Happy New Year – Except if You Need Lungs. Will We See Change or Lip Service?




— “Letter from Beijing: In 2015, Smog Struck Fear into China’s Leaders” – McClatchy

— “In the Dirtiest Cities, Air Pollution Forces Life Changes” – The New York Times

—  Smog So Thick, Beijing Comes to a Standstill – The New York Times

— “Glut of Coal-Fired Plants Casts Doubts on China’s Energy Priorities” – The New York Times

— “China Confronts the Pain of Kicking its Coal Addiction” – Washington Post

— “UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost” – Voice of America



— “California Falling Short in Push for More Clean Vehicles” – Los Angeles Times

— “For Jerry Brown, Climate Change Issue Melds the Spiritual and Political” – Los Angeles Times

— “China and the World Turn to California for Climate Change Expertise – Los Angeles Times



— “Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris” – The New York Times



— Chip Interview “Angry Mothers Key to China Pollution Fight” – China Press/Sino-U.S.com

— Smogtown Mandarin Book Discussion LETV.com 

— Feature During Beijing Smog Attack – Culture News 

Chip’s Q&A in the South China Morning Post: “How the US and the West Contributed to China’s Addiction to Dirty Development”


Los Angeles-based author Chip Jacobs became well known in China for his book, Smogtown, about  
pollution in the Californian metropolis, which he co-authored with William Kelly. The pair have now turned their attention to China’s struggle with pollution in their book, The People’s Republic of Chemicals. Jacobs spoke to LI JING

What are the root causes of China’s pollution problems?

I think it’s connected with China’s tragic history – whether with the foreign occupation, the Opium Wars, the Japanese invasion or the cold war. All those historical events in some way encouraged China to continue using coal to fuel its industry, warm its homes and maintain development. For years, China was stuck in old-fashioned coal dependence.

In the 1990s, the US was eager to bring China into the world of nations. The cold war had ended and the Soviet Union had dissolved, but China remained a mystery. The US leadership of Bill Clinton and Al Gore wanted China to be involved in the global economy, but they made a fundamental mistake that led to a fight with Washington. Gore wanted any deal that brought China into the World Trade Organisation to include controls on China using dirty coal, which increased global warming and created air pollution. But he lost his fight.

Record pollution levels in Beijing regularly blot out sunlight during the daytime. Image: SCMP

China went on to become a gigantic export powerhouse. At that time the central leadership was looking for an edge, to make China competitive. It was a perfect storm for China to have a very dirty industrial revolution. The US had a very dirty industrial revolution at the dawn of the last century – and a lot of people died. It’s as if the lessons were never remembered.

China was so hungry to pump up its economy and to export its products, which it produced at a cost that did not fully reflect their true environmental cost. Americans, through buying a huge amount of those goods, only encouraged China to manufacture in a dirty way. I realised that was the byproduct of globalisation – a story that no-one had really told.

Severe pollution and haze chokes Beijing. Image: Simon Song/SCMP

Could tougher rules have avoided China’s environmental crisis?

Yes, the US helped create this environmental Frankenstein. On the one hand, we brought China into the WTO – on the other, we feverishly bought its cheap, non-environmentally friendly products. When Barack Obama visited China last November he said that he wouldn’t let his daughters breath Beijing’s polluted air. I wish he had said that the US bore some of the blame here. I don’t think he was telling the full story. Within a few years of joining the WTO, China’s greenhouse gas emissions were exploding.

But didn’t China willingly choose that path of development?

I think China’s leadership faced a great dilemma. It had elevated between 300 to 400 million people out of poverty, but at the same time a respected study – [whose findings were released this year by Berkeley university] showed that that about 4,000 Chinese were dying every day from its air pollution. The Communist Party must have felt it had made a pact with the devil, because China doesn’t have many energy resources other than coal .

Where I do think the Chinese government needs to change is how it disseminates information. Only recently did it officially acknowledge the existence of cancer villages [that have abnormally high rates of the disease, linked to pollution].

What I don’t get about China is why such a powerful country cannot accept valid criticism. Whenever people demonstrate about a polluting factory, state censors block blogs, track down those writing them and crack down on electronic communication.

I think that creates a lot of resentment and suspicion [towards the government]. I just hope China’s leadership will feel more confident to allow people to become informed, without worrying about whether it would cause social unrest.

Industrial pollution in China. Image: SCMP

Do you think mounting public pressure will force real change?

I believe China is getting on the right path. The leadership pledged big funds for a cleanup, even though China still lacks a national air quality plan that everybody can understand, or an air pollution inventory.

But things are getting better. Besides promises of more funds, and making firm plans such as peaking coal consumption in 2030, China’s anti-corruption campaign has arrested “tigers and flies” in the energy sector. To me, it’s the Communist Party’s way of tackling the head of the problem, because some of the big state [energy] companies were blocking reform.

I do believe that the more China’s becomes a middle-class society, the less its leadership can get away with stifling information. And I think they’re realising that they can no longer play the same game – getting mad at people who are victims, or passing responsibility for problems to the lower-ranking officials.

Smogtown & PRC Stay Ever-Green in their Tales of Searing, Brown Climates

And it’s both thrilling and depressing. 

– From environmental writer/professor/activist Jon Christensen in LA Observed’s piece: From ‘Smogtown’ to Model for the World?” 

Peyri-Herrera-150x150“It’s a tantalizing idea, isn’t it?” Jacobs responded when I asked him what he thinks of California as an example. It’s true, he said, that Chinese officials have been visiting California for years to learn how to monitor and reduce air pollution. In some cases they’ve implemented solutions in a few years that took California several decades. 

But Jacobs offers some important caveats. Most of LA’s smog came from cars, but some of it came from manufacturing that has gone overseas in recent decades. “Be careful when you ship something off to another country: you’re exporting pollution,” he said. “We allowed corporations to go and set up in cheaper more authoritarian places,” he added. “They don’t have to build in costs for pollution control. But the discount you’re getting is at somebody else’s expense.” 

As much as 20 percent of China’s pollution is caused by exports to the United States, Jacobs said. Some of that pollution drifts back over the West Coast on the prevailing winds, and the carbon dioxide China pumps into the atmosphere adds to global warming. 

Jacobs also said that while Chinese officials–and officials from other governments as well–are often eager to learn about scientific and technological solutions, they’re not as quick to embrace another element of California’s success: the ability of citizens to get access to information and to sue the government to take action. Some technocrats here have sometimes publicly wished that they could have the power of authorities in China just for a day. 

But if the history of Smogtown is any guide, the power of the people is key to success. Public protests, environmental organizers, nonprofit lawyers, investigative scientists, crusading journalists, dedicated public officials, and democratically elected leaders all contributed to enacting laws and policies that have steadily ratcheted down pollution levels through regulations, taxes, and incentives. 

Perversely, that success now leaves Jacobs worried about his hometown, too. “My biggest fear is public complacency,” he said. We’ve paid our way out of our biggest problems, and we no longer “have an active, zesty engagement,” he said. Aside from the hardcore activists and Prius drivers, “I’m not convinced Californians are dynamite environmentalists. People hate smog but they love their cars more. It’s a passive environmentalism,” he said.

“We’ve improved technology. We haven’t changed the culture,” Jacobs concluded. “We’re a stabilized pollution island.”

– Then there’s good, old Jerry Brown, as visionary and sweepingly rhetorical as ever. So what if he embellished about L.A. inventing smog to make a point? From Politifact California …

First, it’s clear L.A. has no ownership over the term smog. Brown sounds like he was having some politifact-photos-BrownLASmog103015P-1-150x150
fun with the “invented in Los Angeles” portion, from listening to him speak. Still, he was literally and blatantly wrong.

News articles from as early as 1905 credit London doctor Harold Des Veaux with coining the word smog to describe natural fog contaminated by smoke, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Great Britain’s affliction with foul air is referenced in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, written in 1606. But its soot-choked skies date as far back as the 12th century, when wood became scarce and residents turned to burning coal to keep warm, according to a history of the country’s air pollution by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It’s clear that other urban centers fought the effects of smog long before anyone imagined the metropolis we call Los Angeles.

So, what kind of smoke was the governor blowing?

“Jerry Brown — brilliant as he is — is confusing some facts,” said Chip Jacobs, author of Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. “We didn’t invent smog. Smog has been known to arise in many parts of the world well before he was born.”

We were headed for a False or Pants On Fire!

Then, Jacobs added this comment: “Brown did have something right in his jumbled pronouncement — the Caltech professor.”


News and Notes from a Broiling Planet



* 2015 Likely to Be Hottest Year Ever RecordedThe New York Times

China Confronts the Pain of Kicking its Coal AddictionWashington Post 

Atmospheric chemistry: China’s choking cocktailNature

Apple Announces Factory Upgrades In Plan To Help China Reduce Air PollutionHuffington Post

New Megalopolis a Fresh Chance to Clean China’s Skies, Report SaysWall Street Journal

IBM’s Watson Could Hold The Key To Fighting Beijing’s Brutal PollutionGizmodo 

How Angelenos Beat Back SmogZocalo Public Square 

Los Angeles, Beijing agree on plan to promote clean air as part of Obama-Xi dealLos Angeles Times

* India Announces Plan to Lower Rate of Greenhouse Gas EmissionsThe New York Times



Beijing, Smogtown & Mandarin On Our Minds

11822786_10207441487863207_8367628389245871588_nLadies and gentlemen: may we present the cover of The People’s Republic of Chemicals Mandarin language version. This edition, published by the Beijing-based Central Party School Publishing House, should be out this month. Chip was recently interviewed about it in Xinhua and the South China Morning Post, among other outlets.

The People’s Republic of Chemicals, of course, is our sequel to our critically Smogtown paperback rough cover acclaimed Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles. The paperback version of it, updated and expanded with a new chapter on the global air pollution buffeting the Third World, will be available in mid-October through The Overlook Press/Penguin Group USA. Smogtown Mandarin, distributed by Shanghai Scientific and Technical Publishers, has exceeded our expectations. Not only has it been a bestseller on Amazon China, but it’s notched three national awards there in 2014, including being named the country’s “Most Influential Book.”


* “China’s Carbon Dioxide Emissions May Have Been Overstated By More Than 10%”The New York Times

* China Air Pollution Kills 4,000 People A Day: ResearchersBloomberg Business

* Mapping the invisible scourge: A New Study Suggests That Air Pollution Is Even Worse Than Thought” – The Economist 

* Fear of Toxic Air and Distrust of Government Follow Tianjin BlastsThe New York Times

* “China Is Exporting Ozone Pollution To The U.S. — Which Is Only Fair” – Grist

* “California Drought: Climate Change Plays A Role, Study Says. But How Big?Los Angeles Times

* “Garcetti, Officials Release 20,000 Shade Balls Into L.A. Reservoir” – Los Angeles Daily News

* Genetically Modified Algae Could Replace Oil For PlasticScientific American 

* “This Dutch Windwheel Holds 72 Apartments And Could Power An Entire TownScience Alert


Prepping for China, Book Scores More Recognition & Some Summer Reading


* “Bailing Out the Earth: 10 Books that Propose Solutions to Climate Change: The People’s Republic of Chemicals makes the cut! “

“So many science fiction novels depict humans of the future seeking out new worlds after having nearly destroyed the earth. But where is the fiction set in the present showing people attempting to save the earth today? If there isn’t much fiction, at least there’s nonfiction, written by top notch scholars and journalists, that can help us better understand what we’re doing to the planet and its atmosphere, analyze possible solutions, and lead us in the right direction.”

* The People’s Republic of Chemicals earns Gold and Silver at the Green Book Festival / Here’s the conference where Chip will speaking about L.A.’s experience digging out of its poisonous culture. 

Beijing Says Its Air Pollution Better in First Half of 2015 – The New York Times

“Air quality in Beijing, notorious for its smoggy sky, improved during the first six months of 2015, the city government said.The concentration of PM 2.5 — tiny airborne particles that are particularly harmful to human health — dropped by 15.2 percent from a year earlier to an average of 77.7 micrograms per cubic meter during the first half of the year, the government said, citing data from the municipal environment protection bureau …”

 Amazing Video Shows What LA’s Night Skies Would Look Like Without Pollution – Iflscience 

“Light pollution sounds fairly harmless, and not like the heavy stuff of air pollution. However, it is a serious problem, and actually refers to the way in which city lights interfere with the visibility of dark skies. To raise awareness of the problem and to show us what we are missing out on, the Skyglow Project – brainchild of renowned timelapse artists Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic– released the mesmerising timelapse video shown below of dark skies in North America superimposed over urbanscapes in Los Angeles.”

World is on a collision course with fossil fuels, Gov. Jerry Brown says – Los Angeles Times

“After two days of rubbing shoulders with an international collection of politicians, Gov. Jerry Brown emerged from a climate-change conference here with new partnerships in the fight against global warming. In a speech Wednesday to government officials and environmental advocates that capped his trip, the governor took aim at “troglodytes” who deny the threat of climate change, and insisted that all aspects of modern life must be scrutinized to save the planet. “We have to redesign our cities, our homes, our cars, our electrical generation, our grids — all those things,” Brown said. “And it can be done with intelligence. We can get more value from less material …”

Latest numbers show at least 5 metres sea-level rise locked in – New Scientist 

“Whatever we do now, the seas will rise at least 5 metres. Most of Florida and many other low-lying areas and cities around the world are doomed to go under. If that weren’t bad enough, without drastic cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions – more drastic than any being discussed ahead of the critical climate meeting in Paris later this year – a rise of over 20 metres will soon be unavoidable …”

May Pollution Showers – Provocative links from the authors of PRC & Smogtown

Thank you John Oliver. You are our hero. Your fulmination against sweatshops can apply to Western blind spots when it comes to how are “Made-in-China” products are manufactured. We are not worthy! 



– Beijing’s Air is Now a Little Less ToxicGrist –  

– Here’s What China Closing Coal-Power Plants Means for EmissionsBloomberg Business

–  Why is this City the Worst Air Polluter?CNN –  Himalayas Fail as Pollutants BarrierScientific American 


– The Environmental Impact of China’s Investment in AfricaInternational Policy Digest

– Chinese Developer Leads Transformation of L.A.’ SkylineLos Angeles Times   * CHINA AND COAL V 2.0 *  – Miners of HuaibeiChinaFile

– China’s National Coal Cap Policy Could Save Nearly 50,000 Lives and $6.2 Billion Every Year by 2020Huffington Post


– Four in 10 Americans Are Breathing Unhealthy, Polluted Air. Are you? – NBC News

– The Hidden Benefits of Cutting Coal Pollution, and Why They MatterThe Washington Post



Hitting the Smoggy Road


* We’re pleased to announce that Chip will be speaking at a pretty cool event in May at Beijing’s first ever CHINA US CLEAN AIR SYMPOSIUM. Also participating in this two-day exchange of ideas and viewpoints is a dude named Al Gore, a Southern California clean-air legend, Dr. James Lents, and a passel of other learned people and government officials. Chip is humbled to be part of this effort to learn from our hazy past in a world sucker-punched by pollution far and wide.

* On a similar upbeat note, Bill will be speaking in Rhode Island at Brown University’s Watson Institute China Summit 2015The theme is “China’s Stride Forward.” From the introduction: “Today, more than 60 years after formation of the People’s Republic of China and three decades of unparalleled rapid economic growth, what lies ahead for this nation is an interesting and important topic that warrants examination. During this exciting time of transformation, newfangled ideas become the norm. Brown China Summit 2015 explores perspectives from education, entrepreneurship and technology, art, and environmental public policy to facilitate discussion on and promote a deeper understanding of China’s “new normal.”

Coal, Cement, Mercury, Lawsuits and Thanks: Hot Links from the The People’s Republic of Chemicals


* CHINA’S COAL USE AND ESTIMATED CO2 EMISSIONS FELL IN 2014 Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog: “Good news! China’s coal consumption fell by 2.9 percent in 2014, the first drop in 14 years, according to official Chinese energy statistics released yesterday. Glen Peters of the Global Carbon Project calculates that China’s COemissions have also fallen, by 0.7 percent, for the first time this century. So contrary to grumbling in the U.S. Congress about the strength, or even existence, of China’s climate commitments, it’s clear that China’s efforts to cut its coal consumption and carbon emissions are not only real, but are already producing results. Here are three reasons why China is acting on climate change and air pollution: …”

* CHINA BRAINSTORMS TO CONTROL POLLUTION – UPI: “It is no secret China has a serious air pollution problem, but less known are proposed solutions, the results of brainstorming in the press. Residents are encouraged to think of resolutions, and some require less technology than others. Ideas are encouraged, and some are evidence to observers that China is not ready to resolve its smog issues. The city of Los Angeles was similarly swamped with silver-bullet approaches to its smog issues in the 1950s.  “We’re seeing the exact same thing in China that we saw in L.A. — crazy ideas coming out of the woodwork,” says Chip Jacobs, co-author of a book about the history of smog in Los Angeles. The city of Wuhan, China, is pondering skyscrapers painted with a smog-eating substance. A giant vacuuming device has been proposed for Beijing, as well as an “urban wind passage” accomplished by regulating building heights to create an airflow. Beijing could also a 100-mile canal to the Pacific Ocean to be used as a fresh-air corridor … “

* HOW CHINA USED MORE CEMENT IN 3 YEARS THAN THE U.S. DID IN THE ENTIRE 20TH CENTURY The Washington Post: “China used more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the U.S. used in the entire 20th Century. It’s a statistic so mind-blowing that it stunned Bill Gates and inspired haiku. But can it be true, and, if so, how? Yes, China’s economy has grown at an extraordinary rate, and it has more than four times as many people as the United States. But the 1900s were America’s great period of expansion, the century in which the U.S. built almost all of its roads and bridges, the Interstate system, the Hoover Dam, and many of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. And China and the U.S. are roughly the same size in terms of geographic area, ranking third and fourth in the world, respectively …”

* CHINA COURT TO HEAR NGO LAWSUIT TARGETING POLLUTER’S PROFITS ChineFile: An environmental group has filed a lawsuit for 30 million yuan (U.S.$4.8 million) to seek compensation from a Shandong chemical company for pumping out harmful substances—a legal action thought to be the first public interest litigation for air pollution under China’s new environmental law. On Wednesday, the Intermediate People’s Court in the Shandong city of Dezhou agreed to hear a lawsuit requesting compensation for air pollution from Dezhou Jinghua, which makes chemicals for use in the glass industry. Victims of the smog that plagues many industrialized parts of China are unable to sue those responsible, due to the difficulty of calculating the amount of financial damages from air pollution. The All-China Environmental Federation (ACEF), which brought the lawsuit, is basing the potential amount of damages on the offending company’s operating costs, in the hope this will provide a route to successful public interest litigation. Ma Yong, deputy head of ACEF’s Environmental Legal Services Center, explained that such cases are indeed rare, due to difficulties in gathering evidence and assessing damages. “Companies such as this, which refuse to change despite repeated warnings, can only be dealt with through the courts,” Ma said. If awarded, the compensation would be paid to the Dezhou city government and earmarked for dealing with air pollution …”

* BEIJING TO SHUT ALL MAJOR COAL POWER PLANTS TO CUT POLLUTION Bloomberg: “Beijing, where pollution averaged more than twice China’s national standard last year, will close the last of its four major coal-fired power plants next year. The capital city will shutter China Huaneng Group Corp.’s 845-megawatt power plant in 2016, after last week closing plants owned by Guohua Electric Power Corp. and Beijing Energy Investment Holding Co., according to a statement Monday on the website of the city’s economic planning agency. A fourth major power plant, owned by China Datang Corp., was shut last year.  The facilities will be replaced by four gas-fired stations with capacity to supply 2.6 times more electricity than the coal plants. The closures are part of a broader trend in China, which is the world’s biggest carbon emitter. Facing pressure at home and abroad, policy makers are racing to address the environmental damage seen as a byproduct of breakneck economic growth. Beijing plans to cut annual coal consumption by 13 million metric tons by 2017 from the 2012 level in a bid to slash the concentration of pollutants …”

* JOE MATHEWS: WITHOUT A BOOST FROM CHINA, WHERE WOULD CALIFORNIA BE? The Sacramento Bee: “Dear President Xi Jinping: This is a thank-you note from California. Thank you, first, for sustaining our neighborhoods through these last difficult years. Thank you for keeping wealthy Chinese so nervous about your purges of political opponents – oops, I mean your anti-corruption campaigns – that they are buying real estate all over California.  More than half of all U.S. home purchases by Chinese buyers are in the Golden State. In the San Gabriel Valley, where I live, Chinese arrivals have provided the housing market with much of its ballast and our communities with a disproportionate share of their new energy. But we have so much more to thank you for than housing. Thank you for all you’ve done for California business. Thank you for all the Chinese vacationers and medical tourists who fill our hotels and our hospitals. Thank you for all the wealthy Chinese who shop here – and keep our high-end stores in business.  Please give my thanks to your friends at Alibaba for keeping Yahoo afloat; until the struggling Sunnyvale company spun off its $35 billion stake recently, the Chinese e-commerce company accounted for 85 percent of Yahoo’s market value …”

  * ACHIEVING CALIFORNIA’S GOAL OF SUSTAINABLE ENERGY FUTURE The Sacramento Bee: “Not so long ago, the idea that renewable energy could be relied upon to power our electric grid was considered far-fetched and too expensive. But having spent 40 years involved in the field, first as a legislative staffer and later as a lobbyist and consultant for environmental causes, I have witnessed a remarkable journey. Yes, air pollution remains a problem, particularly in the Central Valley. But the air is far better than it once was. And in the past 10 years, renewable sources have gone from being a slice of green on the dirty fossil fuel grid to being cost competitive and more reliable than nuclear energy and coal, and catching up with natural gas. The cost of wind and solar power has fallen, and performance has improved. Technology exists to store electricity and modulate the grid to coincide with demand. All of it opens a path to reliable, affordable, low-carbon energy with less vulnerability to imported fuel price spikes. All this opens the possibility to more jobs and tax revenue for the state …”

* INVISIBLE SOLAR CELLS THAT COULD POWER SKYSCRAPERS – Bloomberg: “Silicon Valley startup Ubiquitous Energy is making the world’s first transparent solar cells, a technology that could greatly expand the reach of solar power. Their technology is an invisible film that can go on any surface and generate power, which could lead to cell phones and tablets that never run out of batteries — or skyscrapers that can use their massive banks of windows as solar panels.” 

* HOW BRAIN-DAMAGING MERCURY PUTS ARCTIC KIDS AT RISK – National Geographic: “In the frozen far north, in Arctic Quebec, the Inuit have relied on the same nutritious foods culled from the oceans for centuries: beluga whale, fish, seal, and walrus. But some of these traditional foods have become so contaminated with brain-damaging mercury that the IQs of schoolchildren in remote Arctic villages are abnormally low. Inuit kids with the highest exposures to mercury in the womb are four times more likely than less-exposed Inuit kids to have low IQs and require remedial education, according to new findings by a team of researchers in Canada and the United States. The children scored on average almost five points lower on IQ tests. “This study adds to a wealth of evidence that mercury from seafood can damage brain development in children,” said Philippe Grandjean, a Harvard University neuroscientist who co-authored landmark research on the effects of mercury on children in the North Atlantic’s Faroe Islands …”



The People’s Republic of Chemicals Named a 2014 IndieFab Awards Book of the Year Finalist!





Thank you Forewords, and best of luck to all the finalists. Ecology & Environment competition – the Authors