|The World's Biggest Pollution Factory|
Interview with Elizabeth May
On the eve of the Olympics, the whole world is watching China. In the following
excerpt from The Coming China Wars, author Peter Navarro outlines China's
complex role in the world and the environmental challenges it faces.
The coal that has powered China's economic growth . . . is also choking its
Elizabeth C. Economy
Director for Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Author, The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenges to China's Future
At the root of many of China's air-quality problems is its heavy dependence on
relatively high-sulfur, low-quality coal for everything from electricity
generation and industrial production to cooking and space heating in the home.
China relies on coal for almost 75 percent of its energy needs. In fact, each
year, China consumes more coal than Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United
The scale and scope of China's coal power plant construction program is almost
beyond one's imagination. Consider that every single week, China adds one new
large coal power plant to its energy base. Every single year, China builds
enough new coal plants to light up the entire British Isles. In any given year,
the amount of coal-fired capacity that China is building amounts to more than
double that of the entire electricity-generating capacity of the state of
California-more than 100 gigawatts. That China's coal appetites are voracious is
aptly captured in this passage from the Wall Street Journal:
"On a recent hazy morning in eastern China, the Wuhu Shaoda power company revved
up its production of electricity, burning a ton and a half of coal per minute to
satisfy more than half the demand of Wuhu, an industrial city of two million
It's not just the quantity of coal used by China that matters. The large amount
of coal in China's "energy mix" is quite different from virtually all the other
major economies of the world, which depend much more on oil. China's heavy coal
dependence, coupled with a woeful lack of pollution-control technologies, make
China's air-quality problem a very different one from that of developed
countries, such as the United States and Germany, in at least three ways:
First, unlike in the United States, Germany, or Japan where sophisticated
pollution-control technologies are deployed, much of what Chinese power plants
and factories spew in the air is not just sulfur dioxide but also a high
percentage of fine particulate matter. This is a critical observation because
particulate matter is the most damaging form of airborne pollutants.
Second, small cities in China are no better off than large cities in terms of
ambient air quality. This is because small cities are as likely as large cities
to depend on coal in both their residential and commercial sectors. That means
that China's pollution woes are spread over the entire country in cities small
and large rather than concentrated in a few large industrial hubs.
Third, unlike the developed world where the automobile is the single largest
source of air pollution, China's current problem is primarily a "stationary
source" one. These stationary sources range from large coal-fired power plants
in huge factory towns to small coal-fired stoves and heaters in peasant homes.
The nightmare here is that even if China is able to get better pollution
controls on its power plants, and even if it is able to convert some of its
population to natural gas cooking, China's air basins are still likely to be
overwhelmed in the next several decades by an explosion in the number of new
vehicles on Chinese roads. Just consider this astonishing statistic reported by
Elizabeth C. Economy: China is now adding 15,000 new cars a day to its roads,
and it expects to have more cars than the United States -- as many as 130
million -- as early as 2040. In addition, Elizabeth C. Economy also reports the
First, China is expected to construct fully half of all the buildings in the
world over the next 25 years. Beyond sheer quantity, the nightmare here is that
these buildings will be electricity sinkholes because Chinese buildings are
notoriously energy inefficient. This will only further exacerbate China's coal
dependence and collaterally gargantuan pollution emissions.
Second, China plans to move almost a half a billion peasants off the farm into
factories and cities over the next several decades. As a rule, urbanites
introduced to the magic of refrigerators, TVs, and toasters use more than three
times the amount of energy as their rural counterparts.
On top of all this, Chinese manufacturers are extremely energy inefficient. To
produce an equivalent amount of goods, they use six times more resources than
the United States, seven times more resources than Japan, and, most
embarrassingly, three times more resources than India, to which China is most
frequently compared. If ever there were a blueprint for a global pollution
factory, China would be the model.
The above is an excerpt from the book The Coming China Wars by Peter Navarro.
Peter Navarro a business professor at the University of California-Irvine. A
gifted speaker, Navarro is a regular CNBC contributors and appears frequently on
Bloomberg TV, CNN, and NPR, as well as on all three major network news shows. He
has testified before Congress and the U.S.-China Commission and his work has
appeared in publications ranging from Business Week, the L.A. Times, and New
York Times to the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Harvard Business Review.