China leads in both pollution and fighting pollutionBy Graham Land Aug 26, 2013 6:00AM UTC
As the largest country in the world it shouldn’t be surprising when China comes top in any given category. Yet some of those categories are at loggerheads. For example, air pollution vs. investment in cleaning up the air.
China’s status as the largest overall emitter of CO2 is essentially meaningless when compared to the per capita emissions of developed nations and those countries that supply the world with fossil fuels. Yet even though the people of China are on average not producing a lot of greenhouse gasses, you can bet that the wealthy classes are while the poor are the ones risking their health to, for instance, mine the coal that powers the nation.
From the Energy Collective:
As is well known, the country has the largest population in the world and is one of the fastest emerging economies – 2nd in the world GDP ranking. China accounts for over 70% of fossil fuels, making the country the largest consumer and producer of coal in the world.
In terms of air pollution – everybody breathes it. It would be naïve to think that those working in certain occupations, for instance taxi drivers or factory workers, don’t get exposed to more bad air, but anyone in Beijing could tell you that the air in the Chinese capital is lousy. Beijing’s “Airpocalypse” last January made Singapore’s Hazepocalypse look like a spot of colonial London fog by comparison. The city’s air was measured to be 40 times worse than the World Health organization’s acceptable levels. Unfortunately, unsafe and even deadly air pollution is par for the course in many parts of China.
When you take health and reduced lifespans into account, air pollution isn’t even worth the economic growth it brings in economic terms.
From a Greenpeace report:
And supposing if the four cities [Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Xi’an] effectively controlled PM2.5 levels and had met WHO air quality guidelines in 2012, the number of premature deaths would have decreased by at least 81%, while the economic benefits of reducing these premature deaths in the four cities would amount to 875 million USD.
That doesn’t even count Hong Kong, where air pollution often reaches unsafe levels, prompting the government to recommend children, the elderly and the sick to all remain indoors. That can’t be good for the economy either.
Apart from CO2, which routinely gets more attention than far more immediate health risks, it is black carbon or soot, which both kills people and acts as a powerful short-term climate forcer. According to a new study by the American Chemical Society, 80% of China’s air pollution comes from cars and cooking.
In their study, they set out to identify the exact source of the soot, which causes an estimated 500,000 premature deaths in China alone, due to the tiny particles being inhaled deep into the lungs.
They found that almost 80% of air pollution involving soot comes from city traffic and other forms of fossil fuel combustion, such as home cooking with coal briquettes.
And if all that’s not enough, air pollution is eating away at China’s tourism industry.
So what is being done about all this environmental turmoil?
Earlier this year, the Chinese government pledged US$275 billion on cleaning up the air over the span of five years and made it easier to prosecute environmental criminals. This is a lot, but China’s environmental problems are huge and catastrophic. The Chinese government seems to know this and is investing massively in clean energy and other green tech, but these things don’t necessarily cancel out each other.