Pollution from China Doesn't Stay There

A new study reveals two findings on air pollution spewing from China's coal-burning factories. First, the pollution blows to the U.S and other nations. Second, 20% of the pollution can be traced to Western demand for cheap goods from those factories.

2 minute read

January 22, 2014, 8:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

"About one-fifth of the pollution China spews into the atmosphere comes from producing goods for export to the United States and other countries, according to the paper [PDF] by a group of scientists that was published [Jan. 20] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)," writes Tony Barboza.

In six days, winds can blow the smog and particulates that cloak China's eastern cities to the U.S and "spread pollution levels over the West Coast of up to 75 percent of federal standards," writes John Metcalfe of The Atlantic Cities.

These transported pollutants explain why air pollution levels "have remained at a high level during 2000–2009 even as emissions produced in the United States, Europe, and Japan have decreased,” the scientists wrote. 

The paper is a reminder that U.S. demand for cheap imports from China has a way of blowing those environmental problems back at us, said Steve Davis, an Earth system scientist at UC Irvine and co-author of the study.

In The New York Times, Edward Wong writes that Jintai Lin, a professor in the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at Peking University’s School of Physics and lead author of the paper, "said he hoped that the research would stimulate discussion of adopting consumption-based accounting of emissions, rather than just production-based accounting."

Davis went beyond air pollution and linked the report to climate change, expressing "hope that the findings would be used by world governments working to craft international agreements to limit emissions of carbon dioxide...as well as short-lived air pollutants that are responsible for poor air quality around the globe."

Wong notes that last July, PNAS "published a paper by other researchers that found a drop in life spans in northern China because of air pollution," also posted here.

Monday, January 20, 2014 in Los Angeles Times - Science Now

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