Detroit East

Sometimes a graph is worth a thousand words.

Worldwatch Institute this week reported that China is undisputedly the world’s top auto manufacturing nation, producing twice as many vehicles as the U.S.

Automakers from around the world have moved into that nation big-time to supply the growing ranks of the well-to-do with sport utility vehicles and sedans.

Traveling in China recently, I couldn’t help but notice that gas-guzzling Mercedes, Audis, and other luxury models seemed to be the cars of choice.

Worldwatch further noted that worldwide auto production reached a new record in 2013 of 84.7 million cars, up from 81.5 million in 2012. China made almost a fourth of those cars—more than 20 million vehicles—compared to more than 10 million made in the U.S.

Record production last year brought the total number of vehicles in the world to more than 1 billion, Worldwatch said. That’s about one car for every seven people on earth.

Little wonder that greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.CarProduction


China’s Coal Use Declining?

Is coal use declining in China under various policy pronouncements by the Xi Jinping Administration to cap and curtail use of the mineral that marveled Marco Polo when traveling about Cathay and replace it with natural gas? Bloomberg News dwelled on that idea in its report on the fossil fuel giant BP’s annual statistical release this week.

“In China, coal accounted for 67.5 percent of the total energy demand, the lowest on record because of new measures to combat pollution,” wrote Bloomberg reporter Nidaa Bakhsh. That’s down from 70 percent just a few years ago and would seem to mark progress toward reducing the cloud of filth that frequently drapes China, not to mention the nation’s torrent of greenhouse gases.

But dig into the tables in BP’s report—often cited by energy insiders as the Bible of data on fossil fuel reserves, production, and consumption—and the story is . . . well, a bit different.

Turning to page 33 of the BP 2013 Statistical Review of World Energy shows that China’s coal use grew by 4 percent in 2013. So how could coal then decline in terms of the total amount of energy it supplies the world’s most populous nation?

It turns out that coal is just one growing slice of a growing fossil fuel energy pie. China’s natural gas consumption grew by 10.8 percent in 2013, according to BP. Oil consumption increased 3.8 percent. This means that when the International Energy Agency eventually releases its estimates of greenhouse gas emissions for 2013, we’ll surely see that China’s emissions, already the highest in the world, continued to rise last year despite the green pronouncements.

Meanwhile, presenting themselves as saviors to the growing legions suffering droughts, storms, and heat waves climate scientists call a consequence of global warming, are the folks from the natural gas industry. In Russia they spell their name Gazprom. In the U.S. they advertise themselves simply as “America’s Natural Gas” on the evening news. Remember, that China signed a 30-year, $400 billion gas supply deal with Gazprom last month when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Beijing. China also purchases liquefied natural gas brought in refrigerator ships from overseas. In hopes of tapping that market, federal officials in the U.S. this week okayed another liquefied natural gas export terminal to relieve U.S. producers of a surfeit of the fuel produced using much touted hydrofracturing technology, usually just referred to as “fracking.”

The merchants of gas call it a bridge fuel until renewable energy is possible (as if the solar panels on my roof which power the computer I write on is but a concept). They say burning more gas will hold the line on the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere that’s causing a feverish climate, plus clean up air pollution in cities of China and across the globe. Natural gas, says America’s Natural Gas Alliance, is used to make power, fuel vehicles, and provide energy and feedstocks for manufacturers. “Through each of these uses, natural gas is reducing emissions.” Really?

david freeman

S. David Freeman, retired public power executive.

Not so, says S. David Freeman, who spent a lifetime buying and burning natural gas to make power as head of several public utilities. In a recent radio interview on Background Briefing hosted by Ian Masters, Freeman pointed out that natural gas is methane, and methane is a more powerful agent of global warming than the carbon dioxide you get when you burn it.

The problem, he points out, is leakage during drilling, production, treatment, and transportation in pipelines, etc. To top that off, the International Panel on Climate Change—a team of scientists organized by the United Nations to study the causes and effects of global warming—says it’s 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, as opposed to 21 times more powerful, as originally thought. Joe Romm, former assistant secretary of energy at the U.S. DOE, points that out in Climate Progress.

But industry still hasn’t accepted the latest science and continues to rely on natural gas being just 21 times more powerful as a warming agent when it claims its product cuts greenhouse gases. And that drives Freeman wild, who concludes, “We’re going to substitute Marlboros for Camels, natural gas for coal.” No offense to big tobacco and little help to Chinese breathers or the world’s atmosphere.

Smogtown Goes to China, arguably civilization’s most polluted nation ever, and Opens Some Bloodshot Eyes.

81bxHcWN15L._AA1500_ Our book, Smogtown: the Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles (The Overlook Press/Penguin Group U.S.A.) was released in November 2008, just as the U.S. economy began to crater into that steaming hole we call the  Great Recession. Despite that inauspicious timing, the book garnered critical success, but still came up a wee bit short of our expectations. The monstrous air pollution, toxic waterways and blighted soil of China 2.0 that sprung up there after its admission to the World Trade Organization has done more than capture the green-world’s horror. It’s given our book about one of the modern world’s first environmental catastrophes a second life. Smogtown is now available in China, both in its original English form and, excitedly, also in Mandarin, replete with newly designed cover and title through the Shanghai Scientific and Technical PublishersLos Angeles Haze Revelation. So far, the later is doing very well if the grapevine and Amazon rankings mean anything. We say, thank you, China, and thank you to our foreign publisher. With The People’s Republic of Chemicals – our sequel about China’s eco-morass and Western blood  on its hands  — on the launching pad, we couldn’t be more humbled.

For kicks, we thought we’d use Google Translate to see what Chinese experts and book-readers are saying about the book so far as a lodestar to start reversing Asia’s ecological blitzing, a good slab of it from producing Western manufactured goods. Excuse the choppy language in their comments. Not easy switching tongues, though we’ve tried to clean up the comments for obvious grammar issues.

Academician Zhisheng: This is a vivid representation of the Los Angeles air-pollution control process; popular science; it has science, but it’s not daunting; it is literary, well-founded; concise language, the story exciting.

Academician Zhou Weijian: Free breathing air is not a dream; the key is how to do it.

Reader Susan:  … the Los Angeles Haze Apocalypse (or “Revelation” as it’s also sometimes called)  is worth reading. It took four nights, as well as time reading it going to work on the subway; it’s emotional reading. History always repeats in stages. Many of the plots in the book are taking place  on our side. Facing the haze, many Los Angeles/California officials vowed that within five years that they’d strive to solve the problem. Was it possible? Los Angeles suffered the first serious haze in 1943. After sixty years of treatment, the air quality in Los Angeles has undergone a drastic improvement, though in comparison Los Angeles smog still ranks first among major U.S. cities. Controlling visible pollution is an enormous task. I recommended Chinese officials take time  to read this book. In fact, as a matter of controlling China’s smog, everyone should. Blind pursuit of so-called “high quality of life” — luxury cars, mansions — continue to make “contributions” to the problem. So in order to have the blue sky,we need to  drive less and a promote a low-carbon life.

Reader Vividts: I do not know where to begin. Even with an essential, home air purifier, buying 3M masks and paying attention to the daily PM2.5 index, friends and colleagues will not stop lamenting that this is happening and ask how the predicament can be reversed? At the ideological level, we’ve never seriously thought about where haze (smog in all its malicious varieties) comes from? Why the frequent days of fog and haze? What do we have to sacrifice to get the blue sky back? We lack the ideological inspiration. But, is controlling smog really is the government’s task? After reading this book, I do not think so. From the government down to every citizen, we should unite to think about this question. The environment cannot be repaired by the power of the government/Establishment on its own. In order to promote change that produces ideologically effective action, this book is worth reading! Star recommendation.

Reader Lianggh17Smog has hit us. You can’t avoid it. The question is how to solve this vexing problem. Anyone can enjoy their own things from this book.

Gas, Solar, & Hot Air

The massive gas deal between China and Russia last month— touted as a possible turning point toward cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions in China—appeared to overshadow a significant development in the U.S.-Chinese relationship regarding renewable energy and its clean air potential. While many argue that the shale gas revolution in America and the big gas deal between the two Eurasian giants hold the keys to cleaner air and cutting greenhouse gases (we’ll examine that here later), there’s no question that with a need to cut greenhouse gases by more than 80 percent to head off runaway global warming renewable energy remains the holy grail.

Cutting to the chase, BBC News reported June 3 that the U.S. Commerce Department has decided to up tariffs on Chinese solar cells and panels because of unfair subsidies by Beijing to its own national manufacturers. BBC reported:

“The Department of Commerce said it plans to impose duties of between 18.56% to 35.21%. That is much higher than the tariffs announced in 2012. The duties will be levied on solar panels and the cells used to make them. Previously they covered just the cells. The US has said that import duties will help offset the subsidies given by China to solar panel makers. “

But is the U.S. doing somebody else’s bidding?

It seems BBC left out one important fact, astutely noted here June 4 by CNBC’s Everett Rosenfeld. He reported that:

“The new duties were in response to a petition from SolarWorld, a German solar manufacturer with major operations in the U.S., which sought to eliminate a loophole whereby Beijing-subsidized solar manufacturers avoided previous U.S. rulings by making key parts in Taiwan. SolarWorld argued that those subsidies significantly hurt the U.S. solar manufacturing sector.”

First, let’s be precise about the phrase “major operations.” Here’s what SolarWorld’s website says verbatim about its U.S. operations:

“SolarWorld has two major locations in the United States. The sales location in Camarillo, California, produced solar modules since 1977, whilst the site in Hillsboro, Oregon, has been bringing new expertise in monocrystalline modules to the solar group since 2008. Today, SolarWorld is operating the United States’ first fully integrated solar production at this site.”

It then goes on to show that most of the company’s operations are in Europe, but also in Singapore, Japan, and other nations around the world.

Now, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture of the U.S. Solar industry presented earlier this year in the National Solar Jobs Census 2013, released by the Solar Foundation in January 2014. The census shows that in the U.S. the majority of jobs—particularly the better paying ones— are in solar system installation, which pays workers an hourly average of $23.65 compared to U.S. solar manufacturing workers, who make $15 (the new minimum wage in Seattle) to $18.23 per hour. Here’s a 2013 breakdown of solar jobs in the U.S. from the report: installation 69,658 jobs, manufacturing 29,851, sales & distribution 19,771, project design & development 12,169, and other 11,248

Small wonder that the U.S. Solar Energy Industries Association—which represents the broad array of companies involved in the industry, from installers to manufacturers and ancillary equipment makers that build solar mounting racks, inverters, and provide other components and services needed to flip the switch of a solar power system—denounced the Commerce Department’s decision. Here’s what association president Rhone Resch had to say:

“These damaging tariffs will increase costs for U.S. solar consumers and, in turn, slow the adoption of solar within the United States. Ironically, the tariffs may provide little to no direct benefit to the sole petitioner SolarWorld, as we saw in the 2012 investigations. It’s time to end this needless litigation with a negotiated solution that addresses SolarWorld’s trade allegations while ensuring the continued growth of the U.S. solar market.”

The fact is that solar manufacturing is a global industry, dominated by multinational companies that set up highly automated production plants that employ few workers in the places that are the most economical in order to serve their markets.

Here’s a list of the top ten solar manufacturers in the world from Solarbuzz:

Top Solar Makers

Note that the only company headquartered in the U.S. on the list is First Solar and it manufactures in Malaysia, as well as the U.S. Number three Sharp, based in Japan, manufactures in the U.S., Japan, Italy, and other locations.

Indeed, solar manufacturing is following the same pattern as manufacturers of clothing, cell phones, computers, televisions, household appliances, cars, and other goods. It’s chasing the lowest operational costs and doing what’s needed in locating plants to access markets. Manufacturing has been doing that under free trade agreements backed by both Republicans and Democrats and largely cemented into place during the 1990s by President Bill Clinton, as detailed in our forthcoming book The People’s Republic of Chemicals.

So where does the broad public interest lie? Surely not in trade complaint cases brought by German companies in the U.S. against China. The broader interest lies in advancing solar and other forms of renewable energy to provide a variety of jobs around the world—from the U.S. to China—in the name of environmental improvement. Doing that requires bringing down the cost of solar energy, which at this point entails massive subsidies not only in Beijing, but in the U.S., where solar homeowners (and I am one, with panels produced by Canadian Solar) recently get about 50 percent of the cost of a system covered by subsidies from Washington and in my case the state of California, not to mention subsidies directed to manufacturers.

The subsidies are paying off too, having helped reduce the real cost of installed solar systems—which provide emissions-free power—by about two-thirds since 1998 in the U.S. , according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

So what’s that old adage? People who live in glass houses . . .