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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.

Conclusions

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 51 to 91 out of 91:

  1. If I may, Pierre, I certainly see your point, but I also need to caution against fueling the image that those of us that understand the gravity of climate change would like society to revert to some sort of Amish, pre-technology agrarian state where we commune with nature and eschew all modern conveniences. The fact is that modern air travel, and the ability of so many people to visit wonderful places, is what I consider to be one of the true gems of modern technological society. So much that we have and use is really not worth the cost, from the behemoth SUVs that Americans adore to their overlarge and inefficient living spaces to their need for round the clock climate control. I don't know which of these items must, in time, fall by the wayside, but the problem is much larger than simply cutting everything... even the worst offenses. If people changed their habits so that everyone did not try to commute to and from work during the exact same hour of the day... If American cars shrunk dramatically... If fuel vehicle efficiency improved... If manufacturing were kept to what is reasonable and useful, rather than the frivolous and extraneous and as much of it as can humanly be produced... If local goods were more attractive, because long-distance transport is more expensive... If renewable fuel sources begin to carry the size of the burden that they could and should... If companies made better use of communications technology, instead of shipping their employees all over the globe at a huge cost in carbon and human time... If, if, if... there are lots of ways to skin this cat, and I believe that if we do it right, we can leave air travel in there and continue to enjoy the great, 21st century luxury of being able to explore and see the world. So I get what you're saying, but I don't agree with your position. Travel is and should be important to people, and there is room in there to leave it be. At the same time, asking people to forgo such travel when the other, bigger things aren't yet being done is not only draconian, but it is going to alienate the very people that are sitting on the fence, and looking for any reason they can to ignore climate change. If you don't want to use air travel, don't. If you want to raise awareness about the cost in carbon, do. But I don't think a hardline, all-or-nothing position on the issue is wise, or necessary.
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  2. Honeycutt, 19 July: "I highly recommend to anyone who has the opportunity" to "travel to China on holiday or for business". Honeycutt, 20 July: "Telling people they are bad for flying does "zero." In fact, it likely makes things worse (...)". I guess this discussion was not totally unproductive. We went from an incentive to using a machine that adds -in a matter of hours- huge amounts of CO2 pollution to a citizen's yearly emissions... to a half-recognition that it might be a problem. This is my last comment on this article. I find it unfortunate that a civil and informed (including on the numbers...) criticism should have been treated as "trolling" and "hijaking". Polite criticism is healthy.
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  3. Heres a nice ditty on china and their solar roof heating in the as always must hear/see Climate Show.... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SJvHakMbvw&feature=player_detailpage#t=4391s
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  4. Pierre @ 52... I respect your opinion but you have completely ignored everything I've stated in the article except for 10 words. That is derailing any productive conversation regarding the observations of the article regarding China and how the lives of Chinese people impact upon the climate change issue. As well, I think you're misinterpreting my second statement that you've quoted. I'm saying, telling people they are bad for flying in an airplane does not help. You accomplish nothing with that. In fact, you are more likely to alienate people against the cause of addressing climate change. The logic that every single person should have a carbon footprint of 1.5t/yr ignores both the realities of people's lives and ignores real solutions to achieve real reductions in carbon emissions. All my friends who are product designers have to travel to Asia 5 or 6 times a year. Your solution is that they quit their jobs and do something else. Your solution says they have to completely give up their livelihoods, go back to school and learn a new skill. In the meantime, the companies these friends work for just hire new people to do those jobs. Net zero change in carbon emissions. And yet these conscientious friends all give up their incomes, potentially lose their homes, significantly lower their standard of living... for zero impact. That's not a solution. On the other hand, if we all work to get carbon priced in the marketplace that can have a very significant impact on their lives. The cost of importing products would go up. The economics of offshoring product tips toward domestic manufacturing. Then my designer friends don't have to fly to Asia. They keep their jobs. They keep their livelihoods and their homes. They get to apply their chosen skills in their chosen industry. This all while more investment becomes available to create more and better solutions for clean energy. That is a solution.
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  5. I don't perceive Rob Honeycutt as having substantially altered his position based on the two quotes you provided, Pierre. Also, for all your politeness, I do not perceive picking up on a minor point of an article and turning it into the primary driver of the comment thread as a civil criticism (also, on the matter of 'informed' - what is your source for your numbers?). It strikes me instead to be a form of concern trolling. Especially since, as posters upthread have noted, the chief problem with air travel currently (the use of fossil fuels for aviation-grade fuel) is a technical problem with an eminently achievable technical solution (biofuels). Let us be honest here: the vast majority of people already living in affluent polities are not prepared to substantially modify their behaviours on account of the exhortations of Pierre-Emmanuel Neurohr, Composer99, Rob Honeycutt, or any other participant on this thread. And who are we to tell them so? The vast majority of people in the world, who aspire to live in increased affluence (whether through emigration to affluent polities or domestic socioeconomic development), are not going to accept being forced to remain in poverty while the affluent continue to enjoy living in wealth. And why should they? As others have already noted, setting up an adequate carbon price structure will do far more than all the exhortations we can muster to change people's behaviours to be more in line with the requirement of reducing (and eventually eliminating) CO2 emissions.
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  6. I suggest that a thread addressing the place of flying and aviation in the context of a full-orbed response to climate change may be a very useful addition to the site as it is a hot topic that really cuts to the bone of a lot of the debate about carbon mitigation. I won't say more here (and so contribute to the derailing of this very interesting post onto another very interesting topic). Thank you to Rob Honeycutt for posting it and thank you to Pierre-Emmanuel Neurohr for raising an extremely important issue, which really ought to be addressed in a focussed way.
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  7. (OK, I can't help myself. Two brief observations. (a) As far as I am aware, all the calculations of GHG emissions in the above discussion do not take into account the total effects of flying on radiative forcing, which is considerably higher than the GHG emissions alone due to water vapour, contrails, NOx, etc.. See pp. 54-55 of the UK govt's official recommendations here, where it is suggested that a multiplier of 1.9 ought to be used while a more specific figure is being researched. (b) If we are not finding ways to imagine a world where the global average carbon footprint is at or below 1.5t CO2e per annum, then we are imagining a world heading well beyond 2ºC and all that that entails.)
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  8. Byron makes a good suggestion. A thread addressing flying and other high ghg emissions activities would be useful. This especially in the context of the fact that we only each have less on average than 2t per annum. Also given this, how do we eventually get back to 350ppm? A final note on the flying issue. I have been harping on to my friends, families and colleagues about GW for awhile. But it was not until I decided to drastically reduce my footprint, specifically to stop all non-essential flying, eg holidays did many start thinking about the topic more seriously. Reducing your footprint is not only hugely satisfying personally, but it has big leverage in highlighting the GW problem to many who consider it a background or minor issue.
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  9. Byron... I think you're right. It is a topic that is sorely missing from the SkS site. It is a very important issue with regards to climate change. It just wasn't the intended topic of this article.
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  10. Rob, You're right - their agricultural needs are impressive, but more so is their ability to grow. We in Australia are lucky to grow a few ton of wheat per acre per year, yet in the NE of China, they pull in more than of wheat plus a maze crop in the one year! They're got great land there (especially compared to our ancient Aussie soils) but water to the region will increasingly become a problem. As you say - they are aggressive in meeting their needs! Some of their infrastructure is mind-boggling. I think there is little doubt that they will be a major player in 21st century global policy discussions. One only hopes their financial bubble too doesn't pop (they are building up a storm at the moment - here's hoping there is a market for it). To those who may have also replied to my previous comment to complain about my statement - sorry, I won't be reading nor replying to your comments. I've got better things to do with my time and feed the trolls, cheers.
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  11. Rob, Re:#59 - this is exactly what I was on about and again, it's a trap entirely off topic to the actual article. I honestly think a bunch of these character just have nothing better to do than find things to complain about... Glad there's more joy in my own life so as I don't need to force conversations onto topics so as I can feed my own negativity. Certainly all ghg emissions should be addressed and how we can improve our activities to reduce those emissions should be the target. But demonising someone for enjoying travel is absurd...
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  12. IMHO one thing that does characterize China is a leadership that looks further ahead than most. Nuclear power is a good example. While building significant numbers of light water reactors, they are also undertaking multiple lines of research into advanced nuclear power including the construction of a 200MWe high temperature pebble bed reactor, have an operational research sodium cooled fast spectrum reactor apparently largely based in the US Argonne Labs IFR and have recently announced a serious program for the development of molten salt reactors. It seems they are also buying a pair of BN-800 fast reactors from Russia which I guess is to obtain operational experience with fast reactors in a production environment. With this spread of technologies they are covering what are arguably the most important advanced fission technologies. Compare to the US which seems intent on remaining in a time warp of reactors fundamentally based on engineering developed for propelling submarines.
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  13. {I just flipped to the 2nd page of comments and see others have suggested my idea - so let me just add my voice to the chorus calling for a post addressing the future of aviation). Hmmm. First of all - GREAT article - thank you! I too was taken aback by your advice to fly to China, and your close even more so (the critical time is already in the past). 3 tons per person is a LOT of CO2! My large solar thermal systems (15 large panel, whole house heating in a winter climate) save 6 tons per YEAR. So I have to work two weeks to create as much CO2 savings as one person consumes on one transcontinental flight. Perhaps a different perspective (note the work I do is the fastest way to avoid CO2 (making hot water from the sun)). On the other hand - flight is currently a small portion of the puzzle, and, in my mind, so long as someone is making yearly progress towards a zero carbon footprint, it is OK to defer flight to later in the process. But we can't defer everything until the end. I do think auto travel and building conditioning are the low hanging fruit. Rob if agree with any of what I am saying - I suggest as your "penance" (tongue now firmly in cheek) that you write an SkS post about future flight solutions- you have alluded to this a couple of times, and there does seem to be some interest (based on this thread alone...) Regardless, thank you so much for the first hand report on China - fascinating, heartening and scary all at once.
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  14. Crazy idea but how about an inter-continental rail transport system that is in a vacuum and runs on magnetic rails. No air resistance and very little or no friction. In theory it could reach speeds of up to 20,000kph. Currently in development in China. Vacrail
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  15. Rob said: "All my friends who are product designers have to travel to Asia 5 or 6 times a year. Your solution is that they quit their jobs and do something else." Some people quit their jobs for less! Recently in the recession I was watching some bloke saying he quit his job because he allegedly couldn't afford to drive the 50 miles to work (as a printer) any more. The idea of buying a cheaper car to run or booking into local accommodation for a few nights apparently weren't options. Even if he had to leave the job, he could have stuck it out for a year and found something else, or even moved to be nearer to the job. One company I once worked for as an engineer (product design), used to be world leaders in their field, they produced equipment for the UK market in the UK, where it was also designed. Then an American company that had no knowledge of the industry, bought it out and shifted production to China and the design to India. One engineer that I knew, still works there, he hates it and they won't allow him to retire early. Would I want to work there now? Absolutely not. Oh and BTW, I designed stuff for markets in Australia, UK and Japan. I never once left the UK and that was before the internet existed!
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  16. Paul D... But it makes no sense to quit their jobs because ALL the jobs in that field require the same thing. This is specifically an industry level change that needs to happen. I know my industry quite well having worked in it for 20+ years now. There is no way you can get the product you want and need without going to the actual factories and working through the details. Sending samples back and forth would put you way off schedule. My industry is the outdoor products industry. Bags and clothing. Probably one of the most environmentally conscious industries around. Believe me, everyone is talking exactly about all this stuff and trying to do what they can without putting their companies at a competitive disadvantage. I do see companies trying to reduce air travel by asking their designers to stay longer in China on a trip and fly there less often. But eliminating those trips is a long way away. If any of my friends asked my advice on that issue I'd tell them not to quit their jobs. I'd tell them, if they drive, buy the first electric car they can afford. I'd tell them to put solar panels on their homes when they can afford it. I'd tell them to try to eat locally grown foods whenever they can. Most of them are already committed bicyclists so the EV may even be overkill.
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  17. A few quick hits. - I see no discussion, and little evidence of understanding, sustainability in these discussions. This is common because most people are not fully into systems thinking, and, frankly, it is virtually impossible to actually audit the energy/resource footprint of anything. I like to make this point simply: Oil. if all people lived like Americans we'd literally run out of all recoverable oil, including fantasy oil that is likely unrecoverable, in about 18 years. These kinds of simple extractions highlight what prof. Al Bartlett calls the greatest failing of mankind: to not understand the exponential function. So, let's say the eventual 9 - 12 billion people all ride bicycles. We need 6 billion or so bicycles. And 12 billion bicycle tires. At what replacement rate, if they are the primary mode of transport? Where do we get all that rubber? And at the expense of what? What about food? if we keep growing food like the Big Ag companies do, we will be out of phosphorus by the end of the century. Good luck with that! Without going too far into this, my point is simple: there is no solution for 9 - 12 billion people that leaves us with a world that is largely like the one we live in today. Feel free to keep arguing about how many plane miles we should be flying, but unless and until you start doing true whole system analysis, you haven't got a clue and cannot solve these problems. And that's without addressing hundreds, thousands of additional interactions. This is a very complex system that is overloading the ecological services of the planet by at least 50%. Your future will not look like this one. Get over it. You are failing forward until you do. [snipped]
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  18. Killian... Other than a slightly antagonistic tone I don't have much in the way of disagreement with you. Stabilizing population growth is probably one of the most important aspects of climate change. The whole world can clearly not live like Americans do today. No argument there. I don't, though, have as pessimistic view as you apparently have. I think there are lots of solutions out there that can help humanity avert a complete collapse of civilization. My greatest concerns are fossil fuel energy interests who want to forestall any developments that would help us move forward. I think we can raise the standard of living of most of the world's population. Not using current energy resources. Using solar and wind, yes. Probably. As for raw goods resources, we need to be looking at how to recycle most all that we use. Make things last longer. Make them fully "up-cyclable" as opposed to "down-cyclable." There are many complex aspects to the problem. But there are also many many smart people all looking for innovative solutions.
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  19. Rob, absolutely no antagonism. I failed at PC-speak, is all. I fully embrace all open source, all the time. We can't dance around these issues. As long as it is considered impolite to speak directly and urgently, we're not going to fix this. Systems analysis, risk analysis and reports such as the Hirsch Report illustrate we are responding far too slowly to this emergency. "I don't, though, have as pessimistic view as you apparently have." I did not say I was pessimistic, I stated some criteria for success. "I think there are lots of solutions out there that can help humanity avert a complete collapse of civilization." I agree. I suspect we will disagree on some of them. ;) E.g., most people start with efficiency, which cannot possibly get us close to solutions (diminishing returns, resource limits), but can only be a smallish plank. Innovation also cannot solve this problem I allude to, specifically, Tainter's observations on solving problems of complexity, i.e., they can't be solved with greater complexity. People tend to fail to note innovation in the past occurred within contexts of plentiful resources. Complexity and non-linear systems theory lead us to conclude rationing of resources will have unintended and unanticipated consequences. I do believe and understand the solutions to be embarrassingly simple. Unfortunately, humans are not. Getting back to your first comment, the conversation has got to become clear, direct, and unflinching. We didn't deal with WWII by dancing around the issues. This is far bigger than that. My 2c.
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  20. Rob Honeycutt: Thank you for being a gentleman with trolls and surly churls. Being a True Believer and Champion of Truth, Justice and the American (or whichever) Way does not excuse rudeness. My son married a fantastic woman who happens to be Chinese, a native of a (very) small city in Hebei Province. The two of them, with their two daughters, live in Silicon Valley. They still keep a promise of visiting her family back there every two years. (Some visits are for business, but most are for family.) But after some struggles with La Migra, her parents now come for extended stays. And there is a nephew of my daughter-in-law who is in grad school in Boston… The travels of the extended family are beneficial all around, and for more than the usual. Cross-cultural enrichment is for real, beneficial for more than just the family(ies) involved. And the most passionate environmentalist in the family, my ten-year-old granddaughter, has defended the travels most eloquently, but her defense is too lengthy for a comment. However, I beg to disagree with you over your advising people in general to visit China (or anywhere else) for the sake of the broadening experience. A (former) friend visited China as a tourist some years back, and all he came back with was supercilious snobbish snide remarks about how bad Chinese manners are, how disagreeable the people are. (He did like traditional opera, though.) At a dinner party my wife and I hosted, he carried on at length, knowing full well of the origins of our daughter-in-law. He explained that he was merely telling the truth as he saw it, seeing no need for pretending that things are other than what they are. Such people should stay home; the atmosphere is not all that they foul. Separately, I very strongly suspect that there could well be means of transoceanic travel that are spectacularly less carbon intensive, but would have other drawbacks — like travel time. The Carbon Tax would/could be a great incentive as well as leveler. If a low-carbon low-speed trip to China were to have a tiny fraction of the carbon footprint of a high-carbon high-speed trip, let the business traveler whose time is so precious, or the wealthy flighty socialite, pay for the speed. Letting the rich and the foolish pay taxes for the poor and the prudent would eliminate a lot of any possible justification for so much of the twaddly blathering on a lot of blogs.
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  21. Dcrickett... I had to laugh out loud at the "Chinese manners" comment, just because I know exactly what he was likely talking about. It's a little shocking if you're not used to it. Particularly restaurant manners. I always say you can tell how fancy a restaurant is by how much stuff the patrons toss on the floor. From their side they always say that Americans (while very nice people) treat their friends worse than they (the Chinese) treat their enemies. I have to say, I totally, totally love exactly those types of exchange of culture. Being married to a Chinese person is a very enriching experience indeed. Never a dull moment.
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  22. China is probably one of the most affected countries by climate change..... Algae Bloom Spreads Across Qingdao, China Beach (PHOTOS) http://tinyurl.com/Climateportal200
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  23. @Paul Magnus: Regarding not flying and people listening, I have had precisely the same experience.
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  24. An interesting article, though I would challenge its conclusion that “the West” will be playing catch-up to China before the end of the century – unless of course “the West” is an euphuism for the USA. It is true that in an effort to reduce visible pollution, the dirtiest emitters are either being closed or are being ordered to fit scrubbers to reduce their emissions. This of course refers to emission of particulates, not greenhouse gases which are steadily rising and are destined to do so for at least 50 years. Reducing aerosol emissions is commendable for popular health but it will result in an increase in the level of solar radiation reaching the earths surface which, in combination with growing CO2-e emissions, will result in escalating global warming. The primary problem facing China, India, in fact all major CO2-e emitters is clear and simple. It is to provide growing national energy needs while reducing the need to burn fossil fuels and by 2050, burning none. China has made a good but far from adequate start in this regard. Both fixed and mobile plant and equipment, including all forms of transport, need to transfer from oil-based fuels to electricity, a fact China is aware of as evidenced by its R&D into efficient electric vehicles, notably cars and trains. All very well you may say – but where is the increased level of electricity coming from, if not fossil fuels? Most of it will come from sunlight. The technology to achieve cost-efficient conversion of sunlight to electricity is not quite here yet but it is being developed in a number of countries albeit in a fragmented and inefficient way. When available, it will be willingly embraced by countries such as China which loath being increasingly dependent on the vagaries of supply and growing cost of imported fossil fuels. It is dangerously misleading to talk of how well China is doing with its low per capita CO2-e emissions. They are irrelevant as evidenced by the fact that Australian annual emissions, the highest per capita in the world, equate in total to a few days emissions by China. With regard to effect on global warming and climate change, the only relevant figure is the total emissions per country, not per capita. We delude ourselves if we “China has one of the lowest levels of CO2-e emissions per capita, so all is well with the world and China”. All is not well when China’s total emissions were over 7.7 billion tones in 2009. All is not well when China intends to increase those emissions every year for the next 40 years. Per capita, China does very well but in total it very clearly does not and it must do better – a lot better with power generation and industry which is largely unregulated and 40 years out of date when it comes to emissions.
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  25. Agnostic... Definitely not trying to claim that all is well with China. There are clearly massive hurdles that face them. What encourages me is that they are actually doing things. They are taking things seriously while we in the west (yes, mostly the US) are trapped in political discord. My major point is that they are better positioning themselves to address the issue of carbon emissions. It more than ironical when I hear anyone complaining about China and what "they have to do" when we can't manage to do much anything at all. We (US again) are losing incredible opportunities to take action and move forward with every day that passes. China is moving forward every day.
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  26. I enjoyed the insight into the Chinese way of life. The demonisation of the Chinese in the current Carbon Tax debate has been quite ludicrous when you compare the lifestyle described in the article with that of most Autralians. In relation to the one-up-manship over who is allowed to comment on climate issues based on their personal carbon footprint; while it is pretty obvious that air travel in its current form is not carbon nuetral there is very little that is. I have read in the Guardian that use of the Internet produces 300m tonnes of CO2/yr, so maybe once we have stopped flying anywhere we should also then turn off our computers for ever more as well. And as possibly I don't use my computer as much as Pierre does, do I then get to have more authority to propound my views? My point is that I have no idea what steps Rob or Pierre take in their day to day life to cut or offset their carbon use, but it is possible that Rob has reduced his to a point where a yearly flight to China to maintain family contact can be justified. Is this not what we all have to do? Reduce our carbon footprint, but we can make the choice over what is neccessary to our lives and work our reductions on those that are not.
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  27. The lifestyles of those AuStralians is pretty luxurious in comparison as well!
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  28. Agnostic @74, absolute levels of emissions are the only relevant factor at a global level, but at a national level, per capita emissions are crucial. The alternative thesis, that at a national level absolute emission levels are the only relevant factor leads directly to the absurd conclusion that in whatever final emissions mix is finally negotiated, the Vatican should be permitted the same absolute emissions level as Italy, and that Tuvalu (pop ten thousand) should be permitted the same absolute emissions level as China or the United States. Clearly that supposition is absurd, and the insistence on not using per capita emissions as the metric for international agreements and national targets is equally absurd - and can be shown to be so by simple reasoning about fairness. If, however, we commit to a limited per capita budget of CO2e emissions, then the equation becomes fairly simple: As you can see, on a per capita basis, with a target for only a 2 degree increase above industrial levels, China can increase its total emissions by almost 50%, so long as it peaks around 2020, and eliminates all emissions by 2030. In contrast, the US and Australia need to peak now, and eliminate all emissions by 2020. That rigorous target can be ameliorated by an international trade in emission rights. But if we are not in an a global agreement that provides for such trade, there is no excuse for not reducing emissions to zero in a decade (and that would involve negative economic growth). In the meantime China is clearly tracking very close to its appropriate target, even without trading. Whether they will continue to do so remains to be seen.
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  29. @Tom Curtis (#78) - Excellent answer, thank you. And that final graph is very important (though unfortunately, the x-axis has been cut off?), even though it is based on the assumption of no reparations for any previous carbon "debt" incurred by the nations that have benefitted most from a long history of emissions, but simply assumes that per capital emissions ought to be equalised from here as quickly as possible while overall emissions drop fast enough to give us a 75% chance of staying below 2ºC rise from pre-industrial temperatures by 2100. (Remember, 2ºC is still a *big* and nasty change, and should not be considered "safe", just not nearly as bad as 3ºC would be. 4ºC? Don't even think about it... (though that's where we're currently headed if all nations follow through on their commitments thus far)). So, to summarise: Australia/US/Canada (Canada fits basically in line with US and Oz for per capita emissions) have the most pressing reasons for reducing carbon emissions as soon as possible and basically as far as possible.
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  30. BTW, Tom, I know I've seen that figure before, but since I can't remember where it was, can you please link to the source? (The graph currently links to the very informative and important Climate Commission Report "The Critical Decade" which is well worth reading in its own right, but doesn't contain that figure).
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  31. Ah, found it (scroll down). It was used by Potsdam Institute Director Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber in his presentation to the "4 Degrees & Beyond" conference in Oxford, 2009.
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  32. Byron Smith @80, the original for the graph comes from the WBGU report, "Solving the Climate Dilemma: The Budget Approach" (PDF). It is an excellent policy advisory document, and maintains neutrality between various policy options, including an historical responsibility approach, in which each nation has a per capita budget starting in 1990 (which has been already spent in the case of the US and Australia). I tend to ignore it as I do not think it would ever be accepted by the US. I do apologize for the condition of the original graph. I was posting away from home, and did not have access to my favourites bar. Here is a better version from SkS:
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  33. Tom Curtis @ 78 The points I make is that only nation-states can (and should) exercise control over their CO2-e emissions. Those emissions are and should be measured in national total tonnage and it ought to be recognised as the basis for international agreements. Global warming occurs because of total CO2-e emissions, the aggregate of total national emissions, irrespective of variance in per-capita emissions among nations. I do not subscribe to the view that, by virtue of having a large population, it is acceptable for China to increase its emissions by ~50%, from its present 7.7 gigatonnes per annum to >11 gigatonnes per annum, or that this is consistent with limiting temperature increase to <2°C by 2100. And there is certainly no evidence that China has either the intention or capacity of reducing its emissions to zero by 2030. Such proposals are unrealistic and dangerous for our future. It is wrong to equate the right to higher per-capita energy entitlement with the right to increase CO2-e emissions. No one disputes that China or India have a right to improve the standard of living of their vast populations by increasing availability of per-capita energy. What is disputed is that this justifies increasing CO2-e pollution or that such an increase is unavoidable and necessary. Global CO2 emissions are approaching 400ppm compared with a “safe” target of 350ppm. The world is heading for a catastrophic 4-5°C increase by 2100, sea level rise of at least 1m, possibly up to 5m and a climate so extreme that our ability to survive will be sorely challenged – yet it is seriously suggested by commentators that major increase in CO2 pollution is justified. My response is and remains NO!
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  34. Agnostic @83, your argument is most commonly coupled with the argument that because China is not reducing its emissions, then Australia and the US ought not to reduce their emissions because doing so would merely cripple their economy without effecting our long term prospects of combating global warming. At the very minimum the chart @82 shows this is false. In fact, that argument pair is always just a rhetorical device to block effective action on climate change with out directly arguing against action on climate change. It is difficult to see how your position differs. Specifically, there is no hope in the world that China, or India will sign up to emissions reductions at a rate comparable to those of the west in terms of absolute emissions per nation. Nor should they. There will undoubtedly be a short term cost in moving to a zero (or very low) emission economy. The demand for equal per nation reduction in emissions is therefore a demand that the poorest nations accept a greater cost so that the wealthy nations that have caused the problem can minimize their costs in the transition. Quite apart from any consideration of equity, the fact is the cost for western nations will be easily paid out of discretionary income from the household budget. In Third World nations the cost will be in terms of the elimination of health services, and of educational opportunities, and in many cases the ready availability of food. For China the cost of an equal per nation reduction will be eliminating the growth of the middle class. Economists have a useful term for analyzing costs. It is "utility". In rough terms, the utility cost is the cost in actual happiness or opportunity. In those terms, because fighting global warming means, for the West, trimming luxuries, and for the third world, trimming necessities, the utility cost in the third world is far higher for an equal reduction in emissions. Therefore your policy prescription is that the third world bear a greater cost in necessities so that we can have a reduced cost in luxuries for any given outcome. The proper response to that to anyone, including you, is that if you think the situation so lacking in urgency that you are prepared to haggle amount how many luxuries you will give up, then it is insufficiently grave for the third world to give up a single necessity.
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  35. Tom Curtis @84 I would have thought it obvious from my remarks made it clear that the last thing I expect is for any country to be excused reducing their emissions. Your suggestion that I expect poorer nations to bear the burden of reducing their emissions is as fallacious as suggesting that a 50% increase in China’s emissions is conducive to limiting global warming to less than 2C.
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  36. Agnostic @85, in that case at what rate do you suggest the west subsidize China to reduce its emissions then? Absent such a subsidy, you are asking the poor to pay for the emissions reductions and at a far higher utility cost than the rich are prepared to pay.
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  37. Tom Curtis @86 Again, the right to energy is conflated with an assumed necessity to emit CO2-e. Energy can and will be (already is) produced from clean sources and I certainly accept that the R&D into best achieving this outcome is largely the responsibility of the developed world. Likewise it is responsible for making that technology affordable for poor nations. Lovely column chart though of course it does rather ignore, at least not disclose the difference between the differing numbers of per-capita’s in each country and so avoids disclosing any national emission totals or the extent to which they contribute to global warming. Shorry you can not or do not want to see the point I making.
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  38. Agnostic @87, I can clearly see the point you are making. I can also clearly see the fallacy involved. I think you come to the position from shoddy thinking rather than racism, but at its root your position comes down to the assumption that one US citizen is worth four Chinese citizens, is worth twenty Indian citizens. It is further premised on the idea that the US (and other Western nations) because they have profited greatly from the exploitation of fossil fuels, should be absolved of any responsibility for any harm that exploitation will do; and indeed that they have only one quarter of the responsibility for future action to prevent harm from it than is born by any Chinese citizen. Such an idea may fly well on fox news, but it won't fly in China or India. Nor to China or India have self interest gulling them into accepting transparent nonsense. So as long as the West sticks to that premise as a basis of negotiation, for that long they guarantee that China and India will not sign up to any substantive cuts in emissions on any time table.
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  39. Tom Curtis @ 88 Your assumptions are entirely wrong and hardly science based. Thank you for your views.
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  40. Agnostic @89, my assumptions are: 1) Global warming needs to be limited to a 2 degree C increase to have a reasonable chance to avoid catastrophic consequences of global warming. That is science based (PDF). 2) Total CO2e emissions to 2050 need to be limited to 1000 Gigatonnes of CO2e to have a reasonable (75%) chance of avoiding a greater than 2 degrees C increase in global temperatures. That is certainly science based. 3) A limit on total emissions makes the right to emit a scarce good within the technical meaning of the term of economics, and hence such a right has an economic value. That is not a science based assumption. Rather, it is one of the fundamental assumptions of economics, which I can presume to be a reasonably objective discipline. If you wish to reject all of modern economic theory, as you would have to to reject this assumption, please let us know. 4) Given an economic value of a good, you can make a preference ranking of any free assignment of those goods based on the quantity assigned to each person. If an unequal assignment is considered preferable, that represents a greater preference for the well being of the person or persons receiving the greater quantity of goods, with the level of preference being given by the quantity of goods assigned/ the average value of goods assigned across the population. (4) follows straight forwardly from decision theory. It has, however, been widely rejected by some people. In particular, Marxists have rejected the notion, instead maintaining a principle of "From each according to his ability, to each according to their need." Adherents to the free market, on the other hand, recognize that some people have greater need for certain goods, and that utility will be maximized of an assignment based on need is achieved. However, they maintain that the utility maximizing assignment is best achieved by free exchange. In that case, an unequal initial assignment will always be reflected in unequal final utility after exchanges have taken place, and hence represent a differential valuation of individuals if the initial assignment is deliberately chosen as a matter of policy. Hence (4) follows straight forwardly from decision theory and adherence to the free market. Again, if you would rather accept Marxism, please let us know. So, while my "assumptions" are not exclusively based on science, they are based science, two soundly based formal disciplines, and a foundational assumption of western societies (however inconsistently applied by many). I don't know what your assumptions are based on, but their consequences are to value citizens of the West, and in particular of the US more highly than citizens of other nations, and in particular of the third world. I have seen many argue that such a valuation should be the approach of any national government. I disagree, but I doubt that is relevant. What is relevant is that you cannot rationally expect the Chinese government to value US citizens more highly than its own; and therefore cannot rationally expect them to accept an agreement that effectively does so. Therefore negotiating on a basis that implicitly does exactly that is to doom the negotiation to failure. Consequently the choice for rational governments is simple. If you want to solve the global warming crisis through international agreement (and it is difficult to see any other means), then the basis of negotiations must be on equal per capita emissions rights. For practical purposes, those rights must be tradable.
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  41. As if on cue here's a just published paper on sulfate emissions in China & India: Sulfur dioxide and primary carbonaceous aerosol emissions in China and India, 1996–2010 - Lu & Streets (2011) "From 1996 to 2000, emissions of all three species showed a decreasing trend (by 9 %–17 %) due to a slowdown in economic growth, a decline in coal use in non-power sectors, and the implementation of air pollution control measures. With the economic boom after 2000, 15 emissions from China changed dramatically. BC and OC emissions increased by 46 % and 33 % to 1.85 Tg and 4.03 Tg in 2010. SO2 emissions first increased by 61 % to 34.0 Tg in 2006, and then decreased by 9.2 % to 30.8 Tg in 2010 due to the wide application of flue-gas desulfurization (FGD) equipment in power plants." India's sulfate pollution on the other hand is still rising.
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