Tag Archives: China

Stephen Colbert, Chinese Air Pollution Control, and the Clean Air Act

Having moved on from his show The Colbert Report, part time satirical comedian part time late night talk show host Stephen Colbert now presides over the Late Show.  Last year Colbert he did a segment covering Chinese President Hu Jintao’s trip to America. During his visit Jintao announced that China would be taking steps towards cleaner atmospheric conditions and significantly decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.  The segment, though a bit dated, references several still relevant issues.  Colbert jokes about sea levels rising and the connection to global atmospheric conditions.  He also mentions the Volkswagen controversy which indicates further cause for concern and demonstrates a company being environmentally deceitful in order to gain an economic benefit.  Colbert’s piece also addresses the fact that while many presidents have vocalized climate change concerns very few have acted upon them.  It seems that with the upcoming presidential race that Colbert’s segment should be taken into account when looking at various candidates stances on climate change both at home and abroad.

While the revision made to the existing Air Pollution Control Act is a step in the right direction for the Chinese, it is lacking in some areas. While their was a proposal on the table to limit the use of automobile use in order to cut down on China’s infamous smog problem, the proposal was ultimately deleted from the final draft. (The Act Revision’s full text document can be found on the Chinese Government’s official law website. ) This conclusion to remove the part of the revision limiting automobile usage was reached because Chinese policy makers were worried that it would encroach on the right’s of Chinese citizens. This negotiation demonstrates the need to strike a balance between conservation laws and individuals rights.


This issue of balancing rights and conservation is not only an issue in China. In fact the Chinese document is very interesting to compare to the United State’s own Clean Air Act which is more stringent than China’s Pollution Control Act.  Despite the comparatively greater regulations mandated by the Clean Air Act and the positive effects these  regulations have had on our environment, Congress continually seeks out to weaken the regulations of the Clean Air Act for similar reasons. On the other hand many individuals and organizations believe that we should further regulate air pollution in order to improve public health and slow climate change.



Final project: A research of using natural gas to purify the air in China

From my midterm research we know that each lump can contain large amounts of sooty particulates including, sulfur and nitrogen compounds, as well as traces of mercury and other toxic metals.  Although coal-fired power plants are cleaner than they used to be, they are still bad news for the environment and human health. A recent study concluded that coal emissions contribute to 10,000 premature deaths in the United States each year.

So, I stepped further and  studied the relationship between fossil fuel and air pollution. Here are the two questions I worked on for this issue:  Would clean coal will be a good resolution for China?  Is the clean coal very popular in all western countries?

The Challenge of Air Purification in ChinaThe answerer of the second question is, Not Really.  Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, and not easy to be clean. Cost is an important con for coal-linked carbon capture and storage technology.  It could easily increase the cost of energy from a pulverized coal plant by two-thirds to three-quarters, “way more than any of the other technologies needed to control the other pollutants.” said by Barbara Freese.

The focus on clean coal is particularly frustrating because practical, cost-effective alternatives do exist. I mean not just wind and solar power, but also natural gas.

So I bring this question to Larry Meng, who is the Engineering Project Manager at Calpine Corporation in Houston.  His expertise is energy issues.  Larry told me that the U.S. government is favorably inclined to support the natural gas industry in recent years. Natural gas is plentiful in the U.S. and gas-fired power plants produce only about half as much CO2 as coal. Moreover, conversion efficiency of natural gas power is one third higher than coal’s power1.  Larry believes that natural gas will be a good solution for China’s smog issue. He said that the energy revolution in China will benefit the atmosphere and improve many pollution problems in other industries from the source.

Back to China, what is the situation of natural gas using in China? The good sign is according to U.S. Energy Information Admission, China is home to the largest shale gas reserves in the world and the government’s plans to cap coal consumption on the way to eventually stalling CO2 emissions growth by 2030 rely heavily on cleaner natural gas challenging coal’s dominance. That is to say, a monumental shift from coal to natural gas is achievable and necessary.


A shale gas company in China

Resource: AFP via Getty Images

However, high gas prices are critical to encouraging domestic supply. For example, Beijing, the city I came from, has therefore increased domestic gas rates to match imported liquid natural gas (LNG) price levels2, which are much higher than those in North American3 and European markets4.

Affordable natural gas could be a benefit not only for China, but the global energy market and international climate change mitigation efforts. Sarah Forbes, senior associate at the World Resources Institute, believes the United States should share its experiences and challenges with shale gas to help responsibly unlock this promising resource.

Another good sign is according to a 2014 study from Greenpeace, China currently operates two coal-to-natural-gas demonstration projects, but there are 48 other plants under construction or in planning5. Once completed by 2020, those plants will produce 225 billion cubic meters of coal-fueled synthetic natural gas annually. Ideally say, it could provide a quick fix for China’s smog-choked east, potentially replacing fuels from coal-fired power plants and petroleum-driven automobiles.


Employees stand at a natural gas processing plant in Sulige, China

Resource: Reuters

I do care about my country and the air condition of China. In order to attract attentions from the entire world on this issue, I email and share my project to as much people as I can. Through NYU classes, email, Facebook and Instagram, I reach out my research and idea to many people. Many friends of me in China replied my email in Chinese and encouraged me keep doing this project. I was inspired a lot by their kindness.  Also, I want to say thanks to Larry, Peter, Connor, Yuwei and all the people who helped me with this research. And of course, I will keep doing research to improve the smog issue in China.  I believe the meaning of this project, which I pay a great effort on, is not just telling that how bad is our living environment but also arouse people to save energy and reduce exhaust gas through their daily life.

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We live in a same earth, and we breath the same air.

Community Organizing for Air Condition Change in China

Last week I watched a video on YouTube, “Under the Dome: Investigating China’s Smog”, which was been widely seen in mainland of China. It is actually a documentary in the form of presentation by a famous reporter Chai Jing focusing on the air pollution in China. Within five days, the video was hit more than 150 millions times on Youku, China’s YouTube equivalent. I also mentioned this video in my midterm presentation on Monday to address how bad air condition in China at this moment.

I grew up in Beijing, which in the capital city of China, but also one of the most polluted cities in the world. A graph in Chai’s video shows the Beijing PM2.5, as in Particulate Matter up to 2.5 micrometers in size, index during January 2013. In just one month, there were 25 days of smog.

It is hard to imagine that living in a city with heavy smog everyday unless you’ve been there for more than three days. My mother coughs very often since 2010. There is no official analytical data and professional medical advice for citizens. Wealthy families in Beijing, Shanghai or Chengdu buy air purifiers to resist the smog in winter. However, for most resident who can not afford a machine over 1,000 dollars to clean the air in their house, they choose to wear cheap masks, even if they know it is no use for PM2.5 at all. The harmful particles are so tiny which cannot stop by the mask. The thing that is really frustrated me is people know this fact but they still wear masks. They deceive themselves that they can continue lives under the protection from cheap masks.

China Pollution


Super heavy smog in Harbin, China

Resource: LATimes

I did not all consent with the point of views raised by Chai. But I do consider the video played a critical role on awaking people. Despite how the government was indifferent on this question, we cannot just sit there and deceive ourselves anymore.

So, what are the solutions for this big issue? I absolutely agree the professor Wang Xuesi from Qinghua University. He said that “There is no way for us to change the nature conditions, we only can change ourselves. And the way to solve this problem is to reduce the emission from the beginning. ” In 2013, we had already burned 3.6 billion tons of coals. It was much more than the rest of world combined. Also in 2014, China burns from 3-4 times more fossil fuel than Europe.

Since we all noticed that two of the main cause of PM2.5 in China is burning coal and using fossil fuels, it is the time to make a choice on the original fuels. I think we should stop burning coals that are not cleaned first of all. That is not a huge plan raised by the government. When you see the abnormal smoke, which is extremely black and choking from your chimney, just stop using that coal. Even this measure is not that easy to implement. The fact is in China we do not have many alternative green fuels as a replacement in the region people burns coals to get warm in winter. Everyone knows cleaned coals are good to the environment but no one buy it due to its exorbitant price. A municipal government report in 2013 from Dalian City (a major city and seaport in the northern east of China) shows that the local price of anthracite (white coal) per ton is 2-3 times of the lignite, which is also known as brown coal that contain a large amount of harmful ingredients such as sulfur and heavy metals. If the government does not force the industry to reduce the cost of central heating system or stream, it will be hard and unrealistic for people to buy anthracite instead of lignite.


Resource: Kentucky Geological Survey

Indeed, using coal is an interrelated issue. Policies, competition in the market, corporate governance, resource distribution and other factors will all affect on solving this problem. However, it is not difficult to drive fewer days in a week for the purpose of saving fossil fuels. In 1955, when Los Angeles dealing with the photochemical smog, the regulators and citizens also paid a lot efforts on automobile exhaustion. If we follow the example of Los Angeles to install a filter on vehicle exhaust pipe, it will take longer time to achieve in China. There is still a gap on industrial level between the United States and us. For ordinary people, travel by public transport is the easiest thing to do. If the destination is within two kilometers, do not drive. If it is the peak hours when you go out, do not drive.

My project aims more on the solutions to the smog that can be accepted by the residence. We need to have a consensus that we all living in a same world and have the responsibility to protect the air we breath.