Brown Cloud threatens SE Asia
August 12, 2002 3:12 AM   Subscribe

Brown Cloud threatens SE Asia Having flown into Mumbai a couple of times over the past years, and to Singapore once, I thought I saw this, but passed it up to gunk on the windows. Turned out it was gunk in the sky.
posted by rshah21 (34 comments total)

Not only is SE Asia threatened, NE Asia has its disgusting share every spring, and the storms are so enormous that they span the Pacific. And Californians thought smoking was their biggest worry. Ignorance is bliss.
posted by hama7 at 4:35 AM on August 12, 2002

CNN threatens metafilter.
posted by johnnyboy at 4:56 AM on August 12, 2002

The haze I saw while I was living there, I automatically put down to the burning of forests up in Malaysia and Indonesia. It was a real issue for a long time but who knows, maybe it was this pollution istead. Scary stuff.
posted by Jubey at 4:59 AM on August 12, 2002

Due to an unusually large breakfast and a lot of coffee, a Brown Cloud is threatening my coworkers.
posted by adampsyche at 5:11 AM on August 12, 2002

*off topic*

Why are the random, unintended above words written in bold? This is the third or fourth time.

*cough* What's that smell?
posted by hama7 at 5:16 AM on August 12, 2002

"A British researcher says there are simple technical solutions to the huge problems caused by pollution in southern Asia "

"Unfortunately, they're rather more difficult to implement."
posted by berto at 5:22 AM on August 12, 2002

hama7: see the source. you cannot close an <a href=etc> tag with an <a target='_blank> tag. either you are doing this or there is something weird going on with the tag closer code.
oh wow - looky there! the entity codes are no longer rendering in the textarea on preview! cool one matt!
posted by quonsar at 6:09 AM on August 12, 2002

This kind of stuff scares the crap out me. I don't think burying my head in the sand or assuming that somebody is going to find a solution soon is a good response to this kind of threat. I try to do my part in recycling and reusing and I don't own a car. What do some of you do to lessen the amount of pollution in your area?
posted by ashbury at 6:23 AM on August 12, 2002

China is reliant on coal burning for almost everything, and most chinese coal is dirtier than the coal produced in other places. And the problem will increase because China's economy is growing so fast, which requires huge amounts of energy.

The US is still the largest emitter of pollutants, but due to our geographical location, the danger is not as extreme as it is in Asia. And China will probably surpass the US in pollutant emissions by 2020, if not earlier.

Pretty scary stuff.
posted by mrmanley at 6:32 AM on August 12, 2002

In Manila, we lived our lives under a perennial blanket of brown haze, and a giant coal plant with the highest output of sulfur emissions in all of Southeast Asia was just across the expressway from my apartment.

Imagine my surprise on moving to the US to find that the real color of the sky was blue.
posted by brownpau at 6:54 AM on August 12, 2002

Lovely for all the Olympic athletes to breathe. Between the pollution and the heat, it should be a stunner of a competition.
posted by donnagirl at 6:57 AM on August 12, 2002

What do some of you do to lessen the amount of pollution in your area?

I don't own a car but that's about it. I can't recycle as there are no recycling collections where I live and the nearest recycling banks are too far away for me to lug my rubbish.

But I think people making personal decisions not to pollute won't have much effect in the long term. There are too many people and there's too much stuff. I'd like to think people were aware of what's at stake, but then you read stuff like this. I also remember hearing a report on the radio about proposed wind farms in the North Sea. They're being opposed by the government because they interfere with the radar of certain fighter planes apparently. I can't find a link to that so you'll have to trust me.
posted by Summer at 7:07 AM on August 12, 2002

is anyone else kind of hoping for the day that we run out of fossil fuels?
posted by GeekAnimator at 7:28 AM on August 12, 2002

To my mind, there's a far more important question raised by stories like this than what any given individual does in their neighbourhood. And it's this: how many of these stories will have to appear, in how rapid a succession, warning of how enormous a calamity, before we agree on a society-wide level that we have to make finding a more sustainable energy source than liquified dinosaur bones an absolute top priority?

For me, it was learning in some detail just how enormous an amount of pollution a single company - Dupont , for example - can produce.
posted by gompa at 7:31 AM on August 12, 2002

i think scientists just make a lot of stuff like this up

to justify their existence,

you know it wasnt so long ago that we were all due

to be hit by some asteroid or other ,

now we're all going to die from the brown cloud,

i guess these scientists must have shares in prozac.

you'd get put away for making a hoax bomb call

so why cant a scientist or journalist get fined for

printing a scare story ?

in whose interest is it that people are running around

posted by sgt.serenity at 7:47 AM on August 12, 2002

so why cant a scientist or journalist get fined for printing a scare story?
because then we'd have to jail asscroft himself over the whole 'terror alert' thing...
posted by quonsar at 8:07 AM on August 12, 2002

ee cummings sure has a lot to answer for.
posted by Skot at 8:12 AM on August 12, 2002

Annoying note: this article is about the brown cloud over South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal). It does mention it extending its reach into Southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia etc.), but then it also mentions it going to East/Northeast Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia). Big differences.

Bigger issue: I hate to say it, but I think this sort of thing needs to happen before governments (and therefore people and industries) start doing anything about the environment. Right now, recycling is basically just a way for hippies to feel good about themselves. I do it, but more with an interest to ensuring the infrastructure stays around for when it becomes implemented on a larger scale. I don't want to delude myself into thinking it makes a real difference. I used to think personal choices could accomplish something, until the SUV craze hit. That brought home the reality: nobody important (ie nobody other than us Nader-loving walking-to-work organic-eating hippies) gives a fart about environmental issues. And they won't, until a brown cloud (or global-warming-induced flooding, or something similar) comes out to bite them on the ass.

The fortunate thing about the brown clouds is they're not going to be permanent -- unlike global warming, ozone depletion or biodiversity loss. They're a real warning sign, one that will go away when appropriate policy changes are made. Just watch Bush/Cheney try and defend their current energy policy if one of these things appeared over Texas and Wyoming. I think it'd be bigger than Enron.
posted by ramakrishna at 8:14 AM on August 12, 2002

Someone get Godzilla. It looks like the return of Hedorah, the Smog Monster.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:46 AM on August 12, 2002

And GeekAnimator: I'm much more hopeful about the day we decide to stop using fossil fuels rather than the day we run out of them; the latter case implying that we would all be out of our main energy source without anyone having bothered to prepare a proportionate alternative. Much as how I long for the end of pollution and the end of the dominance of the fuel industry and Big Oil, I would prefer it not to happen as a result of some catastrophe that leaves millions without heat or the abilty to, say, get ambulances and fire trucks to where they need to go and so forth.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:51 AM on August 12, 2002

I have a feeling nothing substantial will be done about global warning until a city is permanently flooded (I'm looking at you, LA). Similarly, it's only the part about "pollution could be cutting India's winter rice harvest by as much as 10 percent" that will get governments to do anything, rather than "up to two million people in India alone were dying each year from atmospheric pollution." The big problem with atmospheric pollution is that the guilty country often does not enjoy the effects - there was a big, erm, stink here in Canada a few years back about acid rain, most of it wafting up from across the border. But since the friendly giant to the south was not getting the brunt of it nothing was done.

is anyone else kind of hoping for the day that we run out of fossil fuels?

This is the weird thing, isn't it? You catch yourself hoping for calamities so that people pay attention. Bad karma, man.

In terms of pollution, recycling etc., it's frankly the industries that need to get their act together, but nonetheless this doesn't mean we 'consumers' should chuck our used batteries in the nearest river. We all need to take it easy with the SUVs and such - I had dreams of getting a '79 Firebird but the goddamned thing's a massively heavy V8 - the environmental impact is not worth the joke. Maybe the most important contribution we can make is vigilance. I heard recently that the materials collected by Toronto's much-loved paper recycling program were now going directly into landfill. A dirty secret if there ever was one.

On preview: good point, XQUZYPHYR.
posted by D at 8:58 AM on August 12, 2002

I heard this report on BBC News last night and a chill went down my spine.

I suppose it will take the brown cloud encircling the entire globe before anything is done, but unfortunately, the probable consequence of that would simply be mass shrugging and calls from the powers that be to learn to adapt and "live with the cloud."

The Cloud Is Our Friend.
posted by blucevalo at 9:27 AM on August 12, 2002

sgt.serenity: I'm pretty sure scientists do not make this stuff up in order to "justify their existence." If I recall, every time one of those "asteroid-about-to-hit-earth" stories hits the press, the scientist responsible for the original observation issues a statement saying that the writer of the story greatly exaggerated the possible danger because it made for a more interesting headline.

I don't think the intent is to have people "running around terrified." The Brown Cloud is an observable phenomenon that even ordinary people have noticed. What possible reason could there be not to report on it?
posted by spacewaitress at 9:39 AM on August 12, 2002

Just watch Bush/Cheney try and defend their current energy policy if one of these things appeared over Texas and Wyoming. I think it'd be bigger than Enron.

Except that this cloud has nothing at all to do with Bush/Cheney's energy policy, SUVs, or the Western world at all.

After all, in the West we're rich enough to be able to afford stack scrubbers on our power plants, catalytic converters in our cars, and natural gas instead of cow dung to fire our stoves. Acid rain is largely a thing of the past here.

What we need to do is find some way to get newer, cleaner technology into the third world. One way to do this is by raising the third world's standard of living enough to make installing cleaner technology cost-effective. Another way is via pollution-credit trading - if it's cheaper for CalPine to pay for the major upgrading of a comparatively primitive power plant in Indonesia than it is to make a bunch of small, incremental improvements in sophisticated plants in the US, you can bet that's what they'll do.
posted by jaek at 10:02 AM on August 12, 2002

What jaek said.

China will not do anything to jeopardize their economic growth, even if they have to kill the planet to do it. Same goes for other countries in Asia, South America, and Africa. They are mired in poverty and upheaval, and the climatic diasaster seems comfortably remote.

Lake Baikal is only a harbinger of what the Chinese will suffer if they don't wake up and start treating the environment more gently. There could be famines in the not-too-distant future where millions die of starvation. I shudder to think at the geopolitical consquences of such a thing.
posted by mrmanley at 10:20 AM on August 12, 2002

Acid rain is largely a thing of the past here.

Courtesy Canadian government: "In total, without further controls, almost 800,000 km2 in southeastern Canada—an area the size of France and the United Kingdom combined—would receive harmful levels of acid rain; that is, levels well above critical load limits for aquatic systems." In other words, the 1991 Canada-U.S. Air Quality Agreement, while it has reduced acid rain, has not eliminated it.

Acid rain, of course, being only one of many environmental problems facing North America. Also from Canadian government pages (note that my gov't is still waffling on Kyoto and can't by a long shot be considered 'strongly committed to the environment'): "Federal studies show that several thousand of premature deaths per year can be attributed to air pollution, and the Ontario Medical Association says air pollution costs Ontario citizens more than $1 billion a year in hospital admissions, emergency room visits and absenteeism. Toronto Public Health Department figures show that air pollution causes hundreds of premature deaths a year and numerous health-related problems."

We've got a long way to go before we can wag a reprimanding finger at Asian nations.
posted by D at 10:34 AM on August 12, 2002

mrmanley, from what I've heard, China has started to try to stop using coal, with Beijing being the case (probably for the Olympics bid). Hopefully the Chinese gov't will wisen up (ha) and start changing things throughout the rest of the country.

Beijing has had a huge boom in car usage by the locals in the past couple of years, which hurts as well. It'd be nice if they'd ban cars in the city and force everyone to bike. ;)
posted by hobbes at 11:47 AM on August 12, 2002

I've a suggestion to keep you all occupied:
learn to swim.
Mom's gonna fix it all soon.
Mom's comin' round to put it back the way it ought to be.

And later in the song,one of my favorite lyrics of all time:

Learn to swim, I'll see you down in Arizona bay.
posted by jaded at 2:43 PM on August 12, 2002

We've got a long way to go before we can wag a reprimanding finger at Asian nations.

How far do you think we need to go? I mean, on the one hand we do use more resources, but on the other hand there isn't a two-kilometer-high brown cloud of nastiness choking San Francisco.
posted by jaek at 3:23 PM on August 12, 2002

How far do you think we need to go?

Well, it depends on what we expect them to do. Reduce reliance on fossil fuels? Well, we'd have to do that ourselves first. Even if we did, the fact that we've already gone through a heavy industrial period can be used against us. It's widely believed that the western economies' industrial era was a necessary step towards our modern-day information economy. So developing nations can say, why do you hold us to tougher standards than you've passed through yourselves to get to where you are today?

there isn't a two-kilometer-high brown cloud of nastiness choking San Francisco.

LA, on the other hand... Toronto has been enveloped in smog all summer. I hear Atlanta is pretty bad, too.
posted by D at 5:04 PM on August 12, 2002

How Now Brown Cloud?
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:29 PM on August 12, 2002

None of the countries in this area, including India and China, are required under the Kyoto protocol to do anything to reduce fossil fuel use or emissions.
posted by fuzz at 6:10 PM on August 12, 2002

i've learned to love the cloud :) LOVE THE CLOUD!
posted by kliuless at 6:42 AM on August 13, 2002


posted by sgt.serenity at 7:05 AM on August 13, 2002

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