Saturday, December 06, 2014

Struggling with Smog in LA and Beijing

“Choking,” “post-apocalyptic” or just “crazy bad,” Beijing’s air pollution problem is obvious to anyone who spends more than a little time in the city. In a survey by the Pew Research Center last year, 47 percent of Chinese respondents cited air pollution as a “very big problem,” comparable to corruption and income disparity. The figure was up from 36 percent in 2012. But Beijing is also not the only city to have faced dire pollution. On a recent visit to Beijing, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, reminded participants at a seminar at Peking University that America’s second-most-populous city also once wrestled with foul air.

“Our first smog attack came during World War II, and it was so bad that some thought it was a chemical weapons attack by Japanese forces,” Mr. Garcetti said. He listed rapid population growth and an increase in the number of motor vehicles as contributors to environmental woes in both Beijing and Los Angeles.

Beijing's Marathon Masked with Air Pollution !!

Another who has drawn parallels between the two cities’ fight for clean air is Chip Jacobs, an author based in Los Angeles who has written extensively about this “hazy brotherhood.” In 2008, Mr. Jacobs and William J. Kelly, a senior correspondent at California Current, an energy publication, wrote “Smogtown: The Lung-Burning History of Pollution in Los Angeles.” Now they have turned their attention to China in “The People’s Republic of Chemicals,” the story of how the country finds itself, in the authors’ words, “a toxified netherworld.” A Chinese edition is set for release next year by the Central Party School Publishing House. In an interview, Mr. Jacobs discussed Beijing, Los Angeles and the role of the public in battling smog:

Curbing Coal Consumption in Beijing

Without getting all statistical, a metropolis’s air pollution tends to be a direct reflection of that city’s culture. Los Angeles since the early 1900s, well before the ribbon-cutting for the first freeway, was designed for the automobile. People migrated here from the East Coast, searching for wider spaces, less vertical apartment living and personal mobility. That’s one reason Southern Californians owned more cars per capita than anywhere else, and the prime cause of smog. Uncombusted fumes from car tailpipes produce hydrocarbons that react in bright sunshine with other gases, especially nitrogen oxide, to form ozone, the chemical that aggravates breathing and causes multiple health problems. Note: Ozone, being invisible, is not what creates that gray overhang.

IBM Mapping Air Pollution in Beijing in Search of Effective Management

Now, let’s turn to China, where the bulk of the air pollution emanates not from ozone, but rather from sulfur and particulate matter spewed by coal-burning equipment, from power generators and heavy industry — cement, smelters, ironworks, hard-goods manufacturing. My concern is that while President Xi Jinping agreed for China to cap its coal consumption by 2030, the country could have 400 million cars by then, meaning that the country could be just swapping one sort of smog for another.

Local Sources are More Responsible for Air Pollution in Beijing

Already, Americans are feeling that in regular plumes of Chinese ozone uplifted onto the jet stream, aimed right at the U.S. West Coast. Some days in Los Angeles, one-quarter of our ozone was “made in China.” Think about the irony of that, given our evolving understanding that a third of China’s greenhouse gases are produced manufacturing Western goods.

Read more of the interview @ New York Times

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