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

Unknown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could tougher rules have avoided China’s environmental crisis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Industrial pollution in China. Image: SCMP

Do you think mounting public pressure will force real change?

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

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

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

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 * 

 

“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’

Get Your May Hot-Enviro Links Here, Whether They Make You Depressed or Determined

Beijing, 2013

Beijing, 2013

*  The World’s Top Polluters: 1) China (with a bullet), 2) U.S., 3) India. Welcome to the Atmospheric Stranglers by Tonnage.  Global Post (link)

Bad news for the environment. After years of decline, US carbon dioxide emissions increased slightly last year, according to a new report by the US Energy Information Administration. That said, America is still a little better than the world’s worst polluter: China. The 2 percent jump in CO2 emissions in the United States was largely the result of higher natural gas prices last year, which prompted some utilities to switch back to a dirtier energy source — coal, according to The Washington Post. America’s CO2 emissions had fallen 12 percent from 2007 to 2012 before the latest report. Here, we take a look at the world’s five biggest polluters, according to CO2 emission estimates in 2012 from the EU-based Emission Database for Global Atmospheric Research …

 * Not Music to Beijing’s Ears: A Call to Stop Bankrolling Chinese Certain Chinese Green Projects. Daily Caller (link)

The Chinese auto conglomerate Wanxiang Group has bought electric automaker Fisker Automotive, marking the second time they snatched up a failed green firm that received taxpayer dollars. The bankrupt Fisker was sold to Wanxiang last week for $149.2 million and the sale was approved by the bankruptcy court on Tuesday. Last year, the Energy Department’s $192 million loan of Fisker was sold of to Wanxiang for $25 million — netting taxpayers a $139 million loss. This is the second time a green energy company that got a loan guarantee from the Obama administration was sold off to Chinese investors, garnering criticism from conservatives that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted for the benefit of foreign businessmen. “In 2009, Secretary Chu promised American taxpayers that a $528.7 million conditional loan for Fisker Automotive would create or save 5,000 jobs,” Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The height of Fisker’s employment barely reached over 200 employees,” Blackburn added. “The only thing worse than these continued broken promises and lack of accountability from this administration is that yet another company that received taxpayer funding will be sold to China’s Wanxiang Group.” …

* Are California Earthquakes Being Triggered by Groundwater Pumping? Los Angeles Times (link)

For years, scientists have wondered what are the forces that keep pushing up California’s mighty Sierra Nevada and central coast ranges, causing an increase in the number of earthquakes in parts of Central California.On Wednesday, a group of scientists offered a new intriguing theory: that the quakes are being caused in part by pumping of groundwater in the Central Valley. “These results suggest that human activity may give rise to a gradual increase in the rate of earthquake occurrence,” said the study published in the journal Nature Wednesday, written by scientists at Western Washington University, University of Ottawa, University of Nevada, Reno and UC Berkeley. Using new GPS data, the scientists found a surprising observation that the mountains closest to California’s thirsty Central Valley were growing at a faster-than-expected rate compared to ranges further away — a rate of 1 to 3 millimeters a year, enough to lift them by less than half a foot over the last 150 years …

* Hot Sauce of Stinging Eyes: the Saga of One California Manufacturer.  New York Times (link)

Until a few months ago,Sriracha was a mere hot sauce, offering a spicy kick to eggs, soup, grilled cheese or a Bloody Mary.But since this small, industrial city east of Los Angeles began taking legal action against the Sriracha factory here — responding to complaints from residents about the strong scent of chiles — this trendy hot sauce has turned from a culinary symbol into a political one for business leaders and Republicans who have long complained that California is hostile to industry. “Why do you hate me?” David Tran, whose company makes Sriracha, asked at the last City Council meeting here. “Why do you want to shut me down?” …

* Climate Change Denial at the Pentagon? Don’t Think So. NBC News (link)

U.S. military and intelligence agencies are increasingly monitoring and preparing for how, when and where the consequences of a warmer planet will collide with national security, requiring the eventual need to deploy American troops to weather-torn lands.As climate-change arguments continue at home — including pundits who assert the scientific consensus on the issue is overblown or concocted — current and former Department of Defense officials are mapping future strategies to protect U.S. interests in the aftermath of massive floods, water shortages and famines that are expected to hit and decimate unstable nations. “For DoD, this is a mission reality, not a political debate,” said Mark Wright, a Pentagon spokesman. “The scientific forecast is for more Arctic ice melt, more sea-level rise, more intense storms, more flooding from storm surge, and more drought …

* On This Last Earth Day, Los Angeles — Redoubt of the World’s First, True Environmental crisis — Gets Snubbed by Attention-Hog Co2. San Gabriel Valley Tribune (link)

Forty-four years ago today during the first Earth Day, skywriting planes inscribed the word “air” across the rust-colored skies of Los Angeles. Protesters and lawmakers came together in a miraculous kind of Kumbaya moment to solve the problem of L.A.’s dirty air that was damaging our lungs and lowering property values. Today, more than four decades and hundreds of advancements and regulations later, scientists, lawmakers and officeholders can say they got the message. The air in Southern California has greatly improved since Sen. Gaylord Nelson and Denis Hayes launched the first-ever national rally aimed at healing Earth’s ills. Now, however, a more insidious gas — carbon dioxide — is enveloping the atmosphere, causing the warming of the entire planet and unleashing extreme weather events along with predictions from UCLA scientists of higher temperatures in inland suburbs, drier years, more wildfires and less snowpack collecting in the Sierra Nevada to satisfy a thirsty Golden State. As millions around the world celebrate what is labeled the biggest secular holiday, Earth Day, local leaders say the successes since 1970 are many, but the problems — particularly the 800-pound gorilla of global climate change — have grown into a daunting challenge. Some say stopping climate change, for example, is impossible and that adapting is the next step …