Monthly Archives: March 2014

History of Pollution: economics, politics, and Deng XiaoPing


Photo courtesy of CrossTalk/Pinterest

While China’s recent economic boom has accelerated the pollution spewing across the land, the roots of its environmental problem stretch back centuries. The dynastic leaders of ancient China regularly conquered and consolidated territory while developing China’s economy; this exploited the nation’s natural resources in such a way that it contributed to famines and natural disasters according to the Council of Foreign Relation’s Elizabeth Economy in The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future. Culturally, China’s Confucian roots helped encourage policies that often promoted man’s use of nature, hindering the development of a conservative ethos. “China’s current environmental situation is the result not only of policy choices made today but also of attitudes, approaches, and institutions that have evolved over centuries,” Economy writes.

It wasn’t until the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment that China began to develop its first government approved environmental institutions. A delegation was sent to the United Nations Conference, but by then the country’s environment was already in dire straits that were further exacerbated by economic reforms of the late 1970s. Prior to the initiation of economic reforms, China maintained policies that kept the economy very poor, stagnant, centrally controlled, vastly inefficient, and relatively isolated from the global economy. According to the Congressional Research Service, Since opening up to foreign trade and investment and implementing free market reforms in 1979, China has been among the world’s fastest-growing economies, with real annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth averaging nearly 10% through 2013. In recent years, China has emerged as a major global economic and trade power: it is currently the world’s second-largest economy, largest trading economy, second- largest destination of foreign direct investment (FDI), largest manufacturer, and largest holder of foreign exchange reserves. Continue reading

The End of Husbandry and the Rapid Rise of Industrial Meat in America

Swift and Company Packers Illustration Photo Courtesy of AAS Online Exhibition

Swift and Company Packers Illustration/ Photo Courtesy of AAS Online Exhibition

In the 1950s United States Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson told farmers to “get big or get out.” Today, if one looks at the industrial livestock sector it seems that Benson’s vision of large-scale agriculture has come to fruition. The contemporary meat industry in the United States is a powerful force in both business and politics. The rise of the sector can be explained by a number of developments in production and technology dating back to the first European settlements in North America.  Continue reading

Happiness and Sustainability: Is There a Tradeoff?

Reproduction of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond / Courtesy of Dickinson College

Reproduction of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond / Courtesy of Dickinson College

Henry David Thoreau spent two years isolated in Walden Pond, observing and becoming acutely aware of his natural environment. He famously writes, “Nature spontaneously keeps us well. Do not resist her!” Thoreau’s experience may seem farfetched but it hinges upon our innate need for contact with the natural world.

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Face wash: A Major Contributor to Micropollutants in Water

The products enclosed by a green circle have plastic exfoliating beads (2014).  Photo courtesy of Gwen Gallagher

The products enclosed by green circles have plastic exfoliating beads (2014). Photo courtesy of Gwen Gallagher

Facial washes are extremely popular products used for deep cleanses and are an integral part in most people’s daily routine. They are especially helpful for preventing acne and giving the consumer a refreshed feel. Some face washes contain exfoliating beads to improve the soap by mechanically removing the outmost layer of skin. The beads help remove dead skin layers and any debris from the day to reveal smoother skin and facilitate the growth of healthy, rejuvenated skin. The exfoliating beads tend to be made of out plastic and were considered ideal for the consumer because of the guaranteed smooth surface, which reduces the potential for redness and irritation of the skin. Unfortunately, the beads are so small that they can slip through water treatment facilities and plastic is not easily degradable. As a result, plastic microbeads are accumulating in marine environments and posing a threat to the organisms.

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We Have Lift-Off: A History of Space-Based Solar Power

A concept for a space-based solar power satellite. Image © Mafic Studio, Inc.

“It’s amazing when you think of it,” said Adell. His broad face had lines of weariness in it, and he stirred his drink slowly with a glass rod, watching the cubes of ice slur clumsily about. “All the energy we can possibly ever use for free. Enough energy, if we wanted to draw on it, to melt all Earth into a big drop of impure liquid iron, and still never miss the energy so used. All the energy we could ever use, forever and forever and forever.” So begins Isaac Asimov’s short story, “The Last Question” wherein humanity has mastered the power of the sun, putting online a one-mile Solar Station in orbit that beams sunpower down to Earth, solving all of Earth’s energy needs in one fell swoop. Science fiction was the true birthplace of space-based solar power, which found a home in the minds of science fiction writers like Asimov who used such technology liberally in their fiction.

It was not until a decade later that space-based solar power was first proposed as a legitimate scientific idea. First though, SBSP depended upon several key developments throughout the 20th century to even be considered conceptually.

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