Can China improve the air?

OK, it is really really bad

As posted earlier, the horrible pollution days have greeted us in the Christmas – New Year period. Many Chinese, and of course many foreigners, have doubts China will and can do something about it. Can China improve the air?


(Source SCMP)

Here some more pictures showing the pollution as seen from my house in Beijing, some taken above the Beijing CBD (as from the China Zun building under construction), and more.

Officials admit defeat, as for now

At least officials admit the skies are less blue than planned and progress has been little.
Read this telling article:
“Cool change on smog policy as Chinese officials warn of long fight ahead. Gone is the determined and optimistic tone of the past, with officials admitting that few gains have been made in clearing the air.” Dated 9 January 2017.

The recent poor air quality reflects the failure of previous commitments to tackle pollution.

In 2014, as Beijing launched a 760 billion yuan fund to clean up the city’s air, it vowed to s
lve the smog problem by 2017.
The official tone has changed. On Saturday, acting Beijing mayor Cai Qi said he shared the public’s frustration over air pollution.
A decision was taken in November to reset the ambitious 2017 goal. Instead of cutting levels of PM2.5 by more than a third from 2013 to an average of 56 micrograms per cubic meter by 2017, the aim is to do so by 2020.

But maybe for once I try to be an optimist.
See some of the indications.

Public transport and car regulations

As mentioned in my previous post, rail and city public transport is still a high priority.
As for Beijing, another major ring road is to be built, making a huge circle around Beijing so the trucks don’t need anymore to pass Beijing on their way to other regional destinations.
Slowly the quality of the gasoline is being improved but issues still remain with the bad quality of diesel.
As long as highway tolls remain too high, we will see continuing overloading of the trucks, a danger but also a source of pollution.
Beijing will soon cordon off the city for much of local traffic. The “Uber” type of services will also see restrictions: only Beijing hukou drivers and Beijing plates – now most of those services use Hebei drivers and cars.

How a real Beijinger reacts to pollution

Humor (?) is never far away

Yeah, we are all so aware the air is bad. Here how a real Beijinger reacts to pollution, with an “adapted mask”.

One needs a smoke, whatever happens. Found on WeChat and this went viral…
Sorry guys but I do not have the ordering details for the mask.
Not sure if they have the appropriate models for cigars and pipes.

Finding the polluters in China

Where does it come from?

TanSat will allow China finding the polluters in China, a major problem as many in the industry disobey the environmental laws. See earlier post.
China is to clamp down further on the industrial polluters, especially the smaller companies, as announced on 7 January.
“Small factories face anti-smog scrutiny” China Daily 7 January 2017

In 2015, industrial use of coal accounted for about 46% of the total coal consumption, but these furnaces did not have stringent environmental standards that matched those of the thermal power industry.
Right now the biggest challenge for the government is enforcement. They even started to use drones to inspect the polluters from a safe distance. Going there they get beaten up – or killed.
It has become a war…
See more about the interesting drones story here:
29 May 2015 – Caixin Online
China Uses Drones to Monitor Pollution Problem from Above
Central and local officials flying remote control drones to identify sources of pollution and gather information about air quality.

I quote a part:

The Ministry of Environmental Protection has also had drones fly over steel mills, refineries and power plants to gather information about possible emission violations. On May 18, 2015, the ministry published information on its website regarding penalties imposed on several major industrial companies in Hebei Province, in the north, that drones caught committing emissions violations. China has spent billions of yuan in recent decades to develop a national pollution monitoring system, but its effects have been limited because polluters always seem to be able to find ways to hide.

Burning the fields

A Dutch friend took these pictures on the Highway S10 between Shenyang (Liaoning) and Tonghua (Jilin).

See all the burning fields. It is illegal but farmers still do it unpunished, a major contribution to air pollution in the region.

The new pollution police

Officials in Beijing are taking steps toward tackling the city’s long-standing smog problem with the creation of an environmental police force, according to state media. Spearheaded by Beijing’s acting mayor Mayor Cai Qi, the political crackdown on burning fossil fuels comes amid a flurry of concern over the country’s choking air pollution.
See here:

The launch of the Tansat satellite

Tansat Satellite

The launch of the Tansat satellite was the main subject of my interview with RTL, to come out this week.


Image: TanSat Collaboration

TanSat (Chinese Carbon Dioxide Observation Satellite Mission) was launched in December 2016 by China to monitor carbon dioxide levels, making it the third country to track the potent contributor to global warming from space, along with USA and Japan.
The technology will trace the sources of greenhouse gases and help evaluate whether countries are fulfilling their commitments to reduce pollutants under environmental pacts.

China is a signatory to the Paris climate change agreement, the first universal action plan for curbing global warming.
The US and China are together responsible for some 40% of the world’s emissions, so their participation in the agreement is crucial for its success. So, if incoming President Trump fails to respect commitments, China will take the lead.

China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, due to its heavy reliance on coal to provide electricity to its population of 1.37 billion. It has been fast moving away from coal—driven in large part by the major recent air pollution.
On a three-year mission, TanSat will thoroughly examine global CO2 levels every 16 days, accurate to at least 4 ppm (parts per million).

Beijing super smog and traffic changes


I am not sure who first came up with that word to describe Beijing super smog. Here one of the many articles:
Photos of China’s ‘Airpocalypse’ — where industrial smog makes the country a living hell for half a billion people, by Louise Liu, Business Insider, 22 December 2016

Indeed, Beijing has in the past weeks seen some real horrible pollution. “The thick, toxic air has caused flights to be canceled, classes to be suspended, and alerts to be issued by the government encouraging people to insulate themselves from air. Under a charcoal-tinted sky and toxic fumes, half a billion people can’t live or step outside without wearing masks.”

And it came up all of a sudden

On 2 January I jumped on my bike to meet a friend for lunch. I checked the AQI, it looked good so I did not take a mask. That was a mistake.

As shown in these images and video it came as in a horror movie.

The time-lapse video shows Beijing swamped by a tide of smog. The video, just 12 seconds long, shows smog descending on the 3rd Ring Road over a 20 minutes period, towards the CCTV Tower and other buildings. The video circulated all over the world. It was by taken by Chas Pope, a British worker, that very day.

What about the masks?

To face the Beijing super smog, in-house I use my air filtering machines, outside my choice of 3M masks.


See how black the disposables become after some days. Time for a new one.
I now basically only use 3M, the ‘chemical war type” for heavy duty and the disposable one (pretty cheap like 10 RMB) for “normal” use. Both work well on the bicycle (one has to breathe!).
There are other masks of course, see here one “guide” (I stick to mine!):


Beijing: very strict rules on the way

Beijing announced stricter emission standards for cars to improve air quality. Starting on 15 December 2016 gasoline cars with National I and II emission standards are banned from the road when the city has an orange or red air-quality alert. Furthermore, those cars will be banned from the road from Monday to Friday starting on 15 February 2017. The number of cars with National I and II emission standards make up 8% of the cars registered in Beijing, but the emissions from those cars account for more than 30% of all emissions.
Also, soon cars older than ten years will be banned from the “center” (inside 5th ring road).
As far as the insiders tell me: cars from outside the 5th ring road might be simply all face serious restrictions (new number plates coming?!).

Plastics in the oceans and in China

Plastics: the huge plague finally receiving more attention

“Plastic Ocean: it’s a must-watch for Attenborough”, the article by Stuart Heaver, 27 Nov 2016 on plastics in the oceans:
The article also shows the official trailer.

Described by the revered presenter as “one of the most important films of our time”, the programme investigates the damage caused when indestructible things become disposable.
Earlier this month, 300 guests sat in stunned silence as A Plastic Ocean, a new feature-length exploration of the impact of plastic in our seas, made its Asian premiere at the Asia Society, in Admiralty. The film, which goes on general release on January 19, documents the unfolding of an international environmental catastrophe. It took five years to investigate the global impact of eight million tonnes of plastic being dumped into our oceans annually.

Plastic Island

More again here about plastics in the oceans: “How our throwaway culture is turning paradise into a graveyard”
By Nick Paton Walsh, Ingrid Formanek, Jackson Loo and Mark Phillips

Midway Atoll, North Pacific Ocean (CNN) — The distance from humanity yawns out in front of you when you stand on the pale sands of this tiny Pacific island.
Midway Atoll is just about the furthest piece of land from civilization and its constant engine whir, data and jostle.
Standing on the island’s remote shoreline brings a calm and humility — until you look down at your feet.
On the beach lies a motorcycle helmet, a mannequin’s head, an umbrella handle, and a flip-flop. They didn’t fall from a plane or off a ship, and there aren’t any civilians living here who could have left them behind.
They were washed in with the tide, most likely from China or the US, thousands of miles away — part of an enormous plastic garbage patch, spinning in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which you probably contribute to. And these are just the bits of it we can see.

Plastic China

There is also a striking documentary done inside China, see (need VPN in China):

Plastic China Sundance Trailer (2016, China)
Jiuliang Wang Documentary (English Subtitles)
Published on Dec 21, 2016

Yi Jie’s uneducated parents left mountain village home town, looking for work. They sort & recycle plastic waste, and live among mountains of it too. Then there is the boss, Kun, and his family, who do dream of a better future… a universal story of social inequality.
Director – Jiuliang Wang
Winner – IDFA 2016

See more about the movie here:
‘Plastic China’: Film Review, 30 December 2016, by Neil Young
A touching microcosm of capitalist realities obliterating communist dreams.
Jiuliang Wang’s documentary won a prize when bowing at IDFA and will make its North American debut at Sundance.

Hopefully it will call the attention of more people, especially of the authorities who only pay lip service.
The topic also figures in my book Toxic Capitalism.

Rebuilding America versus building China

America needs a new FDR

An immense program was started by then U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to revive the country, rebuilding America. Since then nothing much happened. President Obama was blocked in Congress to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure, “to limit government spending, public debt and federal budget deficits”. Then people blamed him for not doing anything.
The next president promises to spend US$ 1 trillion to repair the infrastructure. That probably is far from enough. How he will get the money (while lowering taxes!) is a wild guess.
See the excellent overview on America’s needs here:
Trump-Size Idea for a New President: Build Something Inspiring
By JAMES B. STEWART, 17 November 2016

See an extract:

Can anyone name even one infrastructure project from President Obama’s $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act? I didn’t think so.
In fairness to Mr. Obama, Republicans in Congress bitterly opposed his public works spending plans, and he lamented there were too few “shovel ready” projects.
That didn’t stop Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration, using combinations of public and private money, solicited proposals from states and cities, hired millions of workers and eventually built 78,000 bridges, 650,000 miles of roads, 700 miles of airport runways, 13,000 playgrounds and 125,000 military and civilian buildings, including more than 40,000 schools — in most cases to high standards of quality and design.

Then there is China

When travelling from China to the USA we note the difference: modern and imposing Chinese airports versus decrepit American ones, a real shame for a “world economic giant”. Again, those Chinese airports are not for prestige: they are usually packed. Reason I avoid cities like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Detroit and Indianapolis are a pleasure on the contrary. Not even to mention the many new railway stations in China that look like international airports.


See the 2020 plan for Beijing subways. When I arrived in Beijing in 1980 there were only two lines with old subway trains. Beijing will construct 12 subway lines in the coming five years: the Beijing Rail Transportation Construction Plan (2014-2020) calls for six new subways lines and extensions to six existing ones. The Beijing Subway is expected to reach 1,000 km by the end of 2020.
While at times cities like New York need a century to build one subway line, Beijing builds new subways every year. They are modern, efficient, fast and filled to capacity, demonstrating they are much needed.
China has been accused to waste money to build highways to nowhere and high-speed trains that nobody uses.
Those critics have never been to China it seems, and are clueless about economy.


The high-speed trains are often at full capacity and are now competing with air travel. In 2016, 2.77 billion trips were made on the country’s railroads including 1.44 billion trips by high-speed trains.
At the end of 2016 China’s rail system had a length of 124,000 km including 22,000 km of high-speed rail.
The new and immense network of highways, bridges, tunnels and railways have opened central and West China, changing demographics. It now makes sense for the migrants to return to their cities and for industry to relocate away from East and South China.
In the next five years, China will invest 3.5 trillion yuan ($503 billion) to accelerate railway construction, including expansion of the country’s high-speed rail network to 30,000 km.
Good infrastructure is a must to have an efficient industry, reduce travel and transportation time and combat pollution. Overall, China did a pretty good job, despite some shortcomings.

Canada in Conversation with Minister Catherine McKenna

The event

One more in the series Canada in Conversation with Minister Catherine McKenna, in charge of Environment and Climate Change.
Chargé d’Affaires Cindy Termorshuizen was the host on 6 December in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing and introduced the importance of investing in clean technologies to tackle climate change and to meet their Paris Summit commitments.
A number of Canadian companies active in clean technologies were present.
Another highlight: Canadians are gearing up for the 150th anniversary of Confederation and are invited to take part in the year-long celebration, as shown in the video that also featured Canada’s national parks.

The program

After the introduction by the Chargé d’Affaires, Ms. Catherine McKenna delivered a keynote address and then participated in a conversation with Mr. Chai Fahe. The talk was moderated by Ms. Wu Changhua.
A networking reception followed the panel discussion at the Official Residence.

Canada’s clean technology industry is one of the country’s most promising of the 21st Century. It operates across 10 sectors, and the “clean tech” term encompasses companies finding green solutions to everything from energy efficiency to renewable energy, from waste management to green transportation, and from biofuels to greener solutions for the oil and gas industry. Canada’s clean tech sector is highly competitive and an innovation-led industry, committed to investing heavily in research and development and serving international markets. Indeed, Canadian clean tech has a key role to play in the global race to address climate change and helping Canada and other countries to meet their Paris Summit commitments.
Canada’s clean tech capabilities is said to present terrific potential for Canada-China cooperation in a range of areas, including using energy more efficiently, renewable power generation, smart grid distribution, nuclear energy, hydrogen fuel cell technology, and carbon capture and storage.

The speakers

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, practiced competition and international trade law in Canada and Indonesia and was senior negotiator with the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in East Timor. She also served as senior advisor on the former Chief Justice Antonio Lamer’s review of Canada’s military justice system. Ms. McKenna co-founded Canadian Lawyers Abroad, a charitable organization that works in developing countries and with Indigenous communities in Canada. She served as Executive Director of the Banff Forum, a public policy organization for young leaders. Ms. McKenna taught at the Munk School of Global Affairs. Ms. McKenna was elected in October 2015 and appointed Minister of Environment and Climate Change in November 2015.

Mr. Chai Fahe is Vice President of Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences.

Ms. Wu Changhua chairs the China Redesign Hub and acts as the China/Asia Region Liaison for Jeremy Rifkin Office. She is a leading Chinese policy expert in sustainable development, climate change, environmental protection, green financing, and technology innovation. She worked with former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on Breaking the Climate Deadlock project for the Copenhagen process, chaired the Global Agenda Council on Climate Change at the World Economic Forum, and served on the UNFCCC Clean Development Mechanism Committee and the Carbon Market Leadership Policy Dialogue. She has chaired two boards of The Climate Group in Greater China and acted as the Group’s Director to advance China’s low carbon economy. She holds a Master in Law from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ School of Journalism and an MA in environmental policy and management from the University Maryland.

Highlights of the discussion

Canada will invest a large sum for further innovation and action in clean energy in the next four years.
Technologies highlighted by the Canadian side are geothermal energy, hydrogen fuel cells and more.
Mr. Chai very well described the challenges China faces in this respect, such as the need for a more stable and balanced electric network with smart grid and energy storage, to eliminate the conflict between the irregular power supply from renewables such as wind and solar and the demand from consumers.
He also agreed that lithium cell technology was not sufficient to deal with it.
I raised two questions: what technologies China looks at for energy storage and how to deal with the waste of heating in Chinese building due to a lack of proper monitoring and regulation of the supply.
Next year China is to start the national carbon trade market.

China Daily promotes a better environment

Positive efforts

China Daily promotes a better environment through regular ads. I wish they would do it more in Chinese and in Chinese media, as the key is to change the many bad habits of our Chinese friends.
Concerns for the environment, pollution and waste, are growing.
See here some of the ads:

More education needed

In articles to come, some more on the often sad situations in China’s environment. Failure to recycle properly, non-existing garbage sorting, plastic thrown anywhere polluting the land and the oceans. The government is aware but there is massive need to educate the people and implement the (existing) laws to protect the environment.
Yes, China Daily promotes a better environment, also through many articles highlighting the problems, and not only related to air pollution. But so much more needed.

Fracking and earthquakes

Possible link between fracking and earthquakes

In my book Toxic Capitalism I made a lot of reservations about fracking, causing side-effects such as earthquakes and contamination of water wells. I was wondering how this further evolved, in view of the massive increase in fracking, especially in the USA.
In Alberta, Canada, a direct link between fracking and earthquakes came up. It was researched as explained in detail in the New York Times article dated 17 November by Henry Fountain:
See the full article here:

Some excerpts on fracking and earthquakes

In the debate over fracking of oil and gas wells, opponents often cite the risk that the process can set off nearby earthquakes. But scientists say that in the United States, fracking-induced earthquakes are not common.
In Canada, however, a spate of earthquakes in Alberta within the last five years has been attributed to fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in which water, chemicals and sand are injected at high pressure into a well drilled in a shale formation to break up the rock and release oil and gas.
Now, scientists at the University of Calgary who studied those earthquakes, near Fox Creek in the central part of the province, say the quakes were induced in two ways: by increases in pressure as the fracking occurred, and, for a time after the process was completed, by pressure changes brought on by the lingering presence of fracking fluid.
“The key message is that the primary cause of injection-induced seismicity in Western Canada is different from the central United States,” said David W. Eaton, a professor of geophysics at the University of Calgary and co-author of a paper in the journal Science describing the research. The findings could help regulators take steps to avoid such induced earthquakes, he said.
Scientists say most of the recent earthquakes in Oklahoma and other parts of the United States have been caused by the burial of wastewater from all kinds of oil and gas wells rather than by the fracking process itself. Wastewater is injected under pressure into disposal wells drilled into a sandstone or other permeable formation, and flows into the rock. That can cause pressure changes in the formation that can upset the equilibrium around a fault zone, causing an earthquake as the fault slips.
In the Fox Creek area in Alberta, where oil and gas companies have been drilling in recent years into a formation called the Duvernay shale, earlier research had seen links between the earthquakes — all of which were minor and caused little damage — and fracking, rather than wastewater injection.
They found two patterns to the seismicity. To the east in the fault zone, most of the earthquakes occurred during the fracking process itself, which lasted up to a month. To the west, there were few immediate quakes; they occurred intermittently over several months after the fracking ended.
Dr. Eaton said he and others were conducting more research to understand why Alberta responds differently to fracking than Oklahoma and other parts of the United States. “It’s a different situation,” he said, “and understanding the origin of the differences is important.”


In my book I agreed one cannot stop technology, but that extreme care was needed to avoid the undesired side-effects.
With the deep economic impact of fracturing in the USA the world economics on oil have changed and it has brought sizeable benefits to the U.S.
On the other hand as the article explains, more careful studies are needed to lower the risks. Yes, that might make it more expensive but it is no excuse for damaging the environment.