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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Environmental Problems

There is an excellent multi-part article up over at the New York Times about the staggering effects of pollution and environmental degradation in China, and rather importantly, the apathetic and often downright antipathetic politicians that perpetuate these problems.

"Provincial officials, who enjoy substantial autonomy, often ignore environmental edicts, helping to reopen mines or factories closed by central authorities. Over all, enforcement is often tinged with corruption. This spring, officials in Yunnan Province in southern China beautified Laoshou Mountain, which had been used as a quarry, by spraying green paint over acres of rock."

A lot of it can be tied back to Den Xiaoping's "growth at all costs" measures from the late 1970s and 1980s, a mentality that continues unabated today without strong rhetoric to combat it. When the country put all its faith in growth, anything to the contrary was anathema, and now there seems to be no clear voice, no decisive action, no compelling counter-argument, coming from Beijing.

One major pollutant contributing to China’s bad air is particulate matter, which includes concentrations of fine dust, soot and aerosol particles less than 10 microns in diameter (known as PM 10).

The level of such particulates is measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air. The European Union stipulates that any reading above 40 micrograms is unsafe. The United States allows 50. In 2006, Beijing’s average PM 10 level was 141, according to the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics.

What's fueled this growth, and the subsequent whole-scale rape of the environment? Well, among many other things, it's been cheap, dirty power plants that keep the lights on around China. And what fuels those power plants? Tons and tons of coal.

All these new buildings require China to build power plants, which it has been doing prodigiously. In 2005 alone, China added 66 gigawatts of electricity to its power grid, about as much power as Britain generates in a year. Last year, it added an additional 102 gigawatts, as much as France.

That increase has come almost entirely from small- and medium-size coal-fired power plants that were built quickly and inexpensively. Only a few of them use modern, combined-cycle turbines, which increase efficiency ...

Think about this. Think of the fouled water used for cleaning and maintaining these power plants. Think of the myriad regulations in place in the United States, regulations that simply don't exist in China, that prevent that water from entering the groundwater, that punish the owners of these plants, that force them to have some semblance of responsibility.

Now think about the marathon runner that will be running for his country in Beijing in the summer of 2008, where the air will be polluted not only beyond the normal levels of pollution in his or her home country, but polluted three to four times beyond the hazardous level in their home country.

I'm at a loss for commentary here ... just read the article.

1 comment:

deirge said...

hey matt...
when you get this can you IM me?
my Skype isn't working :(