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

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CHINA … 

— “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

 

LOS ANGELES/CALIFORNIA … 

— “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

 

CLIMATE CHANGE … 

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

 

YOUR AUTHORS … 

— 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 

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! 


 

* CHINESE POLLUTION *

– 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 


* CHINESE MONEY *

– 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


* MADE-IN-AMERICA SMOG * 

– 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


* HEALTH * 

 

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 …”

 

 

“Under the Dome,” Censorship, Class Divides, California Lessons, Nuke plants, Coal and Metal

“Under the Dome” with English subtitles

* “China Blocks Web Access to ‘Under the Dome’ Documentary on Pollution” – The New York Times:  “Under the Dome,” a searing documentary about China’s catastrophic air pollution, had hundreds of millions of views on Chinese websites within days of its release one week ago. The country’s new environment minister compared it to “Silent Spring,” the landmark 1962 book that energized the environmental movement in the United States. Domestic and foreign journalists clamored to interview the filmmaker, a famous former television reporter, though she remained silent. Then on Friday afternoon, the momentum over the video came to an abrupt halt, as major Chinese video websites deleted it under orders from the Communist Party’s central propaganda department. The startling phenomenon of the video, the national debate it set off and the official attempts to quash it reflect the deep political sensitivities in the struggle within the Chinese bureaucracy to reverse China’s environmental degradation, among the worst in the world. The drama over the video has ignited speculation over which political groups were its supporters and which sought to kill it, and whether party leaders will tolerate the civic conversation and grass-roots activism that in other countries have been necessary to curbing rampant pollution. “It’s been spirited away by gremlins,” said Zhan Jiang, a professor of journalism and media studies in Beijing …

* “China’s Real Inconvenient Truth: It’s Class Divide” – Foreign Policy: China is talking about its pollution problem, but its equally serious class problem remains obscured behind the haze. Smog leapt to the forefront of Chinese national discourse after the Feb. 28 release of Under the Dome, a 103-minute-long documentary quickly hailed as China’s version of the Inconvenient Truth. In the film, which immediately went viral on social media and garnered 150 million online views within days before being censored, investigative reporter Chai Jing explained the root causes of air pollution that has ravaged so much of China in the past few years. But there’s a sharp class angle to the pollution question that Chai’s documentary did not engage. While smog is the most visible problem afflicting the middle class in mega-cities like Beijing and Shanghai, China’s other half — the rural and poor population — often suffer a nasty pollution paradox: They face health risks from their air and water, but also depend on polluting industries for their livelihoods …

* California, China Join Forces to Tackle Climate Change” – The Desert Sun: World leaders fighting to limit climate change should look to the partnership between California and China for inspiration, according to a new report co-authored by the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage. The report, released Wednesday at a San Francisco event attended by Gov. Jerry Brown, says California has “helped create something of a state model for subnational international cooperation on climate change and energy issues.” The New York-based Asia Society wrote the report with help from the Annenberg Foundation Trust, which operates the famed Sunnylands estate. “Both California and China are reaping benefits from their collaborations,” Geoffrey Cowan, president of the Annenberg Foundation Trust, said in a statement. “Not only are these partnerships uncovering solutions to protect the air, water, and ecosystems within each country, but they are also catalyzing increased trade and investment in clean technology in both countries.” The Sunnylands Center and Gardens — as the estate of the late diplomats and philanthropists Walter and Leonore Annenberg is formally known — has proved fertile ground for launching climate-related collaborations between the United States and China. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit there in June 2013, reaching an agreement to reduce the production of one type of greenhouse gas, hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs …

* “Watch This Haunting Seven-Minute Film About China’s Insane Air Pollution” – TIME:  Greenpeace East Asia today released a seven-minute film by director Jia Zhangke about China’s toxic air. The impressionistic piece, Smog Journeys, follows two families — one rural, one urban — as they live, play, and work in the country’s polluted northeast. “When it comes to smog, no matter what jobs we do, it is still a problem we all face,” says Jia in an interview released online. Jia is one of China’s most renowned filmmakers. His work is famously gritty, filled with tales of alienation and strife, and shot in shades of brown and gray. His last feature, A Touch of Sin (2013), was a critical hit abroad, but was considered too politically sensitive to be shown on the Chinese mainland …

*”China’s Nuclear Plant Plans Get New Momentum“- China Daily USA: China’s nuclear energy development plans got a fresh impetus on Wednesday after the State Council gave the green light for new reactors at the Hongyan River nuclear power plant. According to industry sources, units 5 and 6 of the Hongyan River nuclear plant in the northeastern Liaoning province got construction approval from the State Council before the Lunar New Year. “It is a big step forward for China to revive the industry and more nuclear projects are expected to start construction this year. However, the official documents are yet to be finalized,” a source in a State-owned nuclear company told China Daily …

* “China to Reduce Coal Consumption to Lessen Pollution” – Newsmax: China will reduce coal consumption and boost energy efficiency as part of efforts to lessen air pollution, according to an action plan released by the government on Friday. The world’s top consumer will cut coal consumption by over 80 million tons by 2017 and more than 160 million tons by 2020 through efficiency measures, under the 2015-2020 plan from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. China’s annual coal consumption, at about 3.7 billion tons, accounts for roughly 66 percent of the country’s energy demand. The coal-dominated energy mix in China has been identified as a major cause of the hazardous smog that frequently shrouds cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, as well as a significant source of climate-warming greenhouse gases. China aims for a reduction of dust emissions by 500,000 tons and sulfur dioxide by 600,000 tons by 2017, according to the plan. China is trying to strike a balance between improving its environment and restructuring away from an economy dominated by energy-intensive industries such as steel production. Premier Li Keqiang told the annual session of Parliament that the government planned to cut the country’s energy intensity, the amount of energy used per unit of GDP growth, by 3.1 percent in 2015, compared with a 4.8 percent fall in 2014. Li made fighting pollution a priority and is striving for zero growth in coal consumption in key areas of the country. By 2020, emissions of dust would be cut by 1 million tons and sulfur dioxide by 1.2 million tons, the ministry said …

* Our book, The People’s Republic of Chemicals takes silver at the Pacific Rim Book Festival

 

 

Reviews, a top ten literary list and some news and notes from under the dome

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* BOOKLIST names The People’s Republic of  Chemicals one of the ten best books on sustainability for the year!

ASIAN BOOK REVIEW “… The authors’ message is to remind us that we’re in serious trouble and that the situation is getting worse. China’s many announcements about increased environmental protection and its impressive accomplishments in installing solar and wind power should not obscure the reality that the environmental situation continues to deteriorate. An obsession with growth continues to triumph over the environment. We may look back and see that the  severe air pollution in Beijing in recent winters, which on bad days has been like breathing the air in a forest fire, marked a turning point. For now, Kelly and Jacobs are understandably sceptical that environmental progress in China is for real.”

* PASADENA WEEKLY  ” … More than a biting critique of China’s economic choices, which have led to the country’s current environmental crises, the book is also call to the Chinese government to curb its pollution and do the right thing, not only for itself, but the rest of the planet … Cancer villages, peasant uprisings, corruption at every level of society and tales of human struggle are interwoven with a gripping narrative. This truly impressive treatise of investigative reporting is a searing indictment of humanity’s disregard for itself. Every page leaves readers shaking their heads in disbelief, with every fact and figure illuminated by ornate prose and evocative passages. Through advocacy journalism, environmental activism, smog analysis, case studies and human stories, the book provides historical context that is absolutely critical to understanding why the Chinese so unashamedly abandoned their health in exchange for American currency …”

 

* LINKS OF INTEREST 

*  “U.S. Embassies to Monitor Air Quality” – Voice of America: “How bad is the air in your city? The U.S. embassy may soon have the answer. The State Department has announced plans to install air quality monitors at diplomatic posts and make the data publicly available. The program will begin in India, Vietnam and Mongolia. The aim is to provide important health information for U.S. government employees overseas, as well as for locals. And U.S. officials said, it may help inspire citizens to call for change. When an air quality monitor at the U.S. embassy in Beijing began reporting toxic pollution levels several years ago, “our hosts didn’t like it particularly,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. In fact, China’s vice environmental minister called it an illegal and unacceptable interference in the country’s internal affairs. But the information is available online, and after seeing how bad the problem is, Kerry said, Chinese “citizens are increasingly demanding action.” Speaking at a ceremony in Washington Wednesday, Kerry noted that the Chinese government is responding. Last year Chinese Premier Li Keqiang “declared war” on pollution. “That’s a quote,” Kerry said. Outdoor air pollution is responsible for 3.7 million annual deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization …”

China Must Cut Pollution by Half Before Environment Improves: Official” – Reuters: “China needs to slash emission levels by as much as half before any obvious improvements are made to its environment, a senior government official said on Friday, underscoring the challenges facing the country after three decades of breakneck growth. Zhai Qing, China’s deputy minister of environmental protection, told a briefing that pollutants had been cut by just “a few percentage points” since 2006 and had to drop much further if any progress is to be made. “According to expert assessments, emissions will have to fall another 30-50 percent below current levels if we are to see noticeable changes in environmental quality,” he said …”

* “London, L.A., Beijing, Delhi, Nairobi… Is Smog an Inevitable Urban Growing Pain?” – The New York Times: “… Prosperity enables environmental concern, and environmental concern becomes a political and social force. I made the point in 2013 when Beijing had an epic smog episode, noting how London, a half century earlier, had its killer smog …”

Pollution in China May Alter Weather in United States, Research Shows” – Weather Channel: Humans across the globe are connected now more than ever before; actions taken on one continent can affect people on another. Now, scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) and the California Institute of Technology (CIT) are showing this is true even for weather. New research out of JPL and CIT reveals that during our cold-weather season, pollution in China is altering weather patterns in the United States and other parts of the Northern Hemisphere. Jonathan H. Jiang, a JPL research scientist, explained to weather.com what this means. “During the wintertime, human-induced pollution such as coal burning in many Asian cities can create smog that lasts for weeks,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Under favorable wind conditions, pollution particles can be transported downwind across the North Pacific, where winter storms are prevalent.” In other words, those particles hitch a ride on the jet stream, notes Chris Dolce, a digital meteorologist with weather.com. “Once these pollutants enter the atmosphere in Asia, they can follow the jet stream, which waves its way from west to east through the Northern Hemisphere.” Then those particles can act as a “cloud nucleus,” according to Jiang, helping clouds to form and as such, changing storm prevalence and strength. For the past three decades, storms in the northwest Pacific have gained some strength and clouds have grown deeper, NASA reports. (According to Dolce, that means clouds growing taller and bigger to allow to them to produce precipitation.) Also during that time, China and other Asian countries experienced an economic surge — a fact that prompted Jiang and colleague Yuan Wang to explore whether one affected the other …

Beijing smog makes city unliveable, says mayor” – The Guardian: Beijing’s mayor, Wang Anshun, has called the city “unliveable” because of its noxious smog, according to state media. “To establish a first-tier, international, liveable and harmonious city, it is very important to establish a system of standards, and Beijing is currently doing this,” he said last Friday, according to the China Youth Daily newspaper. At the present time, however, Beijing is not a liveable city.” Anshun’s speech came days before the market research company Euromonitor International announced, in its findings on the global tourism market in 2013, that tourism to Beijing had declined by 10% from the year before due to pollution and a countrywide economic slowdown. The company’s top 100 city destination rankings, released on Tuesday, ranked Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok in its top three spots, followed by London and Paris. Beijing ranked 34th, in between Johannesburg and Sofia, Bulgaria. Wang, a former official in the state-controlled petroleum sector and in north-west China’s Gansu province, said the pollution was caused by its distribution of polluting factories and skyrocketing ownership of motor vehicles. In his speech, he demanded that Beijing’s polluting factories shut down entirely rather than “irresponsibly relocate” to neighboring areas of Hebei and Tianjin. In 2014, Beijing authorities closed 392 companies for causing pollution and took 476,000 old vehicles off the roads, Wang said. He added that despite the choking pollution, Beijing’s biggest problem was population control, claiming the influx of migrant labour put strains on the city’s infrastructure. The city has 21.5 million residents and is growing at a rate of more than 350,000 a year. In September 2013, China’s cabinet introduced a sweeping anti-pollution plan, which included prohibiting the construction of new coal-fired power plants in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the country’s three most important cities …”

* “Most China cities fail to meet air quality standardsBBC News: “Only eight out of China’s 74 biggest cities passed the government’s basic air quality standards in 2014, the environment ministry has said. The most polluted cities were in north-eastern Hebei, the province that surrounds the capital Beijing. Beijing and Shanghai both failed the assessment, which was based on measurements of major pollutants. China is attempting to cut pollution but the country still relies heavily on coal for its energy needs. The government shut more than 8,000 coal-burning factories in Hebei last year. But the BBC’s Celia Hatton in Beijing says like many places in China, the authorities are struggling to balance factory closures with the demands of the country’s slowing economy. The environment ministry’s statement published on its website (in Chinese) noted that the 2014 result was an improvement over the previous year, where only three cities met the standards. But it added that “presently, the country’s air pollution situation remains serious …”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

Luminous review & Chip talks Emissions Frankenstein of a Microwaved Planet As the PRC Finally Gets Ready to Roll

Booklist awards “The People’s Republic of Chemicals” a starred review. Breathe it in while you can.

November 15th, 2014 · No Comments

Riots cops with shields at Qidong protest agailnst industrial waste pipeline

BOOKLIST magazine awards our sequel to SmogtownThe People’s Republic of Chemicals, a starred review!: The Smogtown (2008) authors return with a look at China’s air pollution problem, and it is a doozy. Combining a crash-course history lesson that includes everyone from Confucius to Chairman Mao with a withering rant about the country’s nonexistent environmental policies, Kelly and Jacobs give readers everything they need to know about why China is ground zero for the planet’s future, including its coal bases serving as “global warming daggers.” There is a lot to take in here, and the narrative’s power is as much due to its style as substance. The prose is sharp, vivid, and direct, leading readers through hard-hitting chapters about the Beijing Olympics, America’s Walmart, made-in-China addiction, and the casual way in which ecostatistics are manipulated. Kelly and Jacobs pillory the actions of as many American politicians as Chinese, noting policy missteps and political weakness with a take-no-prisoners attitude that readers will find refreshingly candid. While the tone can sometimes seem a bit glib, its bracing nature will likely be a tonic to those seeking a straightforward take on this urgent subject while also making for a surprisingly enjoyable read. — Colleen Mondor

* Back from the Big Apple book tour, Part I. Here are the links where I talk Frankenstein of emissions on The StreetAOL-Huff Post Live & Brainstormin’

Australia Fears China’s Clean Air Policies

ClivePalmer

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.

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?

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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.

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.