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Climate Hustle

China, From the Inside Out

Posted on 19 July 2011 by Rob Honeycutt

I have been traveling to China for nearly 15 years now for both business and pleasure. Ten years ago I married a wonderful woman in China and now have the unique perspective of being an adopted member of a normal middle-class Chinese family.  My wife and I travel back to China annually for her to see her family and to get our two kids fully immersed in speaking Chinese. This year I thought I would take the opportunity to take a look at climate issues related to China, from an inside perspective.

The year we were married when I first traveled to Chongqing (CQ), my wife's home town, I was stunned by the level of air pollution. I mean, this had to be what London looked like in the late-1800s. Every day, even on the best days, visibility was no more than 1-2 miles. I have a pilot's license and I would always comment that every day is IFR (instrument flight rules) in CQ (VFR, or visual flight rules, in most air space requires a minimum 3 statute miles visibility). The air there has consistently been like this every year I've visited.

This year I noted a marked difference. I fully admit this is anecdotal, so there could be influence from the weather pattern on this trip, but the air was significantly cleaner. The entire week I was in CQ we had 10+ SM visibility. Don't get me wrong. It was still hazy and polluted. There was, though, a noticeable improvement.

I pointed this out to my wife's family and they agreed saying that the central government has been aggressively closing down older, dirtier generating plants in favor of newer ones. They say the older plants are given notice to clean up and if they don't the government just goes in and shuts it down.

This article popped up on Grist last August regarding a Chinese government policy to clean up air pollution (the Chinese government doc can be read here). They state that the government has shut down over 50 gigawatts of older coal plants, meaning they literally blow up the smoke stack with a government official present.

A walk in an average Chinese carbon footprint

To travel to China on holiday or for business is one thing, and something I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity, but living with a Chinese family is a wholly different experience altogether. This year I made a number of notes related to the carbon footprint of a middle class Chinese.

Transportation: While we all know that auto sales are increasing in China, my wife's extended family, of maybe 20 people, still owns no cars (save one cousin in Shenzhen). This a solidly middle class family. They all get around the city by taxi or bus. CQ is currently building a subway system that should start coming online in about 2 years. 

In daily life there's really not much need for a personal vehicle. It's more of a status symbol for those who own cars. Almost all the family shopping can be done within about a mile of their home. There is a full size mall maybe 2 miles away. We went out shopping for groceries, clothing, plane tickets, foot massage one afternoon, dinner at any number of restaurants... all on foot, usually requiring no more than 15-20 mins walking.

Food: If you know anyone who is Chinese you understand that food is central to Chinese culture. About half our meals were eaten at home, and I would have to say that pretty much all the food we ate was locally grown. The person on the street with a cart-load of corn did not push the cart from far away, and most of our food was purchased from street vendors like this. The countryside surrounding CQ is all small independently operated farms supplying the city population of some 20 million. Eating is a social activity that takes place nearly 24 hours a day. It's not unusual for a family member to suggest going out for barbeque at 2am to discover there are several million other people also out for barbeque at 2am.

Heating and cooling: Summers in CQ are hot. It's regularly in the 90s and often up into the 100s Fahrenheit (30-40C). Most CQ apartments are equipped with an upright heating/cooling unit in one corner of the living room. Interestingly though, Chinese won't use the air conditioning throughout the day, not as a matter of cost, but because they like "fresh air" (even if that fresh air is stiflingly hot). They'll run the air conditioning in the afternoon to escape the hottest part of the day. Even at that there were no second thoughts when they wanted to spend the day playing cards on a Sunday at one of the aunts' apartment who does not have air conditioning.

I've been in CQ a few times for Chinese New Year in late January or early February. The flip side there is they really don't like heaters. If you close the windows and turn the heater on it's about 5 minutes before some family member walks into the house saying, "My gosh it's stuffy in here, let's open some windows" even though it's maybe 45F (7C) outside. What I noted is in the winter everyone dresses warm, for both the inside and outside. They are well layered and comfortable without the heat.

Appliances: There is a thriving market for appliances in China and I'm sure those companies are seeing a boom with no end in sight. However, everything is small: little refrigerators, little cooktops. Most people still prefer to wash clothes by hand in a small sink that is off the kitchen in every Chinese apartment, and every Chinese apartment has their laundry drying out on the front balcony. As you stand out on my wife's parents' balcony you can look at the hundreds of other apartments that are exactly the same.

Is this just transitional?

You might think that this is just a snapshot of Chinese culture on their way to bigger and better things, but I'm not so sure of that. Just across the border back in Hong Kong, which has obviously had the opportunities of a first world lifestyle for many more decades than even the most advanced areas of the mainland, what you see there is... little refrigerators, hand washing and drying clothes, travel mostly by taxi and train, and "fresh air" over a toasty room. My own inclination is to believe that Chinese culture is just less carbon intensive, per capita, than western culture.

Transportation infrastructure

While I was there on this trip I needed to do some business in the Shenzhen area. I had an interesting conversation with one associate on the future of transportation in China. We both noted that even though car ownership is clearly up, the government is not building roadways as aggressively as they were even just 5 years ago. This is resulting in lots of traffic jams even on what used to be low-traveled highways. On the other hand, the new high speed rail just opened between Shanghai and Beijing. There is a new extensive subway system that has opened in the region of Shenzhen closest to the Hong Kong border running five different lines. There is also a new rail system under construction linking the entire Pearl River Delta area running from ZhuHai (near Macau) up through Guangzhou and back down to Shenzhen.

And that ain't all!

Here is a map of all the high speed rail that is either built or under construction in China.

The central government's apparent raison d'État is to bring their entire nation of 1.4 billion people up to first world standards. They have succeeded in many respects with about 400 million, though it is likely impossible for an automobile based transportation system to serve the needs of so many people. My associate and I were speculating that, by design, the government may likely be focusing more funding on the rail projects and not letting the road system keep pace with car ownership as a way to ensure a successful social transition to the new rail system.


We all know that China has now surpassed the US in total carbon output. That's obviously not a good thing. The bright side is their carbon output is likely less a function of individual carbon intensity and more about both the pace of growth in China and the fact that they are currently the world's factory.

Climate change is not yet a primary issue from the standpoint of the central government in China. Their first and foremost purpose is bring up the living standards of another billion people and with that comes a great deal more energy consumption. Although, I do need to note that China is planning to set up a carbon trading platform by 2015, so climate change is definitely on their radar.

Behind that is going to be providing China with clean air and other natural resources. Again here, brace yourself, I suspect China is in the same process we went through enacting the Clean Air Act. That is likely to reduce aerosol effects and unmask additional CO2-forced warming [Kaufman 2011].

On the positive side, China is moving forward on a great many clean energy initiatives which for them represent long term energy independence, with 138 GW projected installed wind generation by 2020, and 10 GW from solar by 2015. This on top of the fact that China is clearly investing in an ambitious clean transportation infrastructure. 

While I don't believe China's carbon output will be falling any time soon, I also believe they are better positioned than the US is to eventually cut their carbon emissions with little disruption to their economy.

When it finally becomes crucial that humanity addresses global warming we in the west are going to be playing a very ugly game of catch up.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 91:

  1. I wonder to what extent the Chinese social dialogue over climate change (if there is one) is saturated with skeptic/denialist positions & claims.
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  2. Composer99... When I'm there I don't hear any skepticism over climate change. Here in the west we have large corporate interests who are actively trying to seed doubt about climate change. The same thing is just not happening in China. And even if it were it wouldn't matter because the government there is not popularly elected.

    In fact, I get the sense that there is somewhat of an adversarial relationship between the government and oil companies there. When I was there during the last oil price spike a really interesting dance was taking place. The central government sets the price of gas. But the oil companies couldn't make any money at the price the government set, but the government refused to raise the price of gas because the don't want to inhibit the growth rate of the economy. So, the oil companies' response was to just pump gas as slowly as possible until the price of oil went back down. You'd see these long lines of blue trucks waiting in line at the gas station for their turn to get gas. When the price of oil went down the lines disappeared.

    The general public in China seems to be less aware of climate change per se, though, but they are very much concerned about clean air, water and safe food. You also tend to find people are very interested in clean energy, likely because that fits well with those interests.
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  3. Dear Mr Honeycutt,

    I find your article highly depressing. You do not seem to be aware of the most basic data re. greenhouse gas pollution.

    1. “To travel to China on holiday or for business is one thing, and something I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity (...)”.

    There simply is no other machine that allows a human being to destroy more effectively the climate of the earth than a plane. For example, a Paris-Montreal flight pollutes with 2,5 t of CO2 in a few hours. For context, most scientists say we should not emit more than 1,5 t per person per year (all activities taken together, of course), and a Cambodian emits less than 400 kg... in a year.

    2. “And that ain't all! Here is a map of all the high speed rail that is either built or under construction in China.”

    In order to have "usual" trains go from 150 km/h to 300 km/h, ie. in order to double speed, you must triple energy use. In 2011, to triple energy use to go from A to B, such a move seems highly irresponsible, to put it mildly.

    3. “When it finally becomes crucial that humanity addresses global warming we in the west (...).”

    How is it possible, in 2011, to state that to address global warming will be crucial... at some future date? I read the rich information of your website, along other scientific sources, and such a statement seems at odds with the severity of today's situation.


    Pierre Neurohr
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  4. Pierre, if you don't have high speed rail people will take cars or airplanes... ergo, while high speed rail may be more energy intensive than regular rail it is less energy intensive than the modes of transportation which would actually be used in its place.
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  5. CBDunkerson, this is a standard answer that does not make sense for the climate system. The climate does not care whether we could do even worse than the current course. Sure, you could say planes are great because people could use private jets. But what counts is what the system can take without going beyond the tipping points. On a planet on which a minority of people (we in the "rich" countries) are already using way, way too much energy, you don't add insult to injury by tripling energy use for certain activities. Sometimes, simple arguments are not simplistic but true.
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  6. Pierre... I knew that was coming. Yes, I think in general people should be flying less. We should be avoiding needless long distance travel. I do not believe that people should never travel.

    Currently all of aviation accounts for about 4% of total human carbon emissions. A large portion of that can be offset by switching, as China is doing, to high speed rail. Trans-oceanic travel is a different matter. The aviation industry is very engaged in the challenges of offsetting their carbon output by transitioning to biofuels. But that's going to take some time, likely over the next two decades.

    You say, "How is it possible, in 2011, to state that to address global warming will be crucial... at some future date?"

    I agree that today is the crucial moment but the fact is, on the whole, governments are not addressing climate change due to a highly motivated energy sector disinformation campaign. That is just the state of the world today. I would like us to be addressing the problem now by investing heavily in renewable energy and new forms of electrified transportation. It is depressing that it's going to take a much more blatant crisis to shift the course of humanity (or more specifically, the west) the right direction.

    I offer up this picture of China as a unique perspective of what is going on outside our western perspective.
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  7. Pierre... One solution would be to basically shut down all economies around the world and have everyone live like they do in Cambodia. I don't think that is a realistic option. Nor is it a necessary option.

    Addressing the crisis requires having a vibrant economy that can create the solutions necessary to reduce carbon emissions. Most of the technologies are already there and already proven. It's just a matter of building the economic incentives to implement them. This means, yes, we have to keep doing what we are doing right now while we shift to carbon free systems.

    Cutting back right now is very important. Cutting everything off would be a huge mistake.
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  8. Here is a graphic that shows the relative carbon emissions per passenger mile of various forms of transportation.... [click]

    Per passenger mile airplane travel is not much different than automobiles. But everyone drives pretty much every day. The larger impact on the CO2 emissions is to address automobile transportation first. I think that's happening with the new EV's starting to hit the market.
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  9. Travelling across water (oceans) is probably more efficient by air. I think the main problem is the convenience and low cost of air travel, which makes travelling to and from China easy.
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  10. Rob@8 and the chart.

    The walking and cycling bar is wrong.
    It is impossible to have zero carbon emissions. The fuel in these cases is additional food, footwear and clothes that probably wear out quicker. This has a carbon footprint. It will still be the smallest, but it won't be zero.

    Although a cycle has a carbon footprint, I think it will be offset against walking because cycling is more efficient.
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  11. Paul... Here is a better version of their data.
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  12. UK DECC/DEFRA emissions factors for many types of transport can be downloaded for 2010:

    I'm not sure what will be produced for 2011 with the new coalition government.
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  13. Dear Rob, your answer according to which "all of aviation accounts for about 4% of total human carbon emissions" is slightly disingenuous. Using that kind of trick with numbers, travelling with private jets is very green, since it represents 0,0000001% of total human carbon emissions... The only sensible and honest approach is "how much CO2 per person per year"? By that token, polluting with more than two tons of CO2 in a few hours when your yearly quota is around 1,5 t cannot be acceptable, when one knows the dire consequences of climate destruction. And when you look at numbers for "rich" countries like the UK or France, aviation has a share that's far from negligible, approaching 10%.

    Furthermore, re. "One solution would be to basically shut down all economies around the world": no problemo, the extreme weather that's coming -thanks to the overuse of energy- will do just that for millions of people. Saying it another way, I think the question I raised re. the most climate-polluting machine a normal citizen can use -aka the "plane"- deserves a more serious discussion.
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  14. Thanks for posting this, Rob. Regardless of one's take on the details -- half-empty or half-full cup -- its always refreshing -- and rare -- to hear a first-hand account. So many of us are just "reading the tea leaves" from afar.
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  15. Pierre... No, I don't believe my response is disingenuous at all. My response is realistic.

    The most climate polluting machine on the planet is, in fact, the automobile. That is indisputable. Aircraft are not even the most polluting form of transportation.

    My sense is that you're trolling and are not actually interested in a conversation. Your comments have absolutely nothing to do with any part of the article posted above.
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  16. Your article was very enlightening. And makes good points.

    I have to side with Pierre though. I dont think you understand fully what is involved with tackling this problem. People who are trying to convince others that we need to reduce ghg emissions can not expect them to get onboard if they themselves are not living by their word. Not only do we need to reduce emission but we have to get back to at least 350ppm.

    Unless your flight is necessary in tackling ghg reduction it is usually unnecessary and should be avoided.

    As Pierre points out... it wont be long before flighing is too expensive due to peak and climate disruption anyway.

    It is a moral issue as well....
    >Yes, our lives must be an expression of what we most deeply value.
    >Yes, we can and must make conscience-driven choices about how we spend our money and time.
    >Yes, we must provide a safe and thriving future for our children.

    By signing up to reducing your non-essential flying you make a big impact on emissions reduction in multiple ways.
    >Your emissions are substantially reduce.
    >Your resolution highlights and focus the urgency of the issue and the sort of effort that will be required to address the problem with your peers.
    >You reenforce and provide suport
    to consolidate action in tackling global warming.
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  17. Thanks for an interesting post, Rob.
    The climate action debate here in Australia often mentions what is happenning in China but, of course, politicians just mention the facts which suit thier own arguments.

    The two enlightening things I found in your piece were that while opponents of climate action harp on about how many coal fired power stations China is building they neglect to mention that old, dirty plants are being closed down.
    The other was the cultural difference which has them less dependant (addicted?) to intensive electricity use domestically than we in the West.
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  18. Pierre, paulm: I'd disagree with you. I think air travel is an essential part of the modern global economy. It is also a relatively minor part of the total problem. Changing other forms of transport to non-carbon-emitting modes will have a far greater impact on greenhouse emissions, and a far lesser impact on the global economy (it may even stimulate it). Banning or heavily restricting air travel will have a far lesser impact on greenhouse emissions, and a far greater (and probably negative) impact on the global economy.

    I'm not a big fan of biofuels for land transport use (far too much would be required, and viable alternatives such as electric cars or mass transit are far more efficient), but they can be used for applications, such as air travel, where liquid hydrocarbon fuels are essential.

    Rob: One other point - I note you didn't mention that China is also building about 27 new nuclear reactors. All new generation III types, with far greater safety than the old 60's vintage designs that failed at Three Mile Island and Fukushima Dai-ichi. According to this article, they're aiming for 80GW nuclear capacity by 2020, 200GW by 2030, and 400-500GW by 2050. They're also doing a lot of research & development work on completely passively-safe reactor designs, including pebble-bed reactors and thorium-fuelled designs (I understand China has a lot of thorium, but not huge reserves of uranium).
    That article also mentions that they've closed down 71GW of dirty coal-fired plants since 2006, which is certainly a different perspective from the usual "China builds a new coal-fired power station every week" meme...
    To put that into perspective - all the coal-fired power stations in Australia add up to about 30GW total capacity. So China has shut down more than twice as much coal-fired power generation in the last 5 years as Australia currently operates.
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  19. paulm... How do you determine what is necessary? I know a lot of people whose jobs require them to travel to Asian, some of them 8 or more times a year. Their livelihood depends on it. If they don't do it someone still has to do that work. For me, taking annual trips like this are, in my opinion, necessary. The only other option would be to divorce my wife (whom I am deeply in love with) and not allow our kids to see her or have me never see them. It's just not an option I'm willing to entertain.

    I believe I do have a strong understanding of what is needed to address climate issues. I do not believe shutting down economies or entire industries is a solution. On the contrary, it would worsen the crisis by crippling the economy! What is required is creating solutions.

    Look, Pierre is putting forth an argument that suggests that given available technologies we should all live like Cambodians. It's a non-starter way to address the issue. Yes, we need to get everyone's carbon footprint down to what Cambodians are but not by living like Cambodians. We need clean energy and transportation solutions that raises Cambodians lifestyle up to modern standards without raising their carbon output.

    This is very much what I'm trying to point out in the article. While in the short term it is assured that China's carbon output will rise, they are actually taking the steps which will allow them to reduce, if not eventually almost eliminate, their carbon output... while raising the standard of living of another billion people.
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  20. Very interesting Rob, thanks for the insight.

    Pierre-Emmanuel Neurohr - while your views seem to be at the extreme end of the spectrum, I understand where you're coming from. Many who accept the science of global warming, don't truly comprehend the urgency, and scale, of the situation.
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  21. Bern... I did know that about China's nuclear program. I should have included that information. Thanks for bringing it up and linking it.
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  22. Rob, I totally agree with you on that point of what is necessary... its all relative to your perspective on the problem.

    Putting a realistic price on carbon that reflects its pollution right across the board would/will sort out whats necessary and whats not.

    Currently the asking price is around $10-$25 per ton. More accurate pricing would start around $50-$100 per ton and probably should be higher.

    And then we have reports just out which suggests prices right outside the ballpark....

    Economists Urge Honest Accounting of Carbon's True Costs
    Little attention is being paid to another debt that is ballooning out of control and threatening to spur its own economic chaos: the carbon debt.
    ... each ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere results in as much as $893 in economic damages...

    New Report Highlights Weaknesses in Government’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of Climate Cha
    A new report on the “social cost of carbon” identifies significant weaknesses in current cost-benefit analyses that do not adequately measure the real harm inflicted from climate change. The report, “More than Meets the Eye: The Social Cost of Carbon in U.S. Climate Policy, in Plain English,”
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  23. paulm: I've seen some estimates of the external cost of carbon at around $170-$240, but $893 is pretty amazing!

    Then again, the total social cost depends strongly (and possibly exponentially) on exactly how much carbon is emitted. Small emissions = not much cost, large emissions = extremely high costs, possibly total collapse of ecosystems & the economies that depend on them.
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  24. Rob,
    What you’ve encountered here is a typical technique, whereby they’ve disguised an attack on you as what appears to be a reasonable argument. If you advocate modern technology at all, you’re a hypocrite. If you don’t, you’re a hairshirt hippy who doesn’t understand the fabric of economics. Indulging with such “debates” (if you can call them that) is simply a trap where you’re effectively been demonised and simply cannot win. It’s not reasonable nor should you waste your time on it. At best expose it for what it is and simply get on with the fundamentals.
    Of course you, like many of us also concerned about GHG emissions, want that to stop, but you do not want the greater achievements of the technological era to be dropped – nor is it even possible. We couldn’t feed the 7 billion of us without mass transport and changing that fact will take a few generations to come.
    Likewise we all should enjoy comfortable homes, convenient technology and great holidays. But we must get smart about how we achieve this; which is exactly why so many of us work in related fields and some even communicate that to the wider public.
    What these character here are doing is a mockery of informed debate – barely a sideshow – when the essence of the article above is about change in activity and how that relates to life in China – all intended for the reader outside of that country. It’s all part of questioning how we can improve our activities to enjoy a high standard of living – not just for us lucky few, but for all members of our species – without such a detrimental cost to the supporting spheres. How can we reduce our footprint, without losing a comfortable standard of life.
    What concerns me about China is their water. The lengths they are going to in order to bring water from the south to the north to compensate the lowing height of their ground water is immense. Water management is by far their biggest problem.
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  25. Thanks Moth... One of China's other major challenges (actually a related challenge) is agriculture. They pretty much already farm every bit of arable land they have available, and have even given up a good bit of arable to factory use. If there are climate driven changes to the amount of land they can farm they will have to become a net importer of food. That could be difficult if the rest of the world is also experiencing similar challenges.

    Overall what impresses me is that the challenges China faces are many times greater than what we face in the west. But they are aggressively addressing them while we flail about with idealogical infighting.
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  26. mothincarnate, this is no trap.
     I really don't want to detract too much from Rob's great article. 

    I just wanted to point out that as climate advocates it's hard to convince others to reduce their footprint or support mechanisms to do so unless we practice what we preach.

    For me, I look at it as a moral issue and every activity I do the first thing that comes to mind is what my emissions are. I still drive a car and have hot showers... and emit more ghg gasses than I want to. It saddens me to think of peoples already affected by CC and what the future holds for my three kids and for that matter all others and the rich diversity of life out there.
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  27. #26 paulm

    Surely the point is to convince enough people to apply enough pressure to enough governments and other policy makers to put into practice the economy wide engineering and technological transformation required to dramatically reduce GHG emissions. Nothing short of this has an iceberg's chance in hell of succeeding.

    If we hang about waiting for people to become more "moral", the battle is already lost before you start. Partly because with the current energy infrastructure, the opportunities to be more "moral" are strictly limited.
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  28. Bern said:
    "I think air travel is an essential part of the modern global economy."

    I'm sorry but that is brushing aside two of the most important factors that are causing the vast environmental problems we have.

    The 'global economy' is the primary villain as it were, producing massive environmental damage. You name a big environmental problem, and you'll probably find global trade behind it. Air travel is so convenient that aircraft are used like taxis in the US. One has to be incredibly naive to think that the worshipping of air travel has not done incredible damage. Make something convenient and cheap and you'll have a lot of abuse of the system.

    Is this 'commie' or 'leftist'?

    Hardly. They are the ones that want cheap public transport or in many cases free public transport. The left have an unrealistic desire to allow everyone to have a utopian life where everything is free. So in reality, the left are just as deluded as the right, and neglect the consequences of unrestrained access to resources.

    What needs to be done is a realistic appraisal of alternatives to 'global economies' and cheap transport. I'm all for developing new technology to reduce emissions, but it most definitely must come with personal responsibility for reducing personal GHG emissions. Technology will never take away the need to cut personal emissions or a reduction in personal resource use.
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  29. Mr Honeycutt, in your article, you "highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity" to "travel to China on holiday or for business".

    A trip between North America and China pollutes the climate with approximately 3 tons of CO2 in a few hours. If you seriously think that kind of activity should be encouraged, you do not have serious data about what can be considered safe in order to avoid destroying the climate of the earth.

    Insulting me by treating me of troll will not change these facts.
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  30. I tend to think that the airplane discussions belong on a sidetrack in the climate debate. This is a real simple example of "polluter pays" solutions: Already, jet fuel is so expensive that carbon-neutral alternatives are becoming economically interesting, so for relatively little more money, we could get build-up ofsecond- and third generation biofuels production capacity to allow for a rather smooth transition.

    Rob may have to pay quite a bit more for his China trips than he does now, but that's all that is to it.

    paulm: Driving your car and having the hot showers - it's the high investment costs, not the availability of the technology, that keeps you from doing that in a carbon-neutral way today.

    Make carbon-neutral living a political request, and you'll see things may change rather rapidly now. So many elements are already in place.

    Rob: Surely, China may soon become a huge net importer of food. So prepare for much larger costs for those food stamps 1/6 of US population is currently dependent on.
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  31. #29... and on that plane there will be maybe 300 other people (so as mentioned before the per-person-mile emission is not excessive). Perhaps one of those people will bring with them a business link that leads to greater energy efficiency in one sector of the Chinese economy, or perhaps in the other direction, a business deal will be done to import renewable energy technology manufactured in China to the USA (!). Many business deals will be done, some good, some bad, as well as the holidaymakers and people visiting family, and using a mode of transport no worse for the climate than the car. The impact on the human quality of life will be far worse if we unilaterally cut off the air links as a knee-jerk reaction, before we try and take action to deal with the other 96% of the worlds carbon emissions. But then you don't actually seem interested in reasoned argument, and keep trying the same point over and over again.

    Thanks Rob for a really informative article about the situation in China. As others have said here, it's interesting to see what is happening from the perspective of somebody who is both climate-aware and who understands China much more than the average Westerner! I often wonder how fast China could change if its decision-makers decided that carbon emissions were a really bad idea? It could quickly become a world leader in renewable technology development and implementation, and strategically place itself very strongly for the later 21st Century...
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  32. I agree with motherincarnate, the next wars will not be fought over oil but water. By 2030 China will have a demand supply deficit of 30% and India 50%. That's a shortage in just two countries of almost 1000billion m3. Globally by 2030 there will be a water shortage of 2,700 billion m3. Obviously climate change will have a significant impact on this water shortage but the primary problem is demographics and very poor water management. A more integrated approach is required on the basin scale with full stakeholder involvement.

    In terms of CO2, control needs to be done at source and the cost past down the chain. Emission credits need to be auctioned on a global market and revenues used to help those most in need. The credits should not be sold to countries but companies. This will make the whole system much more efficient.
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  33. @ skywatcher

    "(...) using a mode of transport no worse for the climate than the car"

    If you put the bar that low, not much in terms of climate pollution must strike you as unsustainable, obviously. If that is your "reasoned argument" on the subject, I don't have much to add.

    Effectively, it doesn't take much, then, to accept that a minority of people pollute the climate with 3 tons of CO2 in a few hours. Furthermore, you do not seem to be aware of the fact that aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of GHG pollution worldwide.

    To dismiss these facts as a lack of interest in "reasoned argument" is unpolite.
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  34. Rob: Thanks for this thought provoking look of China's energy use from the chinese consumer level. Air quality as an issue that is now important to the central government is key.
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  35. Interesting article.

    As China develops its economy it will almost inevitably increase its CO2 emissions. Looking at their energy intensity shows they are doing better and better and with some more to go before they reach Western "standards". China has pledged to cut their carbon intensity by 40-45 percent by 2020, lets hope they keep up the momentum.

    Hopefully this post is formatted fine, the preview is not working for me...
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  36. Pierre: I can see where you are coming from. But it looks to me like you have taken a comment from Rob's article out of it's original context. Taken out of context that comment is indeed provoking, but I think the context is important.

    My reading of Rob's context is that he was suggesting that there are aspects of Chinese society which make it far less carbon intensive than US society - e.g. dense population centres with all amenities in walking distance. I took his suggestion to be that if people were to experience this for themselves, they might be more willing to live in similarly communities. The resulting reduction in carbon intensity might more than make up for the initial air flights.

    Now that is a huge 'if', and Rob only offers anecdotal evidence for it. Nonetheless, he might be right.
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  37. A bit of a reality check on Chinese per capita emissions. They are now equal to low emitting Western nations such as France at ~6 tonnes CO2 per year.

    Per-Capita Emissions Rising in China

    No doubt being the world's factory has something to do with it as well as using predominantly coal fired electricity generation.

    One can speculate about cultural differences, but perhaps more important in the long run is China's enormous and still developing industrial capacity that could potentially be directed over time to churning out low emission technologies in bulk.
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  38. #33. It's only 3 tons to your carbon load if you're the only person on the plane. Back in the real world, learning about combatting climate pollution starts with a reduction in the intensiveness of our energy use, and a transition to a renewable electicity supply that can fuel transport as well as other uses. Until we invent an electric plane, we will have to use liquid fuel for jets, unless we wreck the world economy by hammering aurcraft usage. I presume you are not for crippling the world economy before we tackle the 96% of emissions that do not come from planes?

    It is interesting to ask what proportion of China's emissions comes from the production of goods consumed by the Western world? And how would the carbon emissions per capita of western countries look by comparison to Chines per capita emissions if this part were removed from Chinese emissions and added to Western emissions?
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  39. Skywatcher: Pierre is right on this one.

    Great circle distance LAX-PEK: 10200km
    Most optimistic plane efficiency from above links: 200 g/(passenger km) assuming typical loading factors.

    CO2e for flight: 2 tonnes per passenger, assuming typical loading factors (not a single-occupant plane).
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  40. @ skywatcher

    "It's only 3 tons to your carbon load if you're the only person on the plane."

    Now I understand the problem. A single flight between North America and China -the example I took- pollutes, all in all, with hundreds of tons of CO2 in a few hours. It's by dividing by the average number of passengers that sources such as the French government (hardly a bunch of eco-extremists), as well as all other serious sources on the matter, give an estimate of 3 tons of CO2 per person.

    The fact that you thought the plane would spew out only 3 tons of CO2 for an intercontinental flight is embarrassing.
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  41. My bad on the numbers - that is embarassing! The point remains that killing air travel is not the solution to solving climate disrution - the problem is dominantly the other 96% of global carbon emissions. A problem that Pierre is not willing to accept.

    If Pierre thinks that we'll solve the CO2 problem by all living like Cambodians, well good luck to him on that.
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  42. Inventing an argument by somebody to then kill that supposed argument should not be part of an honest discussion. I did not write we should all be "living like Cambodians". I gave a number to have an idea of the context re. this little thing called the world outside the minority of rich people using cars and planes (yes, it's a minority, check... the numbers).

    On average, a French pollutes the climate with 5 tons of CO2 per year. If you think it makes sense, in 2011, to "highly recommend" to "travel to China on holiday or for business", that is, to add 3 tons of CO2 in a few hours to the yearly 5 tons, you are not serious about stopping the destruction of the planet.
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  43. Pierre... The point here remains that you have yet to say anything that addresses even one point or observation I've made in the main article. Instead you have hijacked this thread to discuss your own issues revolving around air travel.
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  44. Pierre... "I did not write we should all be "living like Cambodians"."

    When I said this before your response was "no problemo."
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  45. quokka... re: per capita emissions rising in China.

    That makes sense due to the fact that still nearly a billion Chinese live an agrarian lifestyle with exceptionally low carbon emissions. More and more Chinese are entering the new economy in China. In fact, the plan in China for that entire region from Zhuhai to Guangzhou to Shenzhen it to be turned into the world's largest mega-city, anticipated to have a total population of 42 million people.

    While those per capita numbers are currently rising I would anticipate they will peak and fall off again as the Chinese build out their energy infrastructure. Today (like us) very little of their energy comes from clean sources but they are rapidly (much faster than us) building out that infrastructure.
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  46. Kevin C @ 36... That is exactly my point. I think the biggest mistake the human race could ever make is to stop going out to experience other cultures. I think it's one of the big challenges for Americans because, on the whole, most Americans don't get out much. There is a kind of isolationist mentality here. That breeds xenophobia.

    The challenge there is, how to retain that ability for people to travel and visit far off lands and experience their cultures, and keep carbon emissions to a minimum.

    Technologically this is not one of the biggest challenges we face relative to carbon emissions. The biggest challenges are political. In order to solve real problems we need to have a serious cap and trade platform.

    This is exactly where Pierre irks me. He is claiming that me suggesting that people ride in an airplane that I'm not being serious about what is required to address climate change issues. I think reality is quite the opposite. Telling people they are bad only serves to push them off the other side of the fence. He's making enemies, not allies. The most effective path to getting to where we want to be is to be vocal about pricing carbon emissions. Get to the polls and vote. Make flyers saying that pricing carbon will drive innovation, jobs and the economy. Don't make flyers telling people they're bad for flying. Tell them they're good for voting. THAT is how you make a real difference.
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  47. Perhaps if aviation fuel was taxed at the same rate as petrol it would encourage people to fly less. Use the extra tax to subsidise cleaner forms of transport.
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  48. Mr Honeycutt, as a human being equipped with a brain and a sense of irony, I'm real sorry but: it is ironic for someone who reports on the climate to "highly recommend" the use of a machine that's higly polluting for the said climate.

    As a French citizen, I would add to my yearly 5 tons of CO2 no less than 3 tons of CO2 in a matter of hours if I was to follow your advice. If you cannot see the problem, if you do not want to hear the different reports of aviation being one of the fastest-growing global sources of GHGs, please continue to highly recommend the use of planes to China.

    Personnal attacks re. "trolling" or "hijacking" are simply diversions that do not honor you.
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  49. Pierre... I've written a 1600 word article here. You are focussed on 10 words.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] added a "word"
  50. HH @ 47... Exactly. Telling people they are bad for flying does "zero." In fact, it likely makes things worse by alienating people.

    No one is going to reduce their flying because Pierre says to. But pricing carbon into the market will absolutely affect people's behavior and will absolutely generate money required to bring solutions to market. Telling people they, instead, should vote for cap and trade... if you want to have a real impact on the future of the planet, turn that into a movement. The BIG challenges we face are political.
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