Sunday, April 5, 2009

Benefit of Economic Slowdown: Easy Breathing

Although I've talked on here before about how the economic crisis could lead to even higher levels of pollution, it looks like the opposite is happening.

From The Associated Press:

A photo taken from the window of my apartment this morning

BEIJING (AP) — Last summer, Xu Demin struggled to cut emissions from his coal-fired factories as part of China's all-out effort to clean the air for the Beijing Olympics.

He could have simply waited six months. This spring, overseas demand for his farming and construction machinery plummeted, forcing him to close two plants and lay off 300 workers.

The global economic slowdown is helping to accomplish what some in China's leadership have striven to do for years: rein in the insatiable demand for coal-powered energy that has fed the country's breakneck growth but turned it into one of the world's most polluted nations.

Beijing, China's normally smog-choked capital, is breathing some of its cleanest air in nearly a decade, as pollution-control efforts get a sizable boost from a slowing economy.

"It's like the sky I saw overseas. I can see clouds. I've seen days here like I've seen in Europe or the U.S.," Xu says, his voice echoing in the cavernous space of his idle factory outside Beijing.

An Associated Press analysis of government figures backs up his observations: In the second half of last year, a period that included the Olympics in August, Beijing recorded its lowest air pollution readings since 2000, according to data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.


"It's up to us whether we can turn crisis into opportunity," he said.

Read On
Xi'an's air quality still leaves a lot to be desired. I'm sure this is the case for Beijing too. While we're getting more blue skies here, I'd hesitate to compare it to the US or Europe like the guy in the article did. But things are indeed going in the right direction. The air quality now is so much better than it was when I came at the beginning of 2006.

In other positive news on China's environmental front this week, The New York Times did a feature on China and its interest in being an electric car producer powerhouse:

TIANJIN, China — Chinese leaders have adopted a plan aimed at turning the country into one of the leading producers of hybrid and all-electric vehicles within three years, and making it the world leader in electric cars and buses after that.

The goal, which radiates from the very top of the Chinese government, suggests that Detroit’s Big Three, already struggling to stay alive, will face even stiffer foreign competition on the next field of automotive technology than they do today.

“China is well positioned to lead in this,” said David Tulauskas, director of China government policy at General Motors.

To some extent, China is making a virtue of a liability. It is behind the United States, Japan and other countries when it comes to making gas-powered vehicles, but by skipping the current technology, China hopes to get a jump on the next.

Read On
There are problems with electric cars in China though:
But electric vehicles may do little to clear the country’s smog-darkened sky or curb its rapidly rising emissions of global warming gases. China gets three-fourths of its electricity from coal, which produces more soot and more greenhouse gases than other fuels.

A report by McKinsey & Company last autumn estimated that replacing a gasoline-powered car with a similar-size electric car in China would reduce greenhouse emissions by only 19 percent. It would reduce urban pollution, however, by shifting the source of smog from car exhaust pipes to power plants, which are often located outside cities.
Thinking about where the energy that drives electric cars is something I've been doing recently. In Xi'an, gas-powered motor bikes are banned within the second ring road of the city. All the bikes within that ring have to be pedal bikes or electric bikes. This is to reduce pollution in the city.

But with electric bikes, it's true that the pollution is ultimately pushed somewhere else. Or at least that is the case in China where carbon-emitting gases are the primary source of energy from power plants. I'd come to the same realization that the article does; the pollution is just moving from one place to another with these electric bikes.

Dirty factories that have shut down due to the economic crisis and electric cars that shift pollution from cities to the countryside aren't going to ultimately solve all of China's environmental problems. But I suppose that if these things make Chinese cities more bearable places to live in the short term, then they are steps in the right direction.

1 comment:

andy said...

Looks like a nice day...