A Satellite’s View of Ship Pollution and globalization

Cargo-Ship650The geographical hotspots of the world are all related to economic trade and global exchange of political interests. Places such as the Panama and Suez Canals have always been in the Western media. However, from an economic and strategic perspective, the Strait of Malacca is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world in the 21st Century. The history of this Strait’s geopolitical relevance goes as back as 400 years of history.

For centuries the strait has been the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It has been controlled by the major regional powers and also by the mayor global power during different historical periods. In 2011 hundreds of thousands of containers in more than 60,000 vessels crossed its waters carrying about one-quarter of the world’s traded goods including oil, Chinese manufactures, and Indonesian coffee.

In order to understand which is the geopolitical importance of the Strait of Malacca for the Chinese government we need to overview the current geopolitical dynamics and economic investments in the region.

The following image from NASA clearly depicts what are some of the IMPRESSIVE negative externalities caused by the transport of global goods in the region and opens the door for discussing

  • How can we fix this?
  • Who should fix it?
  • Can it be fixed?
  • Can we reduce the future impacts in the area?
  • What solutions are available?
A Satellite’s View of Ship Pollution

Color bar for A Satellite’s View of Ship Pollution
acquired 2005 – 2012 download large image (2 MB, JPEG, 1800×1800)

Elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide pop out over certain shipping lanes in observations made by the Aura satellite between 2005-2012. The signal was the strongest over the northeastern Indian Ocean.

Data from the Dutch and Finnish-built Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) on NASA’s Aura satellite show long tracks of elevated nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels along certain shipping routes. NO2, is among a group of highly-reactive oxides of nitrogen, known as NOx, that can lead to the production of fine particles and ozone that damage the human cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Combustion engines, such as those that propel ships and motor vehicles, are a major source of NO2 pollution.

To learn some more on the importance of the Strait of Malacca and the value of this shipping lane you can read the essay I wrote titled “The Strait of Malacca as one of the most important geopolitical regions for the People’s Republic of China. Download (.pdf)

Satellite images of negative externalities caused by Globalization

I always keep track of the images from space taken by NASA.  They usually have impressive “natural hazards” photographed with the highest technology available.  However, sometimes the natural hazards to humanity are not caused by the natural cycles of Earth.  In those cases, it is humans who have created hazards for themselves and people die.  Now, why would we create things that harm us so much? Why would we support and contribute to such terrible things?  A good explanation is the one given by economists with the complex and difficult term negative externalities.

A negative externality is a spillover of an economic transaction that negatively impacts a party that is not directly involved in the transaction. The first party bears no costs for their impact on society while the second party receives no benefits from being impacted. This occurs when marginal social cost is greater than marginal private cost (MSC > MPC).

The case of pollution in China elucidates very well how the market-driven approach to correcting externalities by “internalizing” third party costs and benefits fails to work in a globalized economy.  For example, by requiring a polluter to repair any damage caused. But, in many cases internalizing costs or benefits is not feasible, especially if the true monetary values cannot be determined.  In fact, our technological gadgets and thousands of products imported from China are the cause of the hazardous health conditions in that country.  We as consumers are part of this chain by buying the products. How can we do something?

I would suggest that the best way to participate in a positive way is to continue creating awareness of the failure of the government of China to protect the lives of the Chinese people.  It is at the end of the day the responsibility of that government to protect the life and property of its citizens, not ours.  We as consumers can only morally sanction them and stop consuming their products whenever possible.

This is a good (and very unfortunate) example of how globalization without an objective code of values becomes a zero sum game.  I share with you the information regarding how dangerous has become the air in the surroundings of Beijing and Tianjin,

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Air Quality Suffering in China

acquired January 14, 2013download large image (7 MB, JPEG, 5000×6400)
acquired January 14, 2013download GeoTIFF file (47 MB, TIFF)
Air Quality Suffering in China

acquired January 3, 2013download large image (8 MB, JPEG, 5000×6400)
acquired January 3, 2013download GeoTIFF file (51 MB, TIFF)
acquired January 3 – 14, 2013download Google Earth file (KMZ)

Residents of Beijing and many other cities in China were warned to stay inside in mid-January 2013 as the nation faced one of the worst periods of air quality in recent history. The Chinese government ordered factories to scale back emissions, while hospitals saw spikes of more than 20 to 30 percent in patients complaining of respiratory issues, according to news reports.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired these natural-color images of northeastern China on January 14 (top) and January 3, 2013. The top image shows extensive haze, low clouds, and fog over the region. The brightest areas tend to be clouds or fog, which have a tinge of gray or yellow from the air pollution. Other cloud-free areas have a pall of gray and brown smog that mostly blots out the cities below. In areas where the ground is visible, some of the landscape is covered with lingering snow from storms in recent weeks. (Snow is more prominent in the January 3 image.)

At the time that the January 14 image was taken by satellite, ground-based sensors at the U.S. Embassy in Beijingreported PM2.5 measurements of 291 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Fine, airborne particulate matter (PM) that is smaller than 2.5 microns (about one thirtieth the width of a human hair) is considered dangerous because it is small enough to enter the passages of the human lungs. Most PM2.5 aerosol particles come from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass (wood fires and agricultural burning). The World Health Organization considers PM2.5to be safe when it is below 25.

Also at the time of the image, the air quality index (AQI) in Beijing was 341. An AQI above 300 is considered hazardous to all humans, not just those with heart or lung ailments. AQI below 50 is considered good. On January 12, the peak of the current air crisis, AQI was 775 the U.S Embassy Beijing Air Quality Monitor—off the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scale—and PM2.5 was 886 micrograms per cubic meter.

  1. Resources

  2. Air Pollution in China: Real-time Air Quality Index Visual Map. Accessed January 14, 2013.
  3. China Air Daily. Accessed January 14, 2013.
  4. U.S Embassy Beijing Air Quality Monitor. Accessed January 14, 2013.
  1. References

  2. Associated Press, via Yahoo News (2013, January 14) Beijing warns residents after off-the-charts smog . Accessed January 14, 2013.
  3. NASA (2010, September 22) New Map Offers a Global View of Health-Sapping Air Pollution.Accessed January 14, 2013.
  4. NASA Earth Observatory (2012, March 23) Satellites Map Fine Aerosol Pollution Over China.
  5. The New York Times (2013, January 14) China allows media to report alarming air pollution crisis. Accessed January 14, 2013.
  6. Yahoo News (2013, January 14) China’s air pollution problem slideshow. Accessed January 14, 2013.

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response. Caption by Mike Carlowicz.

Joel Cohen: Top 10 key population trends on Earth with 7 billion

Joel Cohen is the author of the 1996’s bestseller on Population studies titled “How Many People Can the Earth Support?“. I remember some of its content and that it was one of the first book acquisitions I did from Barnes & Noble (from those times in which you actually went to the bookstore!).  Now, 15 years later we are confronted with his favorite topic: overpopulation and his fetish with calculations for possible saturation points.  Here’s what he thinks even though so many people has been born since he wrote his book doing numbers of saturation points of the world:

Humanity took until year 1800 to reach its first billion people. We added 1 billion people in just the past 12 years. October 31, 2011 marks a milestone in global population: 7 billion humans. That’s according to projections by the United Nations. EarthSky interviewed demographer Joel Cohen, professor of populations and head of the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University and Columbia University in New York. He explained the top 10 population trends in a world with 7 billion inhabitants.

1. One billion people are hungry, and 1 billion are obese. Cohen said this is the most important thing people should know about the population milestone of 7 billion. Too too many people on Earth today live without knowing where their next meal will come from.

A billion people are chronically hungry. That means they wake up every day hungry. They don’t get enough calories to get through the day and do a day’s work like you and me. And many of them have been hungry since they were born. And their brains aren’t fully nourished, fully developed. And they’re having a very hard time learning and coping with life’s problems.

At the other extreme there are about a billion people that are really, seriously obese. And that’s partly a matter of not getting a good food supply also — not a food supply that’s balanced for their needs. Roughly two or three billion people — we don’t know precisely — are malnourished as opposed to undernourished. That means they’re not getting the trace vitamins that they need to have a balanced diet.

For world's seven billion, one billion hungry, one billion obese. (UN)

In a world with 7 billion, 1 billion are hungry, 1 billion are obese. (UN)

2. Three billion people live on two dollars a day. Cohen said:

That is abject poverty. You try to live on two dollars a day for long and you’ll start losing weight pretty fast. So roughly half the world is in desperate poverty.

3. One billion people live in slums. Cohen said:

Right now, about half the world lives in cities — let’s say 3.5 billion, slightly more. And of those, a billion are living in slums without adequate sanitation, electricity, water, security, legal protection, transport, and inadequate housing conditions. When it rains, it leaks. Maybe a mud floor. So we, the world, have not provided home or food, have not reached minimum standards that we ought to be providing for people.

One billion people today live in slums. (UN)

One billion people today live in slums. Image Credit: United Nations

4. Over 200 million woman have unmet needs for contraception. He said:

That means that they don’t want to have an additional child, and yet they’re not able to use modern means of contraception. These problems are not only abroad. We have, I would say, a very serious population problem in the United States. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, in 2001, approximately half of the pregnancies in the United States were unintended. That means that the woman, or the couple either did not want a pregnancy at that time or did not want a pregnancy at any time. And that is a very serious problem of human well-being related to the lack of control over people’s own reproduction.


5. Today, 1.5 billion people live in rich countries.
 Cohen explained:

That’s Europe, Western Europe mainly, the United States and Canada, the overseas English-speaking countries of Australia and New Zealand, Japan, and some of the Asian tigers.

6. Four billion people live in middle-income countries. Said Cohen:

These are the countries that have recently emerged from poverty with fast-growing economies. And I would put China, India, Brazil, many countries in Latin America in that realm of the middle-income. And that means on the order of Chile — let’s say 5,000 dollars a year income. That’s tremendous progress when you remember how recently China and India were really in desperate poverty. And many in those countries still are.

Four billion people live in middle-income countries like China. Image Credit: weirdchina

7. Economically at the bottom are 1.5 billion people. Cohen said:

Those people are living largely in sub-Saharan Africa, but in the new world also in Haiti, and in many of the provinces of South Asia in both Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh. There are hundreds of millions of people in dire poverty — the bottom billion as one Oxford economist calls them. So that gives you sort of a geographical picture of where these 7 billion people are.

Seniors now outnumber toddlers.

Seniors now outnumber toddlers.

8. Seniors now outnumber toddlers, and this trend will continue to increase. Cohen explained:

In the last decade, the world passed a very major milestone. And that is that for the first time in history, the number of people 60 years old or more exceeded the number of people 0-4 years old. Basically, for the first time, the grandparents outnumber the grandchildren. In the year 2000, there were about 10 percent of the world’s people were age 0-4, and about 10 percent were age 60+.

What we’re going into now is the era of aging. And by 2050, we anticipate that the number of people 60+ will be about 3.5 times the number of people age 0-4.

In the richer countries, like the United States and Europe, this process of aging is already pretty far advanced and will pose some serious questions and challenges for our retirement systems. In the poorer countries, which have a younger population because they’ve been growing faster — that means more children, so higher proportion of young people — aging will increase even faster than in the richer countries, which have already made a transition in part, the beginning of a transition to aging. So aging is one big thing that’s happened.

Two-thirds of people worldwide will live in cities by 2030, experts predict.

Two-thirds of people worldwide will live in cities by 2030, experts predict.

9. More than half of Earth’s inhabitants today live in cities, and two-thirds will live in cities by 2050. Cohen said:

In 2000, a little less than half of the world’s people lived in cities. Somewhere around 2007-2008, it became about 50-50. And by 2050, we expect about two-thirds of the world’s people to be living in cities. Now the increase in the number of city dwellers, between 2000 and 2050 is expected to be about three billion people, which was the total population of the Earth in 1960.

Virtually all of that additional three billion people will be added in the cities of the developing countries, not the rich countries. The rich cities will grow somewhat, but the really rapid growth will be in the poor or developing countries.

And if you do the arithmetic, 50 years between 2000 and 2050, roughly 50 weeks per year, 50 times 50 is 2500 weeks in that half century. And yet we’re going to add three billion people in the cities. Three billion is 3,000 million. It means that developing countries have to add urban infrastructure for a million people every five days from now to 2050. Now if that isn’t a building job, I don’t know what is. And hardly anybody is thinking about the design of the cities so that they can accommodate those additional three billion people in a constructive and useful way.

More than half of women today have fewer children needed to replace themselves. (UN)More than half of women today have fewer children than the number needed to replace themselves and their partner. Image Credit: United Nations

10. More than half of women today have fewer children than the number needed to replace themselves and their partner. Cohen said:

In 2003, for the first time in human history, more than half the women in the world lived in countries or provinces where the rate of reproduction was below the replacement level. That is, they were having fewer children than required to replace themselves in the next generation. This represents a tremendous change over the previous half century. The rate of growth of the world population fell by almost half, from 2.1 percent per year in 1950 to 1.1 percent per year in 2000. And we expect it to continue to decline if we continue to educate women, to provide modern contraception, and to improve the status of nutrition and education.

Bottom Line: Humanity took until year 1800 to reach its first billion people. We added 1 billion people in just the past 12 years. October 31, 2011 marks a milestone in global population: 7 billion humans. That’s according to projections by the United Nations. EarthSky interviewed demographer Joel Cohen, professor of populations and head of the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University and Columbia University in New York. He explained the top 10 population trends in a world with 7 billion inhabitants. Many continue to face issues of dire poverty. The population is aging. For the first time, more than half the world’s women live in countries or provinces where the rate of reproduction was below the replacement level.

professor of populations and head of the Laboratory of Populations at the Rockefeller University and Columbia University in New York.

via: Joel Cohen: Top 10 key population trends on Earth with 7 billion