Chinese Emissions Press against Social, Biological Limits

December 16, 2013

The fossil fueled growth that China has seen in the last 30 years is running up against some natural limits. How much longer can the Chinese plan to filter their emissions thru their children’s lungs?

Daily Kos:

A new study funded by Greenpeace shows that a quarter of a million Chinese people died of air pollution from coal fired power plants in 2011. And the smog is worse this year.

The analysis traced the chemicals which are made airborne from burning coal and found a number of health damages were caused as a result. It estimates that coal burning in China was responsible for reducing the lives of 260,000 people in 2011. It also found that in the same year it led to 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering from asthma, 36,000 babies being born with low weight and was responsible for 340,000 hospital visits and 141 million days of sick leave.

The smog was so thick it was visible indoors at the Shanghai airport on December 5.

The smog has been so thick that pilots couldn’t land their planes. The Chinese government is instituting new requirements that pilots must be able to land planes in low visibility conditions to reduce flight delays and cancellations.

BEIJING — Chinese aviation authorities will soon require captains of domestic flights into Beijing to master low-visibility landings to combat chronic flight delays that have been worsened by heavy smog.Beijing Capital International Airport, China’s busiest, has the worst record for flight delays of any major international airport, with only 18 percent of flights departing on time, according to travel industry monitor FlightStats. Thick smog has canceled or delayed flights at the Beijing airport when the city’s visibility goes down to a few hundred meters (yards) – though officials typically blame the delays on weather conditions rather than pollution.

Most westerners don’t know much about it, but there have been massive street protests in various Chinese cities against new coal power plants.

Bloomberg:

Pollution has replaced land disputes as the main cause of social unrest in China, a retired Communist Party official said, as delegates to the country’s legislature lamented environmental degradation.

China now sees 30,000 to 50,000 so-called mass incidents every year, Chen Jiping, a former leading member of the party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs, said yesterday. Increased use of mobile phones and the Internet has allowed protesters to show their anger more effectively, he said.

“The major reason for mass incidents is the environment, and everyone cares about it now,” Chen told reporters at a meeting of the Chinese People’s Political and Consultative Conference, where he’s a member. “If you want to build a plant, and if the plant may cause cancer, how can people remain calm?”

China has paid a heavy environment price for three decades of economic growth, Fu Ying, the spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress, said at a briefing March 4.

“The environment has become a problem the people are very concerned about, including me,” Fu said. “Every morning I open the curtains to see if there’s any haze.”

In a bid to combat pollution, Fang Fang, the chief executive for China investment banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co., said the government should impose a new tax on cars and issue fewer license plates. Fang said in an interview with Bloomberg Television yesterday he’ll submit the proposals to the CPPCC, where he’s also a delegate.

Concentrations in the air of PM2.5, fine particles that pose the greatest health risk, hit 234 micrograms per cubic meter at 7 p.m. near Tiananmen Square yesterday, the Beijing government reported. The World Health Organization recommends 24-hour exposure to PM2.5 of no higher than 25.

The burning of coal is the main source of pollution in Beijing, according to estimates by Greenpeace and Peking University’s School of Public Health.

Power companies have a social responsibility to reduce emissions, China Huadian Corp. President Yun Gongmin said yesterday. The company, one of China’s largest state-owned electricity producers, plans to spend as much as 6 billion yuan (964.9 million) this year on units to strip emissions of sulfur and nitrates.

“The continuous air haze in Beijing is so pathetic,” Yun said yesterday. “Watching people wearing anti-toxin mask in the capital is pretty embarrassing. Nobody wants to live in a polluting city for fear of getting diseases within two to three years.”

Takeaway – don’t assume that the next 30 years will look like the last 30 in China.

14 Responses to “Chinese Emissions Press against Social, Biological Limits”


  1. Other important Chinese factoid of the day via Carbon Brief: per capita coal consumption in China is lower than Germany, the US and Australia (look at Australia go!)

    • MorinMoss Says:

      I recall digging up some info a while ago indicating that for the last 5-10 yrs, China has been burning as much coal all by itself as the entire world did 30 yrs ago.

    • jimbills Says:

      Three points: 1) that’s offset by the fact that there are 1.35 billion Chinese, 2) comparisons with the developed world are unfair, because China’s per capita electrical consumption is 1/4 that of the U.S. (http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.USE.ELEC.KH.PC). As China continues to grow, and as individual consumption rises, expect those figures to rise as well. And 3) electrical consumption doesn’t account for all its coal use individually. They use quite a lot of it for personal heating: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-11/13/content_17103212.htm

      The Carbon Brief article you linked to is definitely worth the read, though.

      One important factor that is rarely considered when viewing power use and source is globalization. The developed world, specifically the United States, should rightly bare the blame for a lot of the pollution in China – as many of its products end up here.

  2. dumboldguy Says:

    Yes, and that per capita number is the kicker, considering there are 4 times as many “per capita’s” in China as in the U.S. Once they start using coal at a rate necessary to approach the standard of living that they aspire to (ours), and India joins them, it will be nearly impossible to bring CO2 under control.

    Carbon Brief looks to be an excellent site—-thanks for the link.


    • It’s already impossible.  China’s attitude on CO2 is “you are responsible for X ppm in the atmosphere, and we are entitled to our share.”

      If our government had any balls or morals, we would have booted China out of the WTO and slapped heavy tariffs on its exports as soon as its position on Kyoto was plain.  The US Senate refused to ratify because China wouldn’t.

      • fortranprog Says:

        I beg to differ once again, but that is not my understanding of China’s attitude (China population 1.351 in 2012), nor my understand of diplomacy.

        The current president and leader of the 1.3 billion stated this at the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology (before being made president):

        Vice President Xi said, “The global climate change is deeply affecting human beings’ living and development. Our country, now in a stage of fast industrial and urban development, is facing obvious environmental pressure. The whole society should continue to intensify the campaign of saving energy and reducing emission of greenhouse gases in a deep-going way and put into effect the national scheme for the climatic change.”

        Using the stick and putting extra tariffs would not help in my humble opinion:

        http://english.cast.org.cn/n1181872/n1182063/12766930.html

      • dumboldguy Says:

        I didn’t want to be gloom and doom so I said “nearly impossible”. The truth is, I DO think it’s impossible. It’s too late for us to ever get it together in time, and, like Hansen, I fear the “storms of my grandchildren” are on their way.

        Some problems are too complex to solve, especially ones involving 7 billion people and free market capitalism as practiced by today’s plutocracy


  3. […] The fossil fueled growth that China has seen in the last 30 years is running up against some natural limits. How much longer can the Chinese plan to filter their emissions thru their children's lungs?  […]

  4. fortranprog Says:

    The scene from the video start reminds me very much of a East Midland British city (then the centre of knitting and hosiery industries) in the late 1950,s early 1960’s (where I grew up). I imagine Pittsburgh would have been like that too, like Shanghai the industrial pollutants get trapped when the weather conditions are right and people have a few yards visibility. 12,000 people were estimated to have died from the great smog of London 1952 alone. It was the conservative government (under Eden and MacMillan), who acted in 1956 after a report from industrialist/engineer Hugh Beaver, with the clean air act, and the smogs gradually disappeared as the burning of fossils was banned/controlled in cities. The problem seems to have moved around the world in a Judith Curry-like “stadium wave” (together with the knitting and hosiery business).

    Did industry leaders and CEOs (out of concern of the citizens health and well being) solve this problem in the U.K ? – NO once again it was left to politicians who have an even big responsibly now. So guys WAKE UP !


  5. Since China embraced unsustainable growth, it has been discovering what will limit it. For now, its raw pollution. The current rate of coal use is unsustainable. The reason it is looking for coal abroad is because its domestic supply will run out quickly. According to the coal industry itself, China is mining coal at an unsustainable rate. They also mention water use. Is this an example of growth run amok or what?
    http://cornerstonemag.net/chinas-coal-industry-must-follow-the-path-of-sustainable-production-capacity/
    Coal’s decline has continued silently, in plain sight. The Energy Watch Group predicts China’s coal will peak in 2015. So its a race to which happens first, AGW limits, pollution limits, resource limits…. And the cause? Exponential growth. China has had planned growth of greater than 7% for a while. That means doubling every 10 years. What do you wager China will be unable to continue that growth for 10 doublings, or 1000x growth?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_coal
    In the big picture, growth is the problem. Why does every nation do the same thing going from pre-industrial, to post-industrial? The economic system based on compound growth.

  6. andrewfez Says:

    26:00 to 28:20 talks a little about RMI in China. Somewhere else in the talk i think there is some talk about energy and defense related to China, but i can’t remember the details, I watch so many of these things….

    This is a Dec. 2013 video – hot off the press:


  7. […] – a must if they expect to continue developing as a world power – and indeed, if they wish to maintain social order.  Pollution is now the number one cause of social instability in […]


  8. […] the US to limit greenhouse gases. It is not an option, a nice idea, or a luxury for the Chinese, but a matter of survival.  Apparently, the prospect of running out of water in 15 years wonderfully concentrates the […]


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