Battle Between U.S. and China Threatens Climate Conference

Fascinating article about the politicking going on in Copenhagen. Regardless of what the greens want, China and India won’t be going along. They have too many mouths to feed. And they especially won’t be going along after Climategate and the recent Russian bombshell.

2010 should be an interesting year.

Climategate and pollution in China

I’ve written about the ghastly pollution in China before (here, here, here, here and here). With the recent bomb of “Climategate”, much of the core data supporting the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) has been called into question. I am not going to get into a debate about AGW, or whether a trace gas like CO2 is something to worry about, but I am concerned that Climategate will take the the focus off the need to reduce pollution worldwide, especially in China and India.

The big immediate danger to humans in China is not a potential, theoretical increase of 1 degree Celcius, but rather toxic air, land and water. Vast amounts of coal and diesel are consumed everyday, all of it burned inefficiently in technologically primitive power plants or wretched Dong Feng trucks. No wonder so many Chinese people smoke (an estimated 70% of men); with that much soot, why the heck wouldn’t you smoke? If you don’t believe me, check out the photographs in this month’s National Geographic article on Xinjiang province (sorry for the link, but NG marks it hard to look at the pics if you don’t pay – freeze the video about 9 seconds in). I don’t know about you, but when the sky is the color of cat mess, CO2 is pretty far down on my list. And don’t get me started on the water pollution.

India has announced in advance of Copenhagen that they won’t be signing anything (heck, even Al Gore isn’t bothering to go). I am sure the Chinese will do the same. And there is no way the US Senate would ratify Copenhagen when they unanimously voted down Kyoto.

From my perspective, worrying about what might happen years from now and proposing fantastically expensive fixes to what may not be happening, detracts from practical efforts to mitigate what IS happening right now. I don’t need a climate model to tell me the Asian Brown Cloud is real – I can see it, smell it and taste it (*cough*).

China cutting capacity

This is just too funny

OK, so I’m feeling lazy today, but there really isn’t anything I can add to this (from Popular Science):

China’s Weather Manipulation Brings Crippling Snowstorm to Beijing

By Clay Dillow Posted 11.11.2009 at 6:08 pm
Forecast for Beijing: Cloudy The Chinese government employs the controversial practice of cloud seeding in an attempt to force precipitation in and around Beijing.

In The People’s Republic of China, it’s no secret that the Party controls just about everything. But as Beijing suffers through its second major snowstorm this season, residents are growing weary of their leadership’s control-freak tendencies. After all, while the storm came as a surprise to residents, the government knew about it all along. In fact, the government caused it.

China has long tinkered with Mother Nature’s waterworks, even establishing a state organ — the Beijing Weather Modification Office — whose sole purpose is to meddle with the weather. The purpose behind weather modification is less megalomaniacal than it sounds at first pass; a large swath of northeast China, including Beijing, has been mired in a drought for nearly a decade, and the party leadership would like to reverse that trend for both practical reasons and to show the Chinese people exactly who is in charge.

To do so, they’ve turned to cloud seeding, a controversial practice that involves launching (or dropping) chemicals into the atmosphere — silver iodide in China, though dry ice and liquid propane also work — that cause water vapor in the air to crystallize at temperatures it otherwise would not. Its effectiveness is dubious; while it’s generally accepted that it works to some degree, it can only increase precipitation by 20 percent. Sometimes.

Weather manipulation is actually not as rare as one might think. Currently, 24 countries practice some kind of cloud seeding. Moscow’s mayor keeps the Russian Air Force on cloud seeding duty to make sure it never rains on his parades (literally). The U.S. has dabbled with weather manipulation in attempts to curb the intensity of Gulf hurricanes back in the ’60s, and the military seeded clouds over North Vietnam during the war there to extend the monsoon season. Oh, and the CIA seeded clouds in 1969 in an attempt to rain out the hippies gathering at Woodstock, but they partied right through it anyhow (that instance is unconfirmed, but groovy to think about).

China prefers to deliver its silver iodide to the sky via rockets or artillery. For the residents of Beijing, those armaments deliver all the headaches that go along with big snowstorms: traffic problems, flight delays, cancelled classes and various transportation issues. While the government claims the seeding is for the good of the country, that claim is about as dubious as the practice of seeding itself; in 2005, a snow melting agent killed 10,000 trees in Beijing, and experts worry it could be eroding the city’s infrastructure. As of last night, highways in and around Beijing were closed and many roads were blocked, bringing day-to-day commerce to a grinding halt.

1500 new cars a day in Beijing

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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.

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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

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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!

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