Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Smog and other pollutants have costs

Sometimes, even in an authoritarian system, externalities become important. Deadly air pollution, undrinkable water, dead pigs in rivers, and contaminated food can take legitimacy away from a non-democratic regime whose leaders promise to make things better for people.

And, in China, it's necessary to pay attention to the state owned enterprises (SOEs) that dominate the economy. The people in charge of them would be called oligarchs if they were in Russia. As Party bigwigs as well as industrial magnates they wield a lot of power. And they have vested interests in promoting growth above all else.

Cost of Environmental Damage in China Growing Rapidly Amid Industrialization
The cost of environmental degradation in China was about $230 billion in 2010, or 3.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product… The statistic came from a study by the Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning, which is part of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. [It] is based on costs arising from pollution and damage to the ecosystem…
Beijing smog, August 2005
The rapidly eroding environment across the country has become an issue of paramount concern to many Chinese. In January, outrage boiled over as air pollution in north China reached record levels, well beyond what Western environmental agencies consider hazardous. The public fury forced propaganda officials to allow official Chinese news organizations to report more candidly on the pollution.

Chinese state-owned enterprises in the oil and power industries have consistently blocked efforts by pro-environment government officials to impose policies that would alleviate the pollution.

There have also been constant concerns over water and soil pollution. The discovery of at least 16,000 dead pigs in rivers that supply drinking water to Shanghai has ignited alarm there. This week, China Central Television reported that farmers in a village in Henan Province were using wastewater from a paper mill to grow wheat. But one farmer said they would not dare to eat the wheat themselves…

The Beijing government on Thursday released details of a three-year plan that is aimed at curbing various forms of pollution… The report quoted Wang Anshun, Beijing’s mayor, as saying that sewage treatment, garbage incineration and forestry development would cost at least $16 billion…

There is consensus now that China’s decades of double-digit economic growth exacted an enormous environmental cost. But growth remains the priority; the Communist Party’s legitimacy is based largely on rapidly expanding the economy... A Deutsche Bank report released last month said the current growth policies would lead to a continuing steep decline of the environment for the next decade, especially given the expected coal consumption and boom in automobile sales.
Air Pollution Linked to 1.2 Million Premature Deaths in China
China’s toll from pollution was the loss of 25 million healthy years of life from the population.

The data on which the analysis is based was first presented in the ambitious 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, which was published in December in The Lancet, a British medical journal. The authors decided to break out numbers for specific countries and present the findings at international conferences. The China statistics were offered at a forum in Beijing on Sunday...

What the researchers called “ambient particulate matter pollution” was the fourth-leading risk factor for deaths in China in 2010, behind dietary risks, high blood pressure and smoking...

Calculations of premature deaths because of outdoor air pollution are politically threatening in the eyes of some Chinese officials. According to news reports, Chinese officials cut out sections of a 2007 report called “Cost of Pollution in China” that discussed premature deaths...

There has been growing outrage in Chinese cities over what many say are untenable levels of air pollution. Cities across the north hit record levels in January, and official Chinese newspapers ran front-page articles on the surge — what some foreigners call the “airpocalypse” — despite earlier limits on such discussion by propaganda officials.

In February, the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced a timeline for introducing new fuel standards, but state-owned oil and power companies are known to block or ignore environmental policies to save on costs...

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At 8:34 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

2 Major Air Pollutants Increase in Beijing

"In the first three months of this year, levels of two major air pollutants increased by almost 30 percent… n the Chinese capital…

"The pollutants — nitrous dioxide and particulate matter that is between 2.5 and 10 micrometers in diameter, called PM 10 — appeared to have surged sharply in January, showing levels 47 percent higher than the same month last year…

"Cities in northern China have been grappling this winter with record levels of air pollution, which have stirred fear and anger among many Chinese. In January, the Beijing municipal government recorded jaw-dropping concentrations of particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, called PM 2.5. The highest concentrations were recorded at nearly 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter, which was on par with some severely polluted days in industrial London during the mid-20th century…"


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