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Scientists Compare U.S., China Pollution


By John Heilprin
USA Today
SEptember 6, 2007


Los Angeles and Pittsburgh provide examples of what to do
and not to do about China's severe air pollution in the face of surging
energy use from rapid economic growth, U.S. and Chinese scientists say.
The study released Thursday compared the world's two biggest energy
consumers, the United States and China.

One of the most important lessons? It makes more sense to try to prevent
pollution, rather than clean it up afterward.

The study also found that national controls are important though focusing
on small sources of pollution also can have a broad impact.

Los Angeles was compared with the Chinese city of Dalian, both port
cities, while Pittsburgh was stacked against Huainan, both coal-rich
centers of industry.

According to the study, the result of a 2 1/2 year collaboration between
U.S. and Chinese academies of engineering and sciences, both countries
still have major problems with dirty air and must improve their energy
efficiency.

Los Angeles' serious smog problems are well-studied and the city uses
federal and local planning to try to address it. On the other hand, its
over-reliance on cars and sprawling development haven't helped, the study
said.

Pittsburgh began attacking its smog problem in the 1940s, but only after
early reliance on coal that overlooked the consequences of air pollution.
"An important lesson learned is that air pollution damage imposes major
economic costs, through premature mortality, increased sickness and lost
productivity, as well as decreased crop yields and ecosystem impacts," the
report says. "Cost-benefit analyses in the U.S. show that emission
reduction programs have provided much greater benefits than their costs,
by a ratio of up to 40 to 1, according to some estimates."

U.S. efforts in the past 30 years have reduced the biggest risks from lead
in gasoline, acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide and some soot pollution, the
study says, though in some areas the Chinese are ahead such as in
research on coal gasification to use it more efficiently and emit less
pollution. Coal gasification is the conversion of coal into gaseous fuels.
By contrast, Dalian's urban planning to minimize sprawl and its local
transit more bicycles, pedestrians, buses and light rail is seen as an
example for Los Angeles.

"In China, they have very good rules but they don't have good enforcement
for air pollution," said John Watson, a co-chairman of the report and
professor at Reno-based Desert Research Institute. "They're making a lot
of the same mistakes we made in our air pollution history. You can just
see the parallels: they're building more highways and encouraging more
sprawl."

Though fossil fuel burning dominates both nations, a major difference is
the source for roughly two-thirds of their energy needs: for China, which
has some of the world's filthiest air, it is coal; for the United States,
it is petroleum and natural gas.

China is the world's biggest emitter of sulfur dioxide; both countries
lead the world in their emissions of industrial carbon dioxide, a
heat-trapping gas blamed for warming the atmosphere like a greenhouse. But
the study skirted the issue of global warming.

Another recommendation is that the Chinese government focus on collecting
and providing good quality data on air pollution and energy uses.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,
by 2020 China will have 20 million cases of respiratory illness a year
because of air pollution.

"We're not saying we're the best example. We're saying, Learn from our
experience, look at our successes, but also our failures," said Derek
Vollmer, an associate program officer for the National Academy of
Sciences, who oversaw the study. "But we have a longer history of dealing
with air pollution."

 

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