"You Can Smell China’s GDP in the Air"

In the aftermath of Solyndra, politicians have been looking for new reasons to justify government financing for renewable energy. Since green jobs have been a bust and many Americans don't care about climate change, beating China is the new raison d’être du jour.

In 2010, the Chinese government was the top spender on green energy projects worldwide, with $34 billion—almost double what the Unites States spent. It evens plan to create a new energy "superministry." As part of its next five-year plan (because those always work), China plans to spend almost $475 billion by 2017. Currently, China produces more wind turbines and solar panels than any other nation. The sheer number of the latter have led to accusations of "dumping" and ruining America's solar industry, with some solar manufacturers aggressively lobbying for tariffs. (Luckily, a rival coalition of solar businesses is lobbying to stop these tariffs, since starting a trade war in the middle of a recession is probably not the best idea.)

Green with China envy, environmentalists claim "America is losing the clean energy race," and naysayers are "un-American." Of course, few can top Thomas Friedman, whose now infamous September 8, 2009 column oozes orgasmic China envy:

There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today. One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power.

Unfortunately for these watermelons, China uses incredibly tiny amounts of renewable energy. Writing in The Washington Post in April 2011, Bjorn Lomborg elaborates:

The explosive recent growth in Chinese solar and wind generation equates to going from zilch to a small fraction: Wind today generates just 0.05 percent of China’s energy, and solar is responsible for one-half of one-thousandth of 1 percent.

The avoided carbon emissions from all of China’s solar and wind generation—even maintained over the entire century—would lower temperatures in 2100 by 0.00002 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the equivalent, based on mainstream climate models, of delaying temperature rises at the end of the century by around five hours.

Plus, despite all that green spending, China is an industrial hellhole, with abysmal air quality and smog. Or as the Chinese government calls it, "heavy fog" or "light pollution." According to a study by the World Bank, exposure to outdoor air pollution kills 350,000 people each year prematurely, while indoor air pollution claims another 300,000 in China. In addition, the rate of lung cancer has increased by over 60% in the past decade, even though smoking levels have stagnated. Chinese air quality has deteriorated to the point where even basic visibility is a problem, cancelling flights and closing down highways. Some Beijing residents joke, "you can smell China's GDP in the air." 

The main culprit for this miasma is coal. In a report publicized by Xinhua News Agency, 60 percent of the particulates responsible for smog come from coal generation. Over 70 of China's energy consumption comes from burning coal, equal to 3.2 billion tons in 2010. That's almost half of all coal burned on the entire planet. Of course, this massive increase in air pollution is a by-product of China's rapid economic growth--over 1,000 percent since 1978. Since cheap, abundant energy is necessary for prosperity, China has few options for cleaner energy sources. Wind and solar are still more expensive than coal, with the latter costing twice as much. Until renewables can reach “grid parity,” i.e., the same price for electricity provided by the grid, low-carbon sources like nuclear power and natural gas will become supreme in the Middle Kingdom.

Reason on pollution and renewable energy. Matt Welch on the "banal authoritarianism" of Thomas Friedman. And here's reason.tv with the "skeptical environmentalist" himself, Bjorn Lomborg.

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  • kinnath||

    Anyone that admires Chinese "capitalism" has never been to China.

  • A Serious Man||

    So. The socialists at the enivironmental lobby are using nationalism to spraed their message.

    The socialists..are combing their message...with nationalism.

  • Cytoxic||

    You know who else combed his socialism with nationalism?

  • Pip||

    George W. Bush?

  • Hitler said to FDR||

    Hey! You got your socialism in my nationalism!

  • ||

    Two great rapes that rape great together.

  • Xenocles||

    Whenever I hear that we're falling behind the Chinese in tech development, I always ask them why we can't just let them spend the big money and then steal the results (if any). It seems to be working for them.

  • Romneybot||

    NO! The chinks are cheating us at trade and built an aircraft carrier. Danger, danger!

  • ||

    bought an aircraft carrier

  • ¢||

    For a magazine called Scheduled Automatic Overnight Posting to Avoid a Quittin' Time Content Glut...

  • Sudden||

    I believe the actual name of the magazine is an acronym for Released Entries At Scheduled Occassions on Network

  • Geoff Nathan||

    I spent a week in Xi'an this past summer, at a linguistics conference. I don't think I ever saw a blue sky, or the sun, despite the fact that the sun was 'out' most of the time--i.e. it was technically not 'cloudy'.
    When I got to Kyoto, where I spent the next week, I was astounded by how blue the sky was.

  • rather||

    onetime I was riding a bike and I kept falling because it was a sewing machine instead.

  • poetry||

    i don't believe you.

  • Old Mexican||

    Unfortunately for these watermelons, China uses incredibly tiny amounts of renewable energy.


    Nooo! Get out of town! Really? You promise? Pinky promise?

    Wind today generates just 0.05 percent of China’s energy, and solar is responsible for one-half of one-thousandth of 1 percent.


    Our watermellons produce more wind than that!

  • ||

    I was in Beijing in October and the air quality was horrifying. I've spent a lot of time in China over the past six years, but this was the worst I've ever seen. The US embassy has a twitter feed for the Beijing air quality (of course twitter is blocked in China). It was "dangerous" the entire time I was there. The Beijing weather reports said it was "mist" or "fog".

  • ||

    That's all just anti-human hippie propaganda. Haven't you ever read Ayn Rand? And, besides, it didn't hurt you so there must not be a thing to worry about!

  • ||

    Shut the fuck up.

    My apologies if this was sarcasm.

  • killazontherun||

    Goddamn the stupidity. The stupidity is madness.

    Scientific America -- man can't make cheeseburger on his own. Takes too many resources so therefore markets are not sustainable:

    http://www.scientificamerican......eeseburger

    That the cheeseburger—our delicious and comforting everyman food—didn’t exist 100 years ago is a greasy, shiny example of all that is both right and wrong with our modern food economy. Thanks to fertilizers, genetically modified crops, concentrated farming operations and global overnight shipping, much of the world was lifted out of starvation (but not malnutrition, ironically enough) because it could finally grow sufficient quantities of food with decreasing labor inputs.

    But these same advances that allow food to be grown out of season and in all corners of the globe contribute to a whole host of environmental problems, from deforestation and nitrogen loading of water sources (and the resulting dead zones) to the insane quantities of water being consumed. The “industrialization of food,” as author Paul Roberts puts it, is a relentless cycle driven by razor-thin price margins that force food processors to adopt more advanced techniques to produce even more food at lower prices. This system will only be exacerbated as food demand increases. Recently David Tilman and Jason Hill of the University of Minnesota released a study anticipating that global food demand could double by 2050. It’s doubtful that our current, impractical food economy can sustain that demand.
  • Old Mexican||

    You can find in Netflix a show about ancient inventions, hosted by Terry Jones, where he shows that the ancient Romans invented the hamburger.

    But since we're talking about the same people who peddled the faux science of "climate change", I am not suprised one bit.

    This system will only be exacerbated as food demand increases.


    Gee, there are theories that just won't die, like this neo-Malthusian stupidity. But that's why I don't subscribe to Scientific American.

    Just what the fuck makes these imbeciles believe that people do not progress and find solutions to these assumed problems? Haven't 200 years of human scientific and technical progress given even a hint to these guys?

  • ||

    It's never over except when it's over. But then it definitely is.

  • Bobby Earl||

    You can find in Netflix a show about ancient inventions, hosted by Terry Jones, where he shows that the ancient Romans invented the hamburger.
    But it was called the Christianburger

  • ||

    SA turned to crap pop science sometime in the early 90's. Now its all big government, climate change, and "we're running out of resourcres" chicken little articles.
    In any normal issue you're lucky to find a couple of articles worth reading. And nowadays they're devoting whole issues to that crap.

  • Gojira||

    The pollution thing really is something I struggle with from a libertarian perspective. We frequently extoll the virtues of places like Hong Kong, but brother, that is one polluted city.

    Pretty bad organized crime problem, also. My wife's parents left there to start a restaurant in NYC because they were having to pay protection money to both a local gang, and to the larger Triad, and the cops were mostly on the take and didn't care. Once the local gang started trying to recruit my brother-in-law, the parents gave up and came to America.

  • Priestess||

    Where they found themselves paying protection money to the City government, State government and Federal government; the cops are still mostly on the take and don't care, but at least the cops aren't trying to recruit your brother-in-law (unless he's Muslem and/or a pot head).

  • Gojira||

    If they didn't have to pay any taxes in HK that example might hold...but they did have to.

    They tell me that doing business here has more red tape, but is safer and with better law enforcement, so they prefer it.

  • killazontherun||

    Triads though were not native stock of Hong Kong but ran out of Shanghai and other mainland areas by Mao's people. If anything, the Chi-coms owe restitution to the HK natives for the crime problem.

    History aside, I would never make the claim that a society is made virtuous by its economic system, and the same is true for its government. As Sowell pointed out, here in the US legislation codified trends in society into law during the Civil Rights Era but did not get ahead of them; otherwise, you would have seen far more violent conflict.

  • juris imprudent||

    Man those pictures remind me of growing up in SoCal pre Clean Air Act.

  • Doc Merlin||

    SoCal still looks like that for large parts of the year and has for thousands of years.

  • ||

    This site has gone pinko! Do not speak ill of the free market and any nation that is making a lot of money. If they are making money then whatever they are doing is right and virtuous. I said the market has said so. Only socialists and communist wealth re-distributors talk about problems the environment.

  • Amakudari||

    The biggest reason for China's growth is that they started off with almost nothing thanks to decades of economic planning while another billion or so people in functional economies laid the groundwork for today's material quality of life.

    You don't have to figure everything out yourself to benefit from it. And clearly, their politicians are willing to spend themselves into insolvency, as is pretty evident by their bullet train. Why don't we just chill out, buy the cheap solar panels and focus on actually productive sectors of the economy?

  • IceTrey||

    I can't wait until we can start buying Chinese made molten salt thorium reactors. The Chinese are going to save the planet.

  • moop||

    been living in beijing for 3 years now. this year the air is worse than its ever been, and the government lies about air quality. even after they started measuring smaller particles they were still reporting lies

  • Jan Eek||

    America and pollution
    Jul27

    I recently read a blog post about global warming by Archie Richards. This is my response to his ridicule of everybody who is worried about the way we destroy this planet.

    The Vikings never grew grapes in Greenland or in Newfoundland. The temperature in the year 1000 was just slightly higher than 50 years ago. The ice in the Arctic is receding in a much higher speed then expected, which leaves the polar bears in that area in a dire situation. The ice on Greenland is also receding at a very dangerous speed. The ozone layer is getting thinner and even has holes in it, especially where I live. I could go on, but there is no doubt that man made pollution is the cause if these changes. —-

    The worst polluters are the US and China, but despite this, they refuse to sign any international agreement to reduce the pollution. Many Americans argue that the effects of the pollution are NOT man made, but a “natural” part of a cycle. This has been disproved again and again, but America and China are continuing to spew out all the destructive gases that are so dangerous to all of us.

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