Despite What You've Read, China Takes Air Pollution Seriously

by Ray Hicks, President,

I had the opportunity to visit some of our suppliers in China last month. While I was there, the state media announced that they would soon discontinue using coal in the 3 major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou (cities of near 20 million). In addition, they plan to ban coal use in all the major districts around Beijing by 2020. This is an ambitious goal for the Beijing area, where coal makes up one-quarter of the city’s total energy consumption.

Why the rush? China has a pollution problem, and everyone there knows it. Beijing and the surrounding area in China's northeast is often wreathed in noxious smog. Regarding CO2, China overtook the United States as the world's biggest carbon dioxide polluter in 2006, and has topped the list ever since.

I spent some time reading the English-language papers about pollution in China, as well as speaking to business owners and managers. What I found interesting is the way each of our countries are politically dealing with the problem of pollution, including high CO2 levels based on burning fossil fuels.

The Chinese government is moving rapidly to diversify energy and power sources, encouraging conservation, and develop low-energy technology. The conservation effort is everywhere and it is obvious. For example, the amount of general lighting in the workplaces I visited is far lower. Instead, they use task lighting as required. Recycling is big business. Every scrap of material that took energy to produce is being reclaimed as preprocessed feed stock for other products. The toaster you threw away last year is now part of the fender of a new Chinese car.

Meanwhile, in the US we listen to the deliberation of a 435 person brain trust and other special interests in Washington DC whose greatest claim to fame is that they are not scientists, but by their careful analysis of the scientific evidence, have concluded that more study is required. Therefore, we shouldn't do anything until we have all the facts. Even more amazing is the argument that there really isn’t any point in doing anything anyway, because the Chinese are the biggest polluters, and they aren’t doing anything either.

We in the West do not have an inkling as to the number of problems China faces: air pollution, water pollution, large-scale sanitation, delivery of medical services, water shortages and more. But the Chinese approach to all these problems is to the treat them as an opportunity to develop home-grown Chinese technology to be sold as a product globally. It is a source of national pride in China to solve their own problems, just like it used to be in the US.

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