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

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* “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 …”

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

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* 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!

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

“Outstanding … accessible … a well-rounded portrait” – 5 heart (or stars)

UnknownThe rapid industrialization of the world’s most populous nation has far-reaching effects for the world’s environment and economy, and in The People’s Republic of Chemicals, journalists William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs detail how extreme China’s pollution problem has become. The authors do a nice job of mixing firsthand journalism with history and using a reporting style that thoroughly explains an important but potentially wonkish in a way that should make it accessible and interesting to a large audience. (Link)

Kelly and Jacobs trace China’s current situation back centuries, from the East–West connections formed during Marco Polo’s journeys there, through the growth of China’s coal industry, up through the export-driven economy that has grown in recent decades—and the constant increase in new factories to feed that demand. While industrialization has exploded, it has also created a series of crises in public health, with millions of Chinese adults dying prematurely due to air pollutants. The pollution has obvious implications for climate change worldwide and for health in other nations in the region, and how China deals with the problem will clearly impact the future of international trade and energy policy.

The reporters help tell this story by introducing readers to people directly impacted, from villagers dying from illness to activists trying to get accurate information about China’s smog to citizens. A good deal of their reporting involves the 2008 Beijing Olympics, during which many observers got to witness the true extent of Chinese air pollution for the first time, from athletes skipping events due to breathing problems to the visible smog televised around the world. They capture citizen voices by covering large-scale protests, including both marches and social media campaigns. And they report on how industrialization is forcing a country once dominated by agriculture to abandon that for bigger cities and more industry, and therefore more pollution with more dangerous consequences.

Using these kinds of examples effectively depicts the human costs of the problem, but Kelly and Jacobs don’t skimp on either the hard science or the policy analysis. They detail how the smog got so bad, using previous smog disasters in California and Japan for context, while explaining why this disaster presents a greater challenge. Similarly, the pair do an outstanding job of showing the causes and effects of the interdependency between American consumers and Chinese manufacturers.

The result is a well-rounded portrait of China’s current crisis, how it stretches far beyond its geographic borders, and how crucial it is to solve.

Australia Fears China’s Clean Air Policies

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Clive Palmer, leader of Australia’s United Party.

 

In a positive development, coal production in China has declined and the price of the dirtiest of fuels has gone up as a result.

Bloomberg’s Sarah Chen reported September 29 that the price of coal rose for the first time in China since June under the government’s policy to trim output by 5 percent, boosting the price from 475 to 480 yuan. That’s $78.20 a ton, compared to $56.50 for Appalachian coal and just $10.87 a ton for Western coal in the U.S. Some market analysts expect coal in China to hit 555 yuan ($89.59) by year’s end, particularly as winter demand picks up.

Coal mining companies that violate the government’s limitation on output face fines of up to 2 million yuan (about $376,000).

Business Week reports the cutback in China threatens coal production in Australia, which has China as its chief export market. China buys 25 percent of Australia’s coal exports, or some 50 million tons a year.

But it doesn’t stop there. China is seeking to cut coal imports 15 percent, which also could hit Indonesia and the U.S. where export tonnage to Asia in the first half of 2014 fell 2.3 percent, according to EIA.

In Australia, China’s policy to cut coal use is causing a political backlash, prompting Clive Palmer, leader of Australia’s United Party, to rail on TV that “Chinese mongrels . . . want to take over our ports and get our resources for free.”

While Palmer later apologized for his impolitic remark against his nation’s biggest trading partner, the incident demonstrates how policies to clean up the air can have far reaching effects.

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 . . .

 

 

 

How Chinese Solar Energy Can Eclipse Chinese Coal

On a positive note, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reported in The Telegraph May 30 that China’s Wuxi Suntech Power projects that by 2016 it will be able to match the price of coal power with its photovoltaic panels. He writes:

“The company’s chief executive, Eric Luo, told RenewEconomy that grid parity is at hand, even in competing with the cheapest and dirtiest form of fossil fuels.

“We are sure that by 2016 – or at the latest 2017 – the levellised cost of solar PV will be the same as coal-fired generation. It is going to completely transform the energy market in China,” he said.”

Evans-Pritchard goes on to note that while the cost of solar is coming down, the cost of mining coal is going up. That points to a potential turning point in energy economics in China, where coal provides about 70 percent of the nation’s primary energy and where coal consumption has been inexorably rising.

But another important piece of the unfolding story involves storing energy from the sun to use at night and during cloudy weather. The Achilles heel of renewable energy so far has been its intermittent nature compared to coal, which burns brightly to provide power 24-7-365.

Now, another Chinese entrepreneur, Winston Chung, believes he may have that covered. In a little known move earlier this month, several public agencies in Riverside, California, switched on a solar system that includes a huge battery storage bank, using lithium-yttrium batteries developed by Chung’s company, Winston Battery Manufacturing Ltd.

The system consists of solar panels that can generate up to 4 MW when producing at peak capacity on a bright sunny afternoon. The California Energy Commission says that’s enough to power about 5,500 homes. However, in this case, the project being managed by the University of California at Riverside will instead send power to 27 electric vehicle charging stations in various locations on campus and in the city of Riverside, plus charge an electric trolley used by the Riverside Transit Agency.

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Chung’s battery bank will be used to store energy from the sun and then feed to the bus and electric cars that plug into the charging stations.

Driving down both the price of solar panels and the price of energy storage batteries is the ability to achieve economies of scale, something China’s manufacturers have mastered.

Lower-priced solar panels, coupled with storage, could well be the game changer China needs to turn away from coal. And that would both clean up its foul air and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to stave off catastrophic climate change.

It’s a fascinating and important potential turn of events. Stay tuned here as it all unfolds.

So Many People, So Much Murk & Karma – the People’s Republic of Chemicals

* Chip discusses his forthcoming book, The People’s Republic of Chemicals, and global smog on National Public Radio affiliate KCRW. Madeleine Brand, who hosts the “Press Play” show, had some terrific questions.

* As we announced earlier, Smogtown will be published in Mandarin and available in Mainland China soon through Shanghai Scientific & Technical Publishers. One version of it at least is already available here at Amazon.com – China.

* While five-and-a-half-years behind 0ur book launch (but who’s counting?), the Glendale Public Library was gracious enough to give Smogtown a wonderful review.

Smogtown isn’t a new book, but the conflicts covered in its last chapters are still breaking news. The LA Times’ Trash talk and the real dirt on a toxic tour of Los Angeles, just featured one of Smogtown‘s history makers, Communities for a Better Environment … The earlier history in this book is entertaining and enlightening. In contrast with dry accounts of the decades-long struggle the auto industry waged to avoid emission limits, this book covers selected battles by focusing on personalities like Haagen-Smit and vendettas like the war waged on Detroit by Supervisor Kenneth Hahn for better pollution controls on cars. Its chapters make for great drama instead of dry documentary. Scientists, politicians, lobbyists and determined bureaucrats on both sides fight it out, while residents used to burning their trash and driving their cars suffer through smog alerts but are difficult to motivate … Smogtown is great reading because much of the history it covers is still unfolding today: The BNSF Southern California International Gateway project, an inter-modal facility four miles from the port, is being actively opposed by the City of Long Beach, Communities for a Better Environment, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and other groups. Long Beach is suing Los Angeles over approval of the SCIG EIR. The I-710 expansion EIR, in the works for years, is being held up and is actively opposed by a large coalition proposing its own Community Alternative 7.  For more background on Southern California’s goods movement infrastructure, environmental justice movement, research on fine particulate pollution, and personalities still making news today, Smogtown is a great resource.