News and Notes from a Broiling Planet

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* 2015 Likely to Be Hottest Year Ever RecordedThe New York Times

China Confronts the Pain of Kicking its Coal AddictionWashington Post 

Atmospheric chemistry: China’s choking cocktailNature

Apple Announces Factory Upgrades In Plan To Help China Reduce Air PollutionHuffington Post

New Megalopolis a Fresh Chance to Clean China’s Skies, Report SaysWall Street Journal

IBM’s Watson Could Hold The Key To Fighting Beijing’s Brutal PollutionGizmodo 

How Angelenos Beat Back SmogZocalo Public Square 

Los Angeles, Beijing agree on plan to promote clean air as part of Obama-Xi dealLos Angeles Times

* India Announces Plan to Lower Rate of Greenhouse Gas EmissionsThe New York Times

 

 

“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’

End of Summer Summation … The People’s Republic of Chemicals Will Roll This Fall

chipbook * With less than three months to go until the launch of The People’s Republic of Chemicals,” here’s some leg-teasing, early reviews. Many ones pending.

– Five star from Clare O’Beara: the book “should make you think more about where your electronic and other goods come from, and I hope you will feel moved to contact companies through their social media sites, or by writing, and ask them about their policy on pollution.”

– Five star from Pam Thomas: “An exceptional book and a brilliant read. I learnt so much about air pollution and the collateral damage …”

– Goodreads recommendation love: Introducing China and Third World Medicine

Meantime, around the warming planet, here are a few of the stories we think are worthy:

* People’s misconceptions about water usage. From the Los Angeles Times:

– Americans use twice the amount of water they think they do, and appear to be particularly oblivious about how much H2O they flush down the toilet on a daily basis, according to new research. In a paper published online Monday in the journal PNAS, a researcher concluded that Americans underestimated their water use by a factor of 2, and were only slightly aware of how much water goes into growing the food they eat. “In general, people tend to underestimate water by a very large magnitude,” said study author Shahzeen Attari, an assistant professor in the Department of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. The study’s conclusions were based on an Internet survey of 1,020 people, and comes amid a national drought that extends from the Pacific Coast to portions of the Mississippi Valley, with the most severe conditions in California. “Most Americans assume that water supply is both reliable and plentiful,” Attari wrote. “However, research has shown that with climate change water supply will become more variable due to salinization of ground water and increased variability in precipitation.” …

* Just in case you figured you’d be ducking the effects of global warming in your lifetime, better start buying shorts and taking boating lessons, among other steps. From the “Native Intelligence” writers at the  LA Observed blog:

–  Sea level rise from global warming is likely to lead to unprecedented coastal, bay, and inland tidal flooding in California within the next several decades. And never before seen floods are likely to begin occurring annually within the lifetimes of Californians now under 40 years old, according to new research from Climate Central, an independent nonprofit organization of journalists and scientists based at Princeton University. This is no longer an abstract, distant threat or a scene from a Hollywood movie. Real people alive today will experience these floods in California. A new interactive map developed in a collaboration among Climate CentralStamen Design, and New America Media–in which I participated–shows the who, what, where, when, and why of these “surging seas.” …

* Speaking of climate change, the West is going to be thirsty, dry and hot for the foreseeable future, and that’s no green-mongering exaggeration. From the Washington Post:

– When the winter rains failed to arrive in this Sacramento Valley town for the third straight year, farmers tightened their belts and looked to the reservoirs in the nearby hills to keep them in water through the growing season. When those faltered, some switched on their well pumps, drawing up thousands of gallons from underground aquifers to prevent their walnut trees and alfalfa crops from drying up. Until the wells, too, began to fail. Now, across California’s vital agricultural belt, nervousness over the state’s epic drought has given way to alarm. Streams and lakes have long since shriveled up in many parts of the state, and now the aquifers — always a backup source during the region’s periodic droughts — are being pumped away at rates that scientists say are both historic and unsustainable …

– If the drought could take disturbing selfless, here’s what it’d show (courtesy of Vox.com) 

* The forgotten trash that well doom us all. From Medium.com 

… Plastic doesn’t readily biodegrade, of course. That is one of its great anti-microbial virtues, as well as its curse. It can persist for centuries in landfills, and longer in the sea, scientists believe. Plastic does photodegrade, however. Exposed to sunlight, it loses its useful qualities, its plasticity—becomes stiff and brittle and breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. Meanwhile, as a typical 2-liter soda bottle made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) circles the drain, eventually breaking up into bits, it acts as a molecular sponge for whatever poisons it encounters, absorbing “persistent organic pollutants” like PCBs—which are known to cause cancer in lab animals and are probable human carcinogens linked to increased incidence of melanomas, liver cancer, and gall bladder and brain cancer. Many POPs are “lipophilic,” that is, attracted to fatty tissues, but also oily substances such as petroleum-based plastics. Hideshige Takada, a Japanese scientist studying plastic particles from the Western Pacific Garbage Patch, found them to be one million times more toxic than the ambient seawater in which they floated …  A Greenpeace study estimated that it would take 68 ships trawling 24 hours a day an entire year to cover 1 percent of the Pacific. They would burn up a tremendous amount of fuel and do more harm than good …

* So far, the damage mankind has inflicted on Mother Earth is far outpacing man’s effort to reverse it. And the clock is ticking on our emissions-reduction sweepstakes. Only everything is swinging on it. From The New York Times:

– Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report. Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control. The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities …