Will China’s Airpocalypse Spur a Green Renaisssance?

Will China’s “Airpocalypse” Spur a Green Renaisssance?


smogLondon’s Great Smog (December 5 – 9, 1952) killed at least 5,000 people and lead to enactment of UK Clean Air Acts.



cuyahoga_river_on_fire (1)

Events like Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River catching fire lead to  the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and passage of the Clean Water Act.



China’s year long “Airpocalypse” with Air Quality indices soaring past unhealthy to beyond hazardous levels forcing school and factory closures and causing major flight cancellations at major cities such as Beijing, Harbin and Shanghai.

NASA satellite images have  captured the extent to which China has become cloaked in smog.

Last week, 104 cities reported severe levels of pollution.  In Shanghai, the US Consulate recorded AQI levels of 503.  Anything above  300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organization recommends a daily dosage of no more than 20.

A man wears a face mask while walking on the Bund during a hazy day in downtown ShanghaiChina’s unhealthy air accounts to 1.2 million premature Chinese deaths each year and there are reports that an 8 year-old Chinese girl has developed lung cancer from environmental exposure.

See Real Time AQI for China.

As The Economist explains:

[T]here is something else in the air, less immediately damaging but with a far bigger global impact. China’s greenhouse-gas emissions were about 10% of the world’s total in 1990. Now they are nearer 30%. Since 2000 China alone has accounted for two-thirds of the global growth in carbon-dioxide emissions. This will be very hard to reverse. While America and Europe are cutting their emissions by 60m tonnes a year combined, China is increasing its own by over 500m tonnes. This makes it a unique global threat.


China’s water is no better.  Severe water pollution affects 75 percent of China’s rivers and lakes and 28 percent are unsuitable even for agricultural use, according to the 2012 book “China’s Environmental Challenges,” by Judith Shapiro, director of the Masters program in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development at the School of International Service at American University in Washington.

Chinese leaders may be getting the message, as they have announced a plan to spend $277 billion over the next five years on air pollution efforts.  This is a considerable investment since at $55.4 billion a year, it dwarfs the $13 billion US Environmental Protection Agency budget.  The enormity of China’s environmental degradation may also be an economic opportunity for the nation to take the leadership in green tech.

Today Chinese officials are concluding their visit to the United States as part of the 18th US-China Legal Exchange and will talk about green legal initiatives at Chapman Law School in Orange County, California.  It should certainly be interesting.


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