Friday, February 1, 2013

Just How Polluted Is China Anyway?

Updated February 3rd

Originally I post Vaclav Smil's article only, but the Oil Drum has since posted "Tech Talk - Coal Power and Air Pollution."
The article provides some historical perspective on air quality issues addressed in the United Kingdom and the United States, while noting the probems may be more "less tractable to solution" in India and China.

Immediately after the Second World War, Britain needed the coal to power the reconstruction of the country, but during the time I was in college it was already clear that the days of unrestricted mining were over and that the transition to other fuels had already begun. It was not the air pollution in Leeds that was the driving force for the regulations, however, but more likely the presence of similar smogs in London and the South where those who governed the country lived. The major legislation began after the Great Smog of 1952. In a four-day period at the beginning of December, the combination of a fog, an inversion in the immediate atmosphere, and the increased use of coal fires to provide additional warmth generated a smog that is blamed for the immediate death of around 4,000 people and a strong influence on the consequent death of some 8,000 others.
I bring this up because the air pollution in both Beijing and in New Delhi is reaching levels where the government is beginning to move to help abate the immediate problem. In both capitals it is a combination of vehicle exhaust and power generation that is driving the problem, whereas back in the UK fifty and sixty years ago, vehicular exhaust was not nearly as much of a problem as burning coal. Yet I suspect that although these problems in Asia are not yet at the levels they reached in the UK, that they may be less tractable to solution.

Read the entire article at the Oil Drum

Vaclav Smil explains Beijing's recent bout of shockingly poor air quality.

Just How Polluted Is China Anyway? — The American Magazine:
Most of China’s coal combustion is now in large coal-fired electricity-generating plants built since 1990; indeed, in some recent years China was adding annually as much coal-fired capacity as the total installed capacity of Germany or the United Kingdom! Obviously, these new plants are here to stay, and small particles are also generated by record high levels of iron, steel, and cement production — and by cars in what has now become the world’s largest car market. Chinese car sales have been above the U.S. level since 2009 (they reached nearly 15 million passenger vehicles in 2012), with the capital having such a disproportionately high increase (with as many as 60,000 cars sold in one month) that the city began issuing a maximum of 20,000 new permits per month.
North China thus has the dubious distinction of being the region with the world’s most intensive air pollution from coal and the fastest increase of emissions from automobiles. That is combining the classical smog from burning coal (emitting large and small particulates and sulfur and nitrogen oxides) with photochemical smog from automotive traffic (generated by atmospheric reaction of released nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile hydrocarbon, and small particles, especially from diesel engines).
There are no easy or rapid solutions for such a combination. Hong Kong offers a sobering example of the challenge: even as the city has greatly reduced its emissions, more than 90 percent of its air pollution comes from the surrounding region...
Read Vaclav Smil's entire article at The American Magazine:

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