Thursday, 23 May 2013

Removing an incongruent dislinkage between pollution and greenhouse gases

For a long time - notably in my old Urban Environments class at the University of Melbourne - there was a tendency to believe that polluted cities tended to have very low greenhouse gas emissions because they tended to be compact Tropical (or in an earlier era, Enriched) World cities where mass transit was run at a profit, but where heavy industry was not subject to pollution regulations for such gases as SO2, NO2, volatile organic compounds and CO.

This tendency has affected the conservative side of politics especially. Conservatives give a free pass to the exceptionally bad greenhouse gas emissions of Australia and South Africa, on the basis that their strongly capitalist political systems are likely to be more efficient at controlling local air pollution, regardless of the cost in terms of global emissions of CO2 of low-density cities and exceptionally powerful road lobbies.

Via my email link to Care2, this is the top ten most polluted countries in the world:

Rank Country Ecological Region
#10 Bosnia/Herzegovina Enriched
#9 Mexico Tropical
#8 Egypt “Arid Northeastern”
#7 China Enriched
#6 Saudi Arabia “Arid Northeastern”
#5 Botswana Unenriched
#4 Pakistan Enriched
“Arid Northeastern”
#3 India Enriched
#2 Mongolia Enriched
#1 Iran Enriched
“Arid Northeastern”

Via another link from the Italian MilanMun school, which aims to give people experience of living outside their own land and to understand its problems, an equivalent list - more subversive than Care2, I will state, is:

Rank Country Ecological Region
#10 Kuwait “Arid Northeastern”
#9 Nigeria Tropical
#8 Iran Enriched
“Arid Northeastern”
#7 United Arab Emirates “Arid Northeastern”
#6 Egypt “Arid Northeastern”
#5 Saudi Arabia “Arid Northeastern”
#4 Senegal Tropical
#3 Pakistan Enriched
“Arid Northeastern”
#2 Botswana Unenriched
#1 Mongolia Enriched

Countries of the Sahara and Arabian Deserts I have listed separately because, though they are nothing like the Unenriched World geologically and have heavy supplies of nutrients that Australia and Southern Africa lack from mountain building and dust, they do strongly retain some of the ecological qualities like cooperative animal societies, nomadism and irregular breeding so typical of the Unenriched World but absent in the cooler parts of the Enriched. Their economies are also strikingly similar to Australia and Southern Africa, illustrating how the contrast between Australia and Southern Africa versus the rest of the world is more nearly Eastern Hemisphere/Western Hemisphere than Southern Hemisphere/Northern Hemisphere.

The case of Gaborone, in probably the most similar country to Australia in the world once cultural veneers are dismantled (as they should have been in 1991 when Tom McMahon published his groundbreaking Global Runoff: Continental Comparisons of Annual Flows and Peak Discharges), is telling for advocates of capitalism as the solution to pollution. Like Australia, Botswana and Gaborone has an arid climate and abudant supplies of land and minerals, plus a government and “ruled” classes unwilling or unable to tackle the long-term environmental problems this abundance can create.

The similarity between Australia’s bad greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution in Gaborone and Johannesburg: a mining industry that largely controls the government - is not entirely lost on Kevin Williamson’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, but what Williamson does not grasp is that big business with unlimited resources taking over government is likely to externalise costs much more than big government nationalising oil. The wealth mineral corporations in the Unenriched World possess from mining industrially essential raw materials permits them to directly write government policy in their own interests, and to prevent any regulation that would affect their interests. As shows, the most poorly regulated industrial or mineral economies, like Australia, have the poorest environmental records because big business can with the aid of government externalise is costs, like drying of Perth’s former water supply or air pollution in dryland cities.

In contrast, a government nationalising an oil company is likely to be under much more pressure from the ballot boxes or mass mobilisation as is general in the Enriched World. Thus, when government has the upper hand in partnership with business, it is less immune to pressure for regulation even when ecologically this is greatly less pressing than in Australia or Southern Africa.

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