Pollution in Paris: less clarity than in Beijing

France, as well as other EU countries are as opaque as possible about pollution. None gives API or AQI figures. Most still work with PM10 instead of PM2.5. Beijing is more transparent. Maybe Paris needs the US embassy to start measuring. Right today in Beijing at some point the AQI was 112 with PM2.5 of 40 µg/m3 (US embassy) while Beijing says PM10: 370 µg and PM2.5: 71 µg; pollution level 228 (one of the rare moments the US embassy has better readings). The same lack of clarity is in Hong Kong where I have never seen clear AQI or API figures.

What I understand, Belgium is even worse. Not easy to know the figures there. Anyway, their “alarm levels” are a joke for us in Beijing: life would be at a constant stand-still if we applied theirs.

You can check the AQI of Paris (and Belgian cities, as well as Beijing!) here: http://aqicn.org/map/paris/
However the media never refer to those values. And the values are, compared to Beijing, a
dream. Wish we had that “pollution” every single day!

Beijing Cough Page: updated

Following added to the page:
What is in the polluted air?
A study in 2013 by researchers of Tsinghua University identified more than 1,300 microbes in the atmosphere over Beijing. Although most of them may pose no direct threat to human health, the number still makes for alarming reading. The components of the pollution differ from city to city. In Xi’an most of it is related to coal consumption while Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou have more complex sources, due to the growing number of vehicles. Particulate matters due to the burning of oil are more hazardous than those formed by the burning of coal. It is estimated there are some 200 to 300 chemicals in the PM2.5. The most hazardous are organic compounds containing polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a group of compounds thought to be carcinogenic. The most dangerous particles are the PM1 and Shanghai has more of those than Beijing, a reason for visibility on smog days to be worse in Shanghai; I thought it was due to higher humidity. [source: China Daily]

What about the “Beijing Cough”?

As I have been fighting a vicious cough since the middle of December, I delved a bit deeper into what is called “Beijing Cough”.
So, I created a new page, see on the right side: Beijing Cough: a myth?
Feel free to comment (directly to me). I will keep the page updated to clarify some of the misgivings around that issue that makes our life in Beijing, at times, miserable.
With the pollution, my American family has cancelled the idea of visiting us here in Beijing. The risk of getting adverse reactions for their family (including two young kids) is unfortunately too real – they have some issues with allergies and asthma.

Details on Beijing’s action plan on clean air

As detailed in my book Toxic Capitalism, the issue of the air pollution in Beijing is serious but also complicated.
What happened during the run-up to the 2008 Olympics is another story; I was deeply involved in following that story, how Beijing was forced to take draconian measures – something that was only possible then and cannot be copied. I plan to write about that in detail one day. I talk about that in seminars I organize.
Car emissions are believed to account for one-third of PM2.5, a major air pollutant, in most congested areas in Beijing. Studies suggest a quarter of the pollutants in the city’s air comes from its surrounding areas.
Contrary to what some people believe abroad, the city government is pretty aware of the dramatic increase in air pollution and is now intensifying efforts to reduce the PM2.5. They have little choice as the population is too aware of the severity of the pollution and has even forced the authorities to start monitoring PM2.5.
See here the main points in the action plan. See the pdf for the full details and the sources (China Daily): 130903 BJpollution

Highlights – Beijing’s action plan on clean air
Five-year plan 2013-2017

  • To reduce PM 2.5 density by 25% or more by 2017 with PM 2.5 density controlled to around 60 micrograms/m3, a 25% drop from 2012 levels.
  • To slash 13 million metric tons of coal consumption over five years (more than 50%) based on 2012 levels; to reduce the proportion of coal used within the city’s total energy mix to below 10%. Coal consumption to be less than 10 million T by 2017.
  • To completely eliminate the use of coal within the Second Ring Road.
  • Vehicles from outside Beijing will be forbidden from entering the Sixth Ring Road unless with permission.
  • To control private car ownership within 6 million by the end of 2017, from more than 5.2 million as of early 2013.
  • Vehicle fuel use to be cut by at least 5% in 2017 from 2012 levels.
  • One million old polluting vehicles to be scrapped from 2013 to 2017.
  • A congestion charge would be levied mainly on vehicles in the downtown area and will be set out in the near future by the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau and Beijing Commission of Transport.
  • Public transportation in central Beijing to account for 52% of all trips in 2017.
  • More than 65% of public vehicles to be clean energy vehicles by 2017.
  • More than 60% of the city to be covered by green space by the end of 2017.
  • Area of Beijing covered by water to increase 1000 hectares from 2013 to 2017.

Do note this is only part of the story. Not mentioned here are a series of other measures, including the improvement of car fuel (gasoline / diesel), e-vehicles, etc. See earlier posts.

The Study Road 2013 finished!

I wrote about this great adventure in a previous post.
See here their “Final” report:
After 12.500 kilometers of cycling, crossing 7 countries, cycling through deserts, mountains, rain, storm, snow and valleys we made it to Beijing!
On the 6th of August the Study Road team arrived at the Dutch Embassy in Beijing where they were welcomed by the Ambassador. The program continued with lectures about Chinese environmental issues, history of Confucianism, and economy.
Sleeping in tents was not necessary anymore. The Peninsula, one of the most luxurious hotels in Beijing offered a room to each participant. So before everybody continued it’s journey in a different direction they were spoiled in the luxury of one room per person, delicious breakfast, a pool and a gym.

Arrival in front of The Forbidden City in Beijing

It has been a long journey with many adventures. Thanks to the enthusiasm and positive vibes of the team we made the first edition of the Study Road a success. So a big thank you to the pioneers who made the Study Road a reality and not just an idea!
And a big thank you to the participating universities, the guest speakers, the travel agencies and the volunteers that have been helping!
– Joya van Hout –
Read the full report: http://tinyurl.com/matpf6t

Climate Panel Cites Near Certainty on Warming

See the full article: 19 August 2013 – By JUSTIN GILLIS, The New York Times:
An international panel of scientists has found with near certainty that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades, and warns that sea levels could conceivably rise by more than three feet (that like 1 m) by the end of the century if emissions continue at a runaway pace.
The scientists, whose findings are reported in a draft summary of the next big United Nations climate report, largely dismiss a recent slowdown in the pace of warming, which is often cited by climate change doubters, attributing it most likely to short-term factors.
The report emphasizes that the basic facts about future climate change are more established than ever, justifying the rise in global concern. It also reiterates that the consequences of escalating emissions are likely to be profound.
“It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010,” the draft report says. “There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”
The draft comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of several hundred scientists that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, along with Al Gore.
One more report, to add to the ones cited in my book Toxic Capitalism.

The Study Road arrived from Istanbul in Beijing!

Yes, a crazy bunch of young people made it from Istanbul (Turkey) to Beijing, some 12,500 Km, starting 7 March 2013 and ending 15 August.
See: http://www.thestudyroad.com/
The road: Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Beijing.
The team: Melanie Hoetmer (student in Neuroscience), Ben Seagar (Architect and winemaker), Hedda ten Holder (student in Media and Culture), Zhenbao Jin (Lawyer and Professor in Civil Law) and Joya van Hout (Founding Director) and other.
Nationalities: The Netherlands, China, New Zealand.

I was fortunate to meet the team of these great adventurers in Beijing on 8 August and I talked about my book “Toxic Capitalism”, the 2008 Beijing Olympics and more. Location: 2nd floor of Nearby The Tree in Sanlitun.

Their tour is a great promotion for biking, especially in China where bikes are many but not used enough. I do see more and more Chinese young people on expensive and fancy bikes. Cool.

Fracking: Gangplank to a warmer world

See the article 28 July 2013 in NYT by Anthony R. Ingraffea:

As I explain in my book Toxic Capitalism, fracking (hydraulic fracturing) might be a great new technology but if not done properly it carries very heavy risks for the environment. One of the dangers I mention is methane.

As Ingraffea mentions, methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it doesn’t last nearly as long in the atmosphere. Still, over a 20-year period, one pound of it traps as much heat as at least 72 pounds of carbon dioxide. Its potency declines, but even after a century, it is at least 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. When burned, natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, but methane leakage eviscerates this advantage because of its heat-trapping power. This is the gas that is released into the atmosphere unburned as part of the fracking process, and also from pipelines, compressors and processing units.

A 2011 study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that unless leaks can be kept below 2%, gas coming from fracking lacks any climate advantage over coal. And a study released this May by Climate Central, a group of scientists and journalists studying climate change, concluded that the 50% climate advantage of natural gas over coal is unlikely to be achieved over the next three to four decades.

But be sure, the fracking lobby does not want to talk about this.

Our solution? Waste less, consume wisely, reduce energy consumption, and don’t cut corners in the quest for energy and raw materials.

Driving a BMW in China but…

See here from China Daily 1 August 2013:
“Driving a BMW but drinking polluted water – that is definitely not the modernization prospect we foresee.”

Zhou Shengxian, minister of environmental protection, was quoted by the People’s Daily as saying on Wednesday. Zhou said progress in building an ecologically responsible society can be guaranteed only by implementing strict environmental regulations and the rule of law.

Actually, a nearly similar quote is already mentioned in my book Toxic Capitalism