1500 new cars a day in Beijing

1109 brief a x600

Continuing the pollution in China thread, here’s a short opinion piece by Stephen Cass in Technology Review which claims that 1500 new cars are added to the streets of Beijing each day (the excellent photo from that article is below). I don’t know where he got that number, but I’m going to assume that he’s right. A few of thoughts before I call it a night:

  1. Heck yeah! Buicks are popular in China and since I am now an unwilling shareholder in the second-worst run American car company, we need to sell some Lacrosses ASAP!
  2. Thank God I (a) telecommute and (b) don’t live in Beijing. I can’t stand the traffic in Roanoke, VA.
  3. Yes, there will need to be a alternative to the dominance of petrol, and the Chinese have as much of a vested interest as anyone in finding it. Their motivation will be more economic and national security than pollution, though they will certainly pay lip service.

1109 brief a x600

I look forward to reading Turning Oil Into Salt. When I read Salt some years ago, I was amazed at the currency value of that now basic commodity in ancient times. The book’s thesis is that we can break the back of the oil cartel by just introducing engines that run on a variety of combustible fuels. Let’s hope they are right.

Transport costs are one of those variables that PassageMaker will not quote. Our Logistics Department can give estimates, or we can help you get a quote from the shipper of your choice, but even with freight near all-time lows, it fluctuates daily.

A world in which transport energy is like salt is a world that will deliver prosperity to the masses of desperately poor people around the world who are trying to improve their lives. I hope I live to see it, and I have a feeling I will. Human ingenuity is a powerful thing.

How I survived China

Great article sent by a friend in DC on the health hazards of living in China. A few things that stuck out:

1 – Micro-particulate pollution – in terms of the human cost, this is more concerning than CO2:

Another way to know this is via a clandestine air-quality station that the U.S. Embassy has built in Beijing. The Chinese government does not report, and may not even measure, what other countries consider the most dangerous form of air pollution: PM2.5, the smallest particulate matter, tiny enough to work its way deep into the alveoli. Instead, Chinese reports cover only the grosser PM10 particulates, which are less dangerous but more unsightly, because they make the air dark and turn your handkerchief black if you blow your nose. (Spitting on the street: routine in China. Blowing your nose into a handkerchief: something no cultured person would do.) These unauthorized PM2.5 readings, sent out on a Twitter stream (BeijingAir), show the pollution in Beijing routinely to be in the “Very Unhealthy” or “Hazardous” range, not seen in U.S. cities in decades.

2 – Despite the pollution, it is a exciting and energizing place to be:

The positive aspect is, there’s a lot to take your mind off your health. “I am amazed at how well people do here, considering,” another Western-trained doctor said. “It is an exciting place. It’s a historic time. People seem to feel alive.” That made sense when I heard it—in China I had felt terrible, but alive—and makes me say that foreigners who want to go should not be deterred.

3 – Drink beer:

…I naively drank bottled water in a Buddhist-run vegetarian restaurant—and on the way out saw a waiter filling the “Evian” bottles from a hose.

Point 1 is dead on – the air is toxic – but the trade off (for expats anyway) is Point 2. The minute I landed in Singapore in 1994 I knew I had found my path. Asia, and Chinese Asia in particular, became my focus. It is still exciting today. I imagine London in the Victorian era, NYC in the 1920’s, LA in the 1950’s, etc., were also as exciting (and polluted). Can China fix this? Of course, and they will as their economy develops. As I’ve said before, modern environmentalism is a luxury good.

Mike Bellamy went to Asia the same time I did, and he’s been there full time since 1998, and the excitement has not worn off. Most of the expats on the PassageMaker team have put down roots. We have real bricks-and-mortar in place. So if you need something done in China, rest assured that we are experienced and motivated to make your project a success.

And Point 3? Beer, especially from the large export breweries (many foreign owned), is safe to drink, because it is bottled, capped, carbonated and alcoholic. Chinese beer is served in large recyclable bottles, but the nature of the brewing and bottling process means that if it makes it to your table, it’s clean. All the water is purified as the first step in brewing, otherwise you foul the fermentation. Were it biologically contaminated, it would result in a burst bottle from the build up of gasses. Also, Chinese beer is relatively low in alcohol, so having a beer with lunch is not going to ruin the rest of your day.

When in doubt, have a beer.

More thoughts on coal

070116 shunde

Here’s an interesting article from my home town paper, The Roanoke Times, on the new carbon capture technology being tested at a power plant in West (By God) Virginia. The technology is interesting to me, especially since I once considered becoming a geologist, but this is the part of the article I found most interesting:

[Mike] Morris [Chairman of American Electric Power (AEP)] and a host of others stressed Friday that coal will fuel power generation for decades to come, both in this country and many others. He said AEP agrees there is enough evidence to believe there is a link between human activity and climate change. But he said the United States has “the financial and technical wherewithal to address the issue.”

Some environmental groups encourage carbon capture efforts such as the one at Mountaineer. Others ask tough questions.

John Steelman is program manager for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center.

“We support the use of carbon capture,” Steelman said Thursday. “We believe that for the next few decades the United States and other countries, including China, are going to use coal in significant quantities.”

And this is a critical time, he said, to limit emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

John Blair is president of Valley Watch, a small environmental group in Indiana whose primary focus is the lower Ohio River Valley. The organization has fought coal-fired power plants since Valley Watch’s founding in 1981.

Blair said he has been following the development of the carbon capture and storage system at Mountaineer.

“The Alstom technique is kind of fascinating, I must say,” Blair said. [ed. – emphasis added]

The first thing that made me pause was the assertion that the USA can afford this. As someone who’s still living with campaign commercials for the Virginia’s Governor’s race, the cost of electricity is a MAJOR issue on people’s minds. As a business owner that gets 100% its power from AEP, the cost of coal fired power has a definite and immediate impact on the bottom line. I am all for energy alternatives, but let’s take off the rose colored glasses about the costs involved.

I am also interested to see somebody finally acknowledging that China (and India) are going to use coal because it is what is available and affordable (front end cost, not a nearly impossible to calculate “environmental cost”). Whether or not carbon sequestration works or is applicable in China on a large scale is something to watch. I would like to see some rational enforcement of safety in the Chinese coal mining industry (which is flat out horrific) and particulate emissions from Chinese power plants, as that is the immediate driver of the human cost of pollution in China. I am genuinely concerned with the smog in Chinese cities, as our team at PassageMaker (some of my closest friends) live and work in it everyday.

So to brighten your weekend, a lovely photo of the air quality in south China!

070116 shunde