US economy slows in fourth quarter; Choking in China; Retreating Antarctic ice may reshape earth

1 US economy slows in fourth quarter (The Guardian) The US economy slowed more sharply in the final three months of the year than initial estimates, reflecting weaker business stockpiling and a bigger trade deficit. The Commerce Department said that the economy as measured by the gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.2% in the October-December quarter, weaker than the 2.6% first estimated last month.

Economists, however, remain optimistic that the deceleration was temporary. Many forecast that growth will rise above 3% in 2015, which would give the country the strongest economic growth in a decade. They say the job market has healed enough to generate strong consumer spending going forward.

For all of 2014, the economy expanded 2.4%, up slightly from 2.2% growth in 2013. Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said that “while the economy ended the year with less momentum than in the summer and fall, average annual growth of 2.9% in the past six quarters still denotes a meaningful upward shift from 2.1% in the first four years of the recovery”.

2 Choking in China (Rahul Goswami in Khaleej Times) During the winter months especially, the anti-pollution face mask in China is as essential as the mobile phone. For all of the last decade, grim statistics of coal emissions and readings of airborne particulate concentrations have become commonplace in China, as much inside the country as outside.

The appalling levels of air pollution in the People’s Republic — together with widespread environmental degradation and the exposure of human and animal populations to chemicals and pesticides — are said to cause 1.2 million premature deaths per year, caused by cardiovascular disease, respiratory ailments and virulent cancers of the liver, bone, lung, breast and blood.

These are the casualties of China’s rapid economic ‘growth’, and the legion of multinational corporations which have outsourced manufacturing jobs to China on such a vast scale must be considered complicit. Solutions will certainly not come easily. The central government in Beijing recently announced a ban on all coal use in the capital by 2020, but China’s existing coal plants will spew out carbon pollution elsewhere for decades to come.

So central to life has pollution in China become that a work of fiction, written by Li Chunyuan, the deputy head of the environmental protection bureau in the Hebei city of Langfang, has become extremely popular. Li’s fictional work owes it popularity to how accurately it describes the real world of pollution in China and the official responses to it — all too often diversionary and clumsy. Air pollution levels in and around Beijing remained dire all through 2014.

Change has come at last to China in the official recognition that to breathe the very air in the People’s Republic is hazardous to health. It is now time for China to translate that recognition into a concerted programme away from polluting industry, power generation, and chemicals and pesticides use.

3 Retreating Antarctica ice may reshape earth (San Francisco Chronicle) From the ground in this extreme northern part of Antarctica, spectacularly white and blinding ice seems to extend forever. What can’t be seen is the battle raging thousands of feet below to re-shape Earth.

Water is eating away at the Antarctic ice, melting it where it hits the oceans. As the ice sheets slowly thaw, water pours into the sea — 130 billion tons of ice (118 billion metric tons) per year for the past decade, according to NASA satellite calculations. That’s the weight of more than 356,000 Empire State Buildings, enough ice melt to fill more than 1.3 million Olympic swimming pools. And the melting is accelerating.

In the worst case scenario, Antarctica’s melt could push sea levels up 10 feet (3 meters) worldwide in a century or two, recurving heavily populated coastlines. Parts of Antarctica are melting so rapidly it has become “ground zero of global climate change without a doubt,” said Harvard geophysicist Jerry Mitrovica.

Just last month, scientists noticed in satellite images that a giant crack in an ice shelf on the peninsula called Larsen C had grown by about 12 miles (20 kilometers) in 2014. Ominously, the split broke through a type of ice band that usually stops such cracks. If it keeps going, it could cause the breaking off of a giant iceberg somewhere between the size of Rhode Island and Delaware, about 1,700 to 2,500 square miles (4,600 to 6,400 square kilometers), said British Antarctic Survey scientist Paul Holland.

The world’s fate hangs on the question of how fast the ice melts. At its current rate, the rise of the world’s oceans from Antarctica’s ice melt would be barely noticeable, about one-third of a millimeter a year. The oceans are that vast. But if all the West Antarctic ice sheet that’s connected to water melts unstoppably, as several experts predict, there will not be time to prepare.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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