Thursday 18 August 2016

Empty Seas in China

I know that among so many other issues, natural resource utilisation tends to be overlooked. We don't lack products on supermarket shelves, after all.

But the world's population reached 7.4 billion in March (according to the United Nations), and is on track to reach 11.2 billion by 2100. This means that certain basic issues like food supply will become critical in the developed world, let alone the developing world.

Adam Minter has a terrifying article in Bloomberg on overfishing in China, and its political and resource implications. It's a textbook case of over-utilisation, aggravated by a seemingly "rational" economic policy (fisheries support) taken to irrational lengths through price and subsidy distortions. It also includes a very explicit link to nationalism and territorial ambitions.

The EU and US have been struggling with this issue for generations, but neither has the population or development pressure that China has.

Back in 1990, we were studying the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands as a textbook case of mining and politics in Geology class. Back then, the Berlin wall had just fallen and apartheid was still in place.

This month, I'm reading that Vietnam is moving Israeli-made rocket artillery to concealed positions in the Spratlys, that Japan is re-arming and that the Philippines is negotiating new base agreements.

I wonder how far our enlightened but geriatric continent is prepared for new major power conflicts, either in Asia, or on our own borders. Certainly, we ignored Syria as long as we could, until it bit us in the ass. Then as soon as the refugee inflow slowed, we ignored it some more.

And I wonder if just a fraction of the time we spend on ephemera like Pokemon Go or how many medals "we won" in Rio were not better invested preparing for more serious, even existential, challenges.

(c) Philip Ammerman, 2016 


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