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

IMG_APEC_China_Obama.JPG_2_1_C23PR3J6_L97708362

* 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 …”

 

 

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

_80753807_459288496

 

* 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 …”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you get after 2 years of work? A book review round-Up, of course

In spreading our message connecting toxic air, climate change, hyper capitalism and free trade, we often feel like this. Below are some of the first critiques of our book. Stayed tuned for more! 

FOREWORD REVIEWS (5 hearts): The 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. 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 … (They) 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. … 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 … 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 …”

BOOKLIST (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 

KIRKUSA scathing denunciation of how America outsourced its industrial capacity to China, a package that included catastrophic pollution. Investigative journalists Kelly and Jacobs again team up in a hard-hitting follow-up to their 2008 environmental page-turner Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.As “self-deputized gumshoes” covering the environmental beat, the authors felt they could not ignore the ugly reality in China. As the air in LA improved, in China, a “nauseating, gray-brown cloud from an oversaturated sky” was darkening the landscape. … China’s adoption of an open-door policy for American manufacturers was a devil’s bargain. The authors have harsh words for the “Clinton-Gore pairing,” which allowed American industry to get out from under environmental regulation and benefit from cheap Chinese labor …  A powerful warning that “a growing cloud of toxins aloft [are] swirling in the winds around the world and recirculating the pollution we hoped to shed.”

* CHINADIALOGUE.NET: “… Authors William J. Kelly and Chip Jacobs joined forces once before … to write their climate classic, Smogtown: the Lung Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles, a remarkable 2008 exposé and memoir about air quality, politics and health in Southern California’s smog belt. This time, the duo … (goes) farther afield to investigate air pollution that threatens to put a chokehold on the Pacific Rim … The writers do know their stuff. Kelly and Jacobs delve behind the headlines and grim statistics of coal emissions and cancer village mortality to focus on the latest struggles to prevent thousands of needless deaths per day from China’s poisoned environment. The authors insist that this dismayingly high death toll …  could have been avoided. They argue that these deaths should be counted as casualties of China’s overly rapid economic revival. And the multinational corporations who have outsourced manufacturing jobs on such a vast scale must be considered complicit … “A nation breathes its choices,” the authors warn, while admitting that “when it involves the People’s Republic and coal, it’s more than complicated. It’s ancient.” … (V)ivid imagery, highlights quirky personalities and hidden motives in the unfolding saga of climate change. Politics loom large. The book is simultaneously entertaining and alarming, and doesn’t spare officials from criticism … “In post-W.T.O. China, something biologically creepy was only a factory pipe away,” the authors observe. They … urge President Xi Jinping “to make eco-restoration as much his legacy as ridding the party of the endemic graft … “

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’