"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Beyond Kyoto—to Shanghai and Delhi

Some in the media are finally starting to understand that the real pollution problems of our time are not caused by "rich" nations' overuse of resources; the main cause now is developing nation's inefficient use of resources. ABC News notes this in an interesting article today:

Americans are surrounded by the fruits of Asia's explosive rise, and years of steady importing and outsourcing have created winners and losers on both sides of the globalization boom. But the next phase could prove harmful for everyone — because even the air we breathe could be made in China.

For years, air quality in the United States has been steadily improving, which is why atmospheric scientists were puzzled when they recently measured sulphur, mercury and PCBs — an industrial byproduct pollutant — blowing onto the Washington coast. Using a pollution-sniffing airplane and computer models, they traced the unwelcome import 3,000 miles across the Pacific.

One trip to Shanghai or Delhi and the source is obvious: A grimy haze, thick as London fog, covers the teeming urban centers. Seven of the world's 10 most-polluted cities are in China. "Clean air days" are counted in Beijing, and the official air-quality goal is "only" three days of sun-blotting pollution each week.

It is the price of a growth rate unprecedented in human history. A perfect storm of old and new pollution. Hundreds of millions still heat and light their homes with crude coal and kerosene while they steadily move from bicycles to Buicks.

That is why the Kyoto Protocol was such a bad idea: it placed drastic restrictions on nations that were already trying to clean up their air and have been greatly successful at it (the United States even more than the EU), while giving a free pass to the worst polluters. When even conventional wisdom advocates such as ABC News start to understand this, we begin to have a chance of accomplishing common-sense environmentalism in both the wealthier nations and their high-polluting developing counterparts.


Evanston said...

I was posted in S. Korea for a year in the late '90s. The air was horrible, everywhere. I don't know for sure, but I suspect in addition to S. Korea's own nastiness that a boatload of pollutants was drifting over from Red China.
All I can say is that you can't escape from bad air, so the one environmental issue I totally support is air quality.

Paul (probably - maybe Liz) said...

"A free pass to the worst polluters", eh?

Tell me, since nobody told the US what to do when it was going through the L.A. smog era, since the GNP in the US is still substantially higher than that in India and China (and it can thus afford environmentally friendly alternatives), and since the per-capita emission of CO2 is still substantially higher in the US than in China ... why do you think that it is fair to limit countries trying to improve their economies towards that of the US? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to set an example?

Evanston said...

Paul/Liz, U.S. per capita productivity is higher than China's. So you need to compare the ratio of bad byproducts produced per good products produced in both countries.
Your smog analogy is flawed. Just because our GNP "is still substantially higher" than China doesn't mean that we can reduce further without substantial job loss and inefficient secondary effects. Per my previous comment, I'm no fan of air pollution but you should consider that we are ALREADY setting "an example."