Articles from 2013
Why Greens need to go to China
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 09 July 2013
Way before environmentalists started worrying about CO2 (Hot Air is the term carbon traders used to refer to CO2 by the way, hence the name here), literally everyone worried about the far more unclear and present danger, air pollution.
That was the case in the great smogs of London, created by coal pollution. An idea of how horrendous they were comes from reports of the London Smog Disaster of December 1952, so thick that performances in theaters were cancelled not out of health concerns but simply because no one past the sixth row could see the stage. I was born in London in August 1953 by the way. Do the maths.
Apart from yours truly, the 1952 smog produced another positive development of the UK’s clean air efforts, which at the time were the world’s first to legislate environmental standards. Those efforts led to the modern green movement, which until recently was a broad-based popular front movement. The campaign co-existed with the first efforts to improve air quality by reducing vehicle emissions, Los Angeles being a prime example. LA’s air today is far cleaner than it was, via a combination of catalytic converters, increased state mileage standards that fanned out worldwide thanks to the size of the Californian auto market and the total replacement of all 7000 diesel buses with natural gas powered ones
On a fundament political level, clean air, and clean water are basic human rights. The present day issues arise over the long term, invisible, more insiduous, and sometimes more debatable damage caused by CO2. But this debate is actually a Western luxury as we are reminded from a stunning report in the New York Times:
Southern Chinese on average have lived at least five years longer than their northern counterparts in recent decades because of the destructive health effects of pollution from the widespread use of coal in the north, according to a study released Monday by a prominent American science journal.
Several recent scientific studies have revealed the toll that China’s outdoor air pollution is taking on humans. This spring, new data released from the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study revealed that such pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, or nearly 40 percent of the global total.
The simple fact is that coal, and diesel contain far more short term dangers that literally kill people than any proven risks of natural gas. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Hate gas - get coal. Misguided or simply misinformed green followers consistently exaggerate the current productive capacity of renewables or the potential of demand reduction.
But it's Green leaders who are truly dangerous. The Green Tea Party 1% often share a vision of a romantic, New England/Tuscan/Sussex-style utopia remarkably close to how their second homes with solar heated swimming pools must look. They don’t think about real life for the people left behind in cities that need energy sources that work. This leads them to reject both natural gas and nuclear technology much more effective at curbing greenhouse gas emissions - and air pollution.
Simply put, they have very strong beliefs about as scientific -and just as wrongheaded as - the equally strong religious beliefs held by evolution opponents. All carbon is evil. If they were on a food diet, they would criticize bananas as being simply another source of calories.
Going on a fast may be good dietary advice, but modern life would simply not exist without the electricity, mobility and chemicals that fossil fuels provide. But replacing the age of coal and oil with natural gas can lead to an age where any carbon is the enemy - as well as air pollution. Greens love to cherry pick research, the Howarth methane “study” being a classic example, but they consistently ignore research like the recent Breakthrough Institute report Coal Killer:
Amid a flurry of regulations and political activism against coal plants, one phenomenon has proved the most effective in killing coal in the United States: the arrival of cheaper, cleaner energy. Natural gas fuels the clean energy revolution by displacing dirtier coal, lowering carbon emissions, providing a platform for deployment of lower-carbon energy technologies, and creating economic surpluses that can be directed towards energy innovation. And while questions have arisen in the last several years regarding the local and global environmental impacts of the shale revolution, a survey of the empirical literature reveals gas to be a highly favorable environmental alternative to coal.
Going back to China, we often find similar arguments against shale as we do in Europe, depending on a similar “it will never happen here” narrative of more crowds, less water, less technology and even different geology.
One thing that will never happen in China is less government support. We've seen December 2012 onwards providing the same impetus as December sixty years earlier did in London. Whatever the benefits of the Chinese one party system are or are not, no government anywhere can resist populations who don’t have the right to breathe. The political ramifications are too high even for the most popular of governments and we are seeing some fundamental changes taking place:
Parents are confining sons and daughters to their homes, even if it means keeping them away from friends. Schools are canceling outdoor activities and field trips. Parents with means are choosing schools based on air-filtration systems, and some international schools have built gigantic, futuristic-looking domes over sports fields to ensure healthy breathing.
“I hope in the future we’ll move to a foreign country,” Ms. Zhang, a lawyer, said as her ailing son, Wu Xiaotian, played on a mat in their apartment, near a new air purifier. “Otherwise we’ll choke to death.”
The Green 1% who truly think everything is about money because they have so much of it, consistently tell us how the Chinese will pollute the planet non stop until we all drop, thus making the noble cause of environmental energy not only economic but physically possible.
China has no alternative but to make natural gas work. Many Chinese, and their friends, me among them, are working to make that possible. There is simply no alternative.
UK and European Greens simply don’t get it: What they propose in Europe, is the entire replacement of carbon fuels with Fantasy Energy Policy projects that belong in the realm of science fiction not science fact.
Dark Greens need a Nixon goes to China moment.
As a political metaphor, (Nixon goes to China) refers to the ability of a politician with an unassailable reputation among his supporters for representing and defending their values to take actions that would draw their criticism and even opposition if taken by someone without those credentials.
I’m going to China in October. Wish they would come along too.