Saturday, January 2, 2010

In China, the Marching Sands Portend Doom

In recent postings, we have focused on the impending climate catastrophes -- and consequent massive population migrations -- resulting from Andean Glacier Melt-Off.

It's not just Latin America, of course, and it's not even just the US Southwestern desert cities which depend on Rocky Mountain snowpacks and glacier melts to bring water thousands of miles to them via the Colorado River.

In China, the fearsome Gobi Desert is expanding, and expanding rapidly.

[ ... ]
Few people think of China as a desert nation, yet it is among the world's largest. More than 27%, or 2.5 million square kilometers, of the country comprises useless sand (just 7% of Chinese land feeds about a quarter of the world's population). A Ministry of Science and Technology task force says desertification costs China about $2-3 billion annually, while 800 km of railway and thousands of kilometers of roads are blocked by sedimentation. An estimated 110 million people suffer firsthand from the impacts of desertification and, by official reports, another 2,500 sq km turns to desert each year.

This is nothing new, of course. In the 4th century B.C. Chinese philosopher Mencius (Mengzi) wrote about desertification and its human causes, including tree-cutting and overgrazing. Experts argue over the reasons and consequences, but all agree that Chinese deserts are on the move. Sand from the distant Gobi threatens even Beijing, which some scientists say could be silted over within a few years. Dunes forming just 70 km from the capital may be drifting south at 20-25 km a year. Conservative estimates say 3 km a year. And despite massive spending on land reclamation and replanting, China is falling behind.

In the northwest, where the biggest problems lie, desertification has escalated from 1,560 sq km annually in the 1970s to 2,100-2,400 sq km in the 1990s. [ ... ] ("Beijing's Desert Storm", Gluckman, Ron, "", July 14, 2008, downloaded 2010 January 2)

Now, the Chinese -- as a people -- are not known for their failure to think ahead.

They are also notably good at figures and at business. When we examine the fact that only 7-percent of China feeds about 25-percent of the world's population, we may reasonably wonder what will happen if the arable lands in China are reduced to only 6-percent. At the present rate of yield, that one-percent reduction in arable lands would reduce by almost 4 percent the number of people fed by that land. Considering that the 25-percent of the world's population is 1.5-Billions of people, that's about 20-million less people that China's arable lands can feed.

So, what will happen? Will all of China reduce their consumption of food by 4-percent so that those undersupplied can eat? Chinese people are not known for being overweight; many are already near the lower limit of caloric intake to allow them to live and work. Starvation may become endemic again, and perhaps even epidemic. Even as China's vaunted "two parents, one child" program begins to make inroads into the immense overpopulation problems in the People's Republic of China, now the food supply dwindles as if to enforce the mandate of the Party.

More to come... and we're stuck doing Indochina and China for the forseeable future.

As for the forseeable future... what may one reasonably expect? And one must ask, what would you do if you were in their position? And what decisions would you make? And if you are not in their position, but in a position where you must expect that their position requires them to take your position from you, what defenses will you raise? Or can the situation reasonably be expected to be made controllable, so that by working together all may find a useful solution?

This calls for a great degree of speculation, of course, and one must always ask if what one hears from another party is what one observes from another party. For after all, "actions speak more loudly than words", and everyone knows that when the criminal comes to rob you, though he shows his teeth, you should not mistake this for a friendly smile.

So, we may ask, what are your intentions? -yet while we may choose to trust, assuredly we shall verify. In the meanwhile, it's good advice to guard the guardians when they are not at their posts. If the guardians cannot stand their watches, then only a fool sleeps when there are no eyes upon the frontiers, or even merely upon the streets. Yet all must sleep, sooner or later, and the enemy is wakeful at all times, or at least they know enough to sleep while we are awake, and to waken when they see us sleep. Yet though we may sleep in shifts, so that there is always a cadre to survey the frontiers and watch over our streets, what good will this do, if the enemy can make certain that only the blind are left to man the watchtower?

As the Roman Tacitus observed about the art of camouflage, practiced by the nation of the Lygians who fought only by night:
Ceterum Harii super vires, quibus enumeratos paulo ante populos antecedunt, truces insitae feritati arte ac tempore lenocinantur: nigra scuta, tincta corpora; atras ad proelia noctes legunt ipsaque formidine atque umbra feralis exercitus terrorem inferunt, nullo hostium sustinente novum ac velut infernum adspectum;

nam primi in omnibus proeliis oculi vincuntur.

"In all battles the eyes are vanquished first."

And as Sun Tzu said, "deception is at the heart of all warfare".