and burning of coal, the mining and smelting of metal ores, and the use of nitrogen fertilizer are the major causes of chemical oxidation processes that generate acid in the Earth-surface environment. 

These widespread activities have increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing the acidity of oceans; produced acid rain that has increased the acidity of freshwater bodies and soils; produced drainage from mines that has increased the acidity of freshwater streams and groundwater; and added nitrogen to crop lands that has increased the acidity of soils.

Previous studies have linked increased acidity in oceans to damage to ocean food webs, while increased acidity in soils has the potential to affect their ability to sustain crop growth.
“We believe that this study is the first attempt to assess all of the major human activities that are making Earth more acidic,” said USGS scientist Karen Rice, who led the study. “We hope others will use this as a starting point for making scientific and management progress to preserve the atmosphere, waters, and soils that support human life.”

While there has been some progress in reducing the effects of some of these activities through modifications in how the minerals are mined and used in some parts of the world, and increased regulations, other regions are expanding their use of these resources and increasing the effects of acidification....

To examine the global impact of acidification, the researchers developed a series of world maps to show current coal use, nutrient consumption, and copper production and smelting by country. By combining this information with the anticipated population growth through 2050 and the impact of changing technology, regulations and other factors, the researchers address shifting trends in acidification....

The populations of some countries in Africa are projected to increase in the near future. To support the growing populations, these countries likely will be forced to apply more nitrogen fertilizer to their crops than they currently use, increasing the acidification of soils and freshwater resources in a region that had not previously been affected.
The initial report did get some interest.  You can find a number of people who commented on it, but it seems to have faded quickly.

I, as typical for me, tend to view the problem as being another secondary spin-off of global over population.

Acid Rain (from here)

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