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 

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

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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.

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

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* “Bailing Out the Earth: 10 Books that Propose Solutions to Climate Change: The People’s Republic of Chemicals makes the cut! “

“So many science fiction novels depict humans of the future seeking out new worlds after having nearly destroyed the earth. But where is the fiction set in the present showing people attempting to save the earth today? If there isn’t much fiction, at least there’s nonfiction, written by top notch scholars and journalists, that can help us better understand what we’re doing to the planet and its atmosphere, analyze possible solutions, and lead us in the right direction.”

* The People’s Republic of Chemicals earns Gold and Silver at the Green Book Festival / Here’s the conference where Chip will speaking about L.A.’s experience digging out of its poisonous culture. 

Beijing Says Its Air Pollution Better in First Half of 2015 – The New York Times

“Air quality in Beijing, notorious for its smoggy sky, improved during the first six months of 2015, the city government said.The concentration of PM 2.5 — tiny airborne particles that are particularly harmful to human health — dropped by 15.2 percent from a year earlier to an average of 77.7 micrograms per cubic meter during the first half of the year, the government said, citing data from the municipal environment protection bureau …”

 Amazing Video Shows What LA’s Night Skies Would Look Like Without Pollution – Iflscience 

“Light pollution sounds fairly harmless, and not like the heavy stuff of air pollution. However, it is a serious problem, and actually refers to the way in which city lights interfere with the visibility of dark skies. To raise awareness of the problem and to show us what we are missing out on, the Skyglow Project – brainchild of renowned timelapse artists Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic– released the mesmerising timelapse video shown below of dark skies in North America superimposed over urbanscapes in Los Angeles.”

World is on a collision course with fossil fuels, Gov. Jerry Brown says – Los Angeles Times

“After two days of rubbing shoulders with an international collection of politicians, Gov. Jerry Brown emerged from a climate-change conference here with new partnerships in the fight against global warming. In a speech Wednesday to government officials and environmental advocates that capped his trip, the governor took aim at “troglodytes” who deny the threat of climate change, and insisted that all aspects of modern life must be scrutinized to save the planet. “We have to redesign our cities, our homes, our cars, our electrical generation, our grids — all those things,” Brown said. “And it can be done with intelligence. We can get more value from less material …”

Latest numbers show at least 5 metres sea-level rise locked in – New Scientist 

“Whatever we do now, the seas will rise at least 5 metres. Most of Florida and many other low-lying areas and cities around the world are doomed to go under. If that weren’t bad enough, without drastic cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions – more drastic than any being discussed ahead of the critical climate meeting in Paris later this year – a rise of over 20 metres will soon be unavoidable …”