China's Low Carbon Policies: Too Little Too Late?
Plus Really Sorry Bus Stops, Solar Panels Over California's Canals, Saving Vernal Pools, and Habitat for Appalachia's Candy Darter Fish
Can Low-Carbon Policies Make China Sustainable?
When I was a kid, one of the big stories in 1972 was President Nixon going to China. “Red” China as it was called back then, under the rulership of Mao Zedong, was, along with the U.S.S.R., a great nemesis of communism. It was vague, mysterious, exotic, menacing, and, as just about every authority figure back then would have us believe, evil.
But with Nixon visiting the country of 800 million (1.44 billion today), the narrative about China changed somewhat. Mao the dictator had the graciousness to meet with our president, and the Chinese people were, well, good people. They played ping pong! Some of the afternoon television sports programs featured hours of U.S. table tennis athletes competing with Chinese athletes. I think the Chinese athletes won most of the matches. And almost overnight “Red China” became simply “China.”
I remember watching the news about Nixon’s visit, as well as seeing some of the other documentaries about China, and being struck by the contrast with American cities. In China, there were lanes crowded with cyclists and an occasional motor scooter. Videos of other roadways could be even more stark, with a few bicyclists being passed by an occasional sedan.
And there were the films of the farms, almost always displaying a single tractor in the rice field and a lot of workers carrying and sifting rice. Except for the tractor, the way that many Chinese lived in the early 1970s was just as Pearl S. Buck depicted in her 1931 novel, The Good Earth: rural farm life that had not changed much in centuries.
All this lay in stark contrast to the U.S. at the time. We had just had another Apollo moon landing; the interstate highway system, started under the Eisenhower administration, was nearing completion; and the long lines and high prices of the first OPEC oil embargo were a year away. America embodied prosperity and progress, as we saw it.
We viewed the Chinese as undeveloped and suffering under a communist regime, and yet, looking back—I’m not sure if anybody at the time saw the country in these terms—the Chinese were living sustainable lives. Not many cars, few large homes, and diets that contained much less meat than a U.S. diet.
Yet since the 1980s, more and more of China has become more and more like the U.S. and other developed countries. Kentucky Fried Chicken opened in Beijing in 1987. McDonald’s followed three years later. New car registration has exploded, going from 3.4 million in 2002 to 28 million in 2017.
In 1980, eight years after Nixon’s visit and four years after the death of Mao, China consumed the equivalent of 602 million tons of coal. With urbanization and the growth of China’s middle class, that figure rose to 4.86 billion by 2019, more than an eightfold increase. In 2019 China’s CO2 emissions reached 9.839 billion tons, 27.2 percent of global carbon emissions. We can expect even more CO2 from China. The growth rate of their carbon emissions is 5.68 percent.
Since 2010 the Chinese government has adopted low-carbon pilot policies (LCPPs). LCPPs run a gamut of strategies, from insulation requirements in building codes, to vehicular gas mileage standards, to research and development funding. So while it’s going headlong into becoming a consumerist country, China is trying to put the brakes on the whole thing, at least in some fashion.
The LPCCs are aimed at reducing household emissions. The Chinese government launched LCPPs in the provinces of Guangdong, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi, and Yunnan, as well as the cities of Baoding City, Chongqing, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Nanchang, Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Xiamen. with more cities added in 2012 and 2017.
Published in Frontiers in Energy Research, Chinese scientists conducted studies that measured the effects of China’s LCPPs. While they did find some effect of the low-carbon policies, the results are still, by in large, discouraging. From 2010, when the LCPPs were instituted, through 2015, the emissions of households in the pilot program rose almost in parallel with households that were not in the program. And they both rose at astounding rates: more than 400 percent.
As of 2015, emissions of LCPP households started a slight decline, but they are still more than four times what they were in 2010. As the researchers write: “LCPPs will encourage households to reduce the consumption of high-carbon emission products and increase the consumption of low-carbon emission products, thereby reducing household carbon emissions.”
So a lot of this boils down to folks buying more efficient dishwashers and air conditioners. As someone who drives a car, uses a clothes washer, and enjoys other modern conveniences, I’m in a poor position to pass judgment on a country that is doing its best to emulate the way we Americans live our lives.
But it seems, knowing what we did in the 1970s—that we were warming the planet with our greenhouse gases, that we lived on a planet with finite resources—that the Chinese government could have provided a wiser way to give their people lives that could be less strenuous and lives that had leisure without pouring billions of tons of CO2 into our atmosphere.
Funny and Sad: Streetsblog Continues its Search for the “Sorriest Bus Stops.”
Anyone who has relied on or chosen public transportation has had this experience. You get off your bus to make a transfer and wind up at a bus stop that is poorly designed, ugly, and perhaps a bit dangerous.
Every year Streets Blog has a contest for the “Sorriest Bus Stop.” They find some pretty outrageous contenders: street corners with no sidewalks, bus stops along six lanes of highway, and shelters that resemble miniature haunted houses. This week the contest is between a decrepit stop in Chicago and a stop wedged between an on-ramp and major thoroughfare outside New York City.
By the way, Streets Blog is the best source for news and developments about transportation on the internet. (Streetsblog USA)
In California, Two Birds, One Stone: Cover the Canals With Solar Panels
California ships billions of gallons of water each year from northern California and the Colorado River to Los Angeles and the rest of southern California. Miles and miles of canals stretch through the Central Valley, as well as through the desert east of San Diego.
For the canal in the desert, about eleven percent of the water is lost to evaporation before it is delivered to San Diego residents.
In one of those bright ideas described as “win-win,” researchers estimate that if California installed solar panels over its canals, the state could save 63 billion gallons of water and generate 13 gigawatts of renewable energy every year. The researchers published their findings in Nature Sustainability (EcoWatch)
Lawsuit Launched to Save California Vernal Pools
The Center for Biological Diversity has notified the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its intent to file a lawsuit. The lawsuit would challenge the permitting of a Northern California development that would destroy vernal pools.
Vernal pools have been part of the landscape of California and the Southwest for millennia. They are submerged or partially submerged in water during the months of cool wet weather and dry during months of drought. The pools contain species unique to them, including the endangered vernal pool fairy shrimp and other endangered plants and animals.
Ninety percent of the vernal pools in California have already been paved over or otherwise destroyed. The development, called Stonegate, would occupy 314 acres outside of Chico, California. (Center For Biological Diversity)
U.S Fish and Wildlife Secures Habitat for an Appalachian Fish
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized protection for the endangered candy darter, a fish once common throughout Virginia and West Virginia. The protections require review of any activities that may be harmful to the fish throughout 368 miles of streams in Virginia and West Virginia. (Center For Biological Diversity)