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