By on December 8, 2015

beijing-smog

The nice people at Marketplace, who provided the above photo, have a fun website where you can put Chinese smog on your favorite city. Thankfully, most American cities haven’t had a smog problem in the 21st century. Beijing, on the other hand, is experiencing the proverbial terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

For the first time in its history, Beijing is on “red alert” for smog. The city has proven tactics that can address the issue; in order to have blue skies for a military parade earlier this year, an “Even-Odd” policy was adopted to restrict cars entering the city to odd or even days based on their registration. “Hundreds” of factories were also shut down for up to two weeks. The result: the desired “blue sky” — which disappeared more or less the moment the restrictions were eased.

Part of the problem has to be China’s standards for diesel fuel. They implemented Europe’s 2005 standards for sulfur content in diesel fuel in 2014. Come 2017, they’ll need to be at 10 ppm, which is where Europe and America largely were by 2007. Combine this with Beijing’s infamous permanent traffic jams, and it’s no wonder that there’s a problem. Even Paris has had to deal with the effect of diesel passenger vehicles in the city. The millions of two-stroke engines, most of them in scooters, probably don’t make things any better.

If you’re in the mood for some unintentional hilarity, you can prowl through various articles on Gawker, Salon, et al and be lectured by the commenters on how things were just this bad or worse in the United States back in 1923 or whenever and how we shouldn’t expect the Chinese to have modern air quality or modern environmental regulations and how they should only be held to the standards of the Industrial Revolution. Most of these same people would blow their aortas out of their chests if you suggested that Foxconn assembled the iPhone in any conditions other than absolute clean-room perfection with a million people singing in squeaky-clean harmony. Oh well. If you want China apologia in these pages, use your Chinese-made computer to invent time travel, return to 2012, and your every wish will be fulfilled.

It’s worth noting that China’s cavalier willingness to poison its population in the name of unfettered profit is part of the reason why General Motors has used American taxpayer dollars to complete its pivot to that part of the world. It’s also part of the reason that GM can easily produce the upcoming Buick Envision in China; doing it in America would just be too much hassle. Building new factories in the United States? Don’t be silly. We have entire arms of the government devoted to making that impossible. We also have clean air. Which is nice, because you need clean air to survive. Most of us, however, also need a job to survive. Figure out how to balance those demands, and you’d be a better Presidential candidate than any of the lineup before us today.

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50 Comments on “Beijing Is On Red Alert, Chops Car (Access) In Half...”


  • avatar
    jmo

    “Thankfully, most American cities haven’t had a smog problem in the 21st century.”

    Fcuking EPA.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      Blame Richard Nixon – he created the EPA. Apparently he hated pollution and communism equally which, in hindsight, was a very good thing.

      • 0 avatar

        You’re welcome.

      • 0 avatar
        philadlj

        Terry Gross: “…You quote [Nixon] from one of the secret documents as saying the environment is not an issue that’s worth a damn to us. We’re catering to the left in all of this and we shouldn’t be. They’re the ones that care about the environment. They’re trying to use the environmental issue as a means of destroying the system.”

        (Nixon Biographer) Tim Weiner: “He HAD to sign the Environmental Protection Act because Congress had passed it, and they probably would’ve overridden his veto.”

        – Fresh Air, June 16, 2015

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      This is what major American cities would look like today without environmental progressives.

      On some issues (some confirm incredibly important), this is why it’s important to never allow one party or side of the spectrum to have unmitigated, dominant control (especially without having to suffer majorly for their stupidity).

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      This is what major American cities would look like today without environmental progressives.

      On some issues (some of them incredibly important), this is why it’s important to never allow one party or side of the spectrum to have unmitigated, dominant control (especially without having to suffer majorly for their stupidity).

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        This is what the Los Angeles, CA, area looked like when I was a kid growing up in Huntington Beach, CA.

        But a lot of that was driven by the tire factory we had in the middle of the city, plus the refineries, plus all of the WWII-related industry, left over from when they were supplying the various war-matériel plants of WWII.

        As those industries phased out, closed down, were moved or changed product, the air naturally became cleaner.

        Smog is smog. In China much of the smog is produced by factories. It’s easy to blame cars but cars in China today are already hugely cleaner than cars were in the US post-WWII.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          L.A. really got THAT bad?

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            The further you got inland away from the coast, and especially on Santa Ana wind days when the wind blew from inland toward the coast. Yes!

            This was 1953 – 1965, when I grew up there. From 1947 when I was born until 1953, we lived in Malibu, further south.

            For those living on the coast, the air was good unless the Santa Ana wind conditions kicked in, and reversed the air flow.

            I still remember the acrid smell, the watering eyes, the tickly throat, the inflamed bronchial cough, the body sweat that turned tacky from the particulates.

            But that was at a time when cars in the US did not have any pollution controls.

            Cars in China today have the latest and greatest pollution controls, so this has got to be industrial pollution.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        “This is what major American cities would look like today without environmental progressives.”
        _______________________________________

        Correction, this is what American cities DID look like without environmental progressives. In fact, they look a LOT like Beijing does right now.

        Pittsburgh:
        http://www.buzzfeed.com/kevintang/stunning-photos-of-pittsburghs-air-pollution-in-the-1940s#.hiN1rDBOL

        St. Louis:
        http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/a-look-back-black-tuesday-spurred-crackdown-on-coal-pollution/article_00c3b6cd-ba69-5a19-b498-fbc29f9630c4.html

        None of this is unpredictable.

        • 0 avatar
          DeadWeight

          Wow.

          I was born in ’76 and never knew that it was that bad.

          I do recall hearing accounts of Lake Eerie catching fire when I was a lad.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            It was bad, but industry moving out of this country certainly helped. The Great Lakes are less polluted because of tighter pollution controls. However, they are also less polluted because there are less steel mills, auto factories, coke ovens, industrial facilities, paper mills, mines, etc. All those jobs are gone. The economy has come back in Detroit, but everything north of Bay City, that isn’t a tourist destination for Detroit and Chicago elite, or Traverse City, is having a rough go.

          • 0 avatar
            RideHeight

            Quite right, bball.

            Lived through some of the worst of that pollution as my old man coincidentally made doctor money as a pipefitter.

            But now, like a corpse, the region is no longer afflicted with such irritations.

          • 0 avatar
            FormerFF

            The Cuyahoga River caught on fire. Lake Erie was being badly polluted by agricultural runoff. It is happening again and further rules are needed to protect the lake.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I don’t disagree. I am all for legislation to protect the Great Lakes. Erie is the canary in the coal mine. It shows issues before the others. It is not close to as bad as it was though.

            The Zebra and Quagga mussels also contribute to the toxic blue-green algae blooms. They aren’t going away either.

    • 0 avatar
      56BelAire

      Salt Lake City has a huge smog/pollution/inversion problem. On many days in the winter the entire Salt Lake valley looks like Bejing. Sadly never was aware of it till I move here.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    It saddens me that their pets and zoo animals have to breathe the same air. Well, at least until they become dinner.

    This General Tso’s chicken…. sure it’s chicken?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I can’t check right meow, I’m enjoying me dinner!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Back in the ’80s, a Chinese restaurant in St. Louis got busted during a surprise inspection for having cats strung up in the walk-in freezer.

      The owner’s priceless response: they were for the employees’ “personal use.”

      Predictably, said reataurant folded not too long thereafter.

      • 0 avatar
        VolandoBajo

        In the Seventies in Brooklyn, during one of the really heavy winter years, when even busses and delivery trucks stopped running and snowbanks were piled ten feet high on the side of the roads, a local Chinese restaurant in Midwood, near where I lived at the time, started feeding local stray cats.

        My very observant and intelligent livein GF noted that as the days went by, the cats began disappearing, but the restaurant stayed open, and never ran out of food, as other nearby stores and restaurants had.

        We never ordered out from that place. Better to run all the way down to Ave M, where the streets were fairly busy all night, to get our Chinese.

        Prior to that, I used to think those were just rumors.

        But in the interest of cultural fairness, I once worked with an accountant from Nigeria, who explained to me that Nigerian people found the American custom of giving food to animals while people were starving, was as barbaric to them as their eating dogs to have enough protein in their diet seemed to us.

        I wasn’t ready to either stop having pets or begin eating dog, but I could see his point.

        After that, I was never as quick to judge what I thought were peculiar customs in other parts of the world.

        Though I also still would never go to that Midwood Chinese restaurant if it is/was still there.

        A warped cartoon idea: a Chinese restaurant cook, eating fried cat. “Tastes like chicken”, he says.

        And to complete the theme, I understand that the soccer team survivors in the book and movie Alive were reported to have said “tastes like pork.”

        I’ll take the Orange Beef, thank you very much.

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      Yes, smoked General Tso’s chicken.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Why pick on 1923? How about L A in the late fifties?

    http://framework.latimes.com/2013/09/06/november-smog-attack/

    And that was a good day. Many more pix all over the place.

    That’s what started the drive to pollution controls in vehicles. The recurrent theme I get on this site is, unions bad although needed in past. We don’t have pollution so who needs the EPA.

    Brainpower wasted to deny the past. Hey, it’s all good now! It’ll never happen again if we deregulate all these honest ethical companies and let ’em run free as birds.

    Then the constant grumbling about the GM bailout. I remind you lot that Canada paid 20% of the bailout money, and now GM and Chrysler have minimized their Canadian manufacturing footprint, with GM likely to leave completely in two years. Loyalty, why yes! With mucho love. Not.

    We know what it’s like to be screwed by NAFTA and China and big companies. Lately the US is discovering the same phenomenon, that people aren’t there to be employed, just to buy. Welcome to the general screwing over of the public to make more profit for the already over-rich.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Everyone who’s mouthed off on this site that VW’s crimes were just technicalities persecuted by paranoid liberals is hereby invited to take a close look at that left half of the photo. Fantasize about how you’d like to take some nice, deep breaths of that. This is why we have anti-pollution laws.

    Now snap out of fantasy mode, and consider that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty your congressman and senators will vote on early next year will effectively outlaw the U.S. from maintaining environmental regulations stricter than the most lenient countries in the treaty, forcing US taxpayers to potentially pay billions in reparations to multinational corporations because our inconvenient laws deprived them of “expected future profits.” (Google “TPP tribunals” if you don’t believe me.)

    Laws matter. Politics matter.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well put, but I’d say diesel is probably only a contributor to that kind of pollution. The major violator is unrestricted burning of coal, which China is notorious for. Not surprisingly, when we did the same thing 70-100 years ago, many American cities looked a lot like Beijing today.

    • 0 avatar
      IAhawkeye

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who knew about this, terrible terrible deal. Unfortunately no one seems to care.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        “…no one seems to care.”

        It’s because they’ve been through this before. The same was said about NAFTA and about how bad it was for America. Proved to be not so. NAFTA has been great for America!

        TPP is like NAFTA on steroids, a much bigger deal on a much grander scale.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    LA and San José had smog issues when I was little. Not that bad, granted, but their air has noticeably improved during the last 30 years despite significant growth. If it means my engine is a little less powerful than it could be, fine, I think we’re getting the balance pretty close to right. (Unless you live close to a refinery, in a neighborhood with unusually high rates of asthma and other health problems.)

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      Technology has caught up to emissions controls. Sure, when first implemented in the 70’s you ended up with 500 c.i. V8’s making 200 hp, but we currently live in a golden age of horsepower with fantastic emissions. When I was a very young lad circa 1980, it was very common to smell gasoline all the damn time in traffic-or just sitting in someone’s garage. I distinctly remember many cars smoking out the tail pipe. Now, the only emissions I “see” are the most clapped out of abused hoopties and diesel pickups rolling coal.

      Even into the 90’s, car emissions smelled/smoked a little until the cats warmed up. New cars? Virtually nothing.

      CARB is a bunch of a-holes, but no denying they achieved something.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        I remember the first time unleaded gasoline was priced cheaper than leaded gasoline in the late 80s. Gasoline with Tetraethyl lead disappeared quickly soon after regular unleaded became cheaper. Without the incentive of cheaper fuel, people quit replacing catalytic converters with “test pipes”. About the same time microprocessor controlled multiport fuel injection replaced carburetors. Cars built after about 1990 simply ran better than the horrible Malaise Era cars with both better performance and better pollution control. Each car I’ve bought over the last 25 years has a better engine than the one it replaced in spite of tougher emissions requirements.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          Yep. Each new engine introduced from about 1986 to 1996 was an absolute revelation compared with what it was replacing. There’s been a lot of progress since, but it’s happened more slowly. Computer-controlled, fuel-injected engines are one of the two biggest improvements in the usability of cars in my lifetime (the other being modern tires).

      • 0 avatar
        VolandoBajo

        The A-holery of CARB most noteably extends from the fact that they will not except modifcations to older vehicles that provide improved emissions performance. Instead, the vehicle must be maintained with its original emissions equipment intact, even though this is often prohibitively more costly, and measurably less effective at pollution control. But the makers of vehicle OEM-replacement parts apparently had the clout to prevent competitive and better solutions from being implemented in CA.

        The TPP thing scares me. Many things that fly beneath the radar of the general public do not fly below mine. But this one hadn’t been on my radar in that degree of detail until now, and here.

        TTAC B&B you have done it again. Brought important reality out into the light.

  • avatar
    IHateCars

    “It’s worth noting that China’s cavalier willingness to poison its population in the name of unfettered profit…”

    Oh, the irony.

  • avatar
    Chan

    ‘Murican public: Chinese dictatorship poisons its own population for its own profit.

    Closer to the truth: Chinese oligarchy is struggling to modernise its governance, provide actual regulation to its economy and keep its people from poisoning each other.

    The transition away from dictatorship has inadvertently introduced an ancient culture of political corruption to modern material wealth–a terrible combination, especially at the regional levels where corruption runs deepest and Beijing’s reach is weak.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      China has different cultural issues than the US. The Chinese will cheat on emissions controls if it saves even small amounts of money, feeling shame only after being caught and exposed. For example, the Chinese might install electrostatic precipitators to capture particulates, but leave them turned off, except when the plant is inspected, to reduce electric costs. In contrast, American morals include a significant guilt component independent of anyone else knowing you cheated. People in rural America can leave doors unlocked with little concern about theft. You have to lock up everything even in nice areas of China. The Chinese can’t trust anyone except immediate family members.

      • 0 avatar
        InterstateNomad

        “In contrast, American morals include a significant guilt component independent of anyone else knowing you cheated.”

        I’ve worked with plenty of sociopaths, both in high and low places (in so called small town America), who feel no guilt. I must live in a different America than you do.

      • 0 avatar
        Chan

        This is an issue of enforcement. The Chinese middle class is just coming into its own with significant purchasing power and significant social influence. The Chinese public is becoming less and less tolerant of inadequate/arbitrary law enforcement and political corruption, and the government is slowly realising this. How well they adapt to a new age of information and transparency is the real test. Chairman Xi, at least on the surface, seems to be the right man for the job.

        Cleaning up for the inspectors is done in every country in the world, but in a well-connected society like the US some NIMBY will out you immediately if they see you spewing black smoke after the inspection. Similar NIMBY trends are sprouting in affluent communities all over China, pressuring the government to modernise and actually get things done. But in a nation of 1.3B people and a deep history of cronyism, it will take time.

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      Ancient Chinese curse, passing into existence. May you live in interesting times.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Yet another illustration of why we need to develop alt energy sources, and do it NOW – not just because we pollute too much, but because developing countries all depend so heavily on things like coal, which will make them far worse polluters than we’d ever dream of being.

    Put whatever it takes into a modern day Manhattan Project to create fusion power, and sell the tech off to the rest of the world. It’d be a license to print money.

    • 0 avatar

      Fusion is not going to happen even with a Manhattan project. I’ve written about it, myself, and there was an article several years ago in the NYer. It was ironic: it was obvious the writer really wanted fusion to work. But his own descriptions made it sound totally infeasible. Which it is.

      For some reason, a lot of people seem to see something macho about nuclear power, which they find lacking in renewables. The problem is that even if fusion were feasible, the capital cost would be insane. And fission is not cheap. Meanwhile, the cost of solar electricity has been plummeting.

      • 0 avatar
        VolandoBajo

        While in grad school, I did computer and graphics work for a team of professors at the Courant Institute who were working on the fusion containment problem, which was the principal technical and economic obstacle.

        They were very close to getting the control equations under control. About that time, Lyndon LaRouche, whose game I have never been able to fully fathom, spent lots of time and money on the streets with his followers, warning people of how they would be poisoned by nuclear fusion and its byproducts.

        It was a total lie, as the nuclear waste problem is nonexistent with fusion. But for whatever reasons, he wanted it dead, and he succeeded.

        Congressional funding dried up, ending research.

        Their next large project led to large improvements in airfoil aerodynamics, a project that did get funded to completion and that helped in large measure to reduce the cost of airfares. So they were not a bunch of wool-gatherers just trying to tweak research results to keep getting meaningless studies funded for the duration of their careers. They actually accomplished things.

        But they, and the US public, took a loss on nuclear fusion.

        If cost effective containment is achieved, capital costs will be relatively small, as there will be no need for expensive containment layers outside of the reactor. Redundant control systems alone could and would prevent excursions. If…that research had been completed.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    I’m always incredibly thankful that in my neck of the woods, we’ve always gotten our electricity from hydroelectric and our heat from LP or wood/wood pellets/other biomass. I don’t think I had even seen an actual piece of coal until I was about 10.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    NOTE : OLD MAN Rant .

    Oh yeah ~ it was bad , _REALLY_ bad in the 1960’s and 1970’s .

    I came to Los Angeles in the Summer of 1969 and was appalled at how bad it was , everyone said : ‘ it’s not so bad ‘ .

    In the Fall of 1970 I moved here to stay and soon opened up an Indie VW Shop in Pasadena , just 12 miles from the mountains .

    Most days you couldn’t even see the vague outline of those mountains through the dense smog and taking a deep breath hurt your lungs like being poked with a knife from inside .

    Still , everyone denied there was any problem ~ I’d say ” but you can’t see the goddamn mountains 12 miles away ! ” they’d say ‘ you’re exaggerating again , I can see them every day ‘ .

    I’d say ” O.K. then , turn around and show them to me ” ~ ‘ I don’t need to turn around to see them , I know they’re there ‘ .

    You had to live here to believe it and the natives simply denied the facts .

    Odd how Europe manages to have clean factories that pay far better than any in America and they have clean air too…

    Greed and avarice are killing America .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Jacob

    This is what happens when you convert your country into the world’s biggest manufactured good factory.

    • 0 avatar
      turf3

      No, it isn’t. It’s what happens when you convert your country to a manufacturing economy on the basis of undercutting every other country on manufacturing cost.

      Those jobs should be in the United States, but our masters, aided and abetted by the pointy-heads at Sloan School and Harvard Business School, and financially indebted to the CEO class, have done a number on the US middle class. If China were not able to undercut manufacturing cost by: – weak environmental controls; – lousy working conditions; – massive governmental direct support; – currency manipulation; many of those jobs would still be in the USA where we have environmental controls.

      In time the Chinese will get pollution under control. By that time the US will look like much of Latin America: a small unimaginable rich upper class, a huge underclass who barely manage to survive, and a small struggling middle class trying to maintain that status in an economy that no longer produces wealth, only “services” and “entertainment”.

      • 0 avatar
        turf3

        Sorry, edit:

        “If China were not able to… currency manipulation, lack of US protective tariffs and US political support for elimination of US manufacturing…”

        Without this edit, it’s not clear how the US ruling class would affect what China does. But they are the ones who make it possible, by making it easy to import cheap overseas goods without any consideration of how US workers are going to be able to buy them when all the wealth-creating activity has left the USA.

  • avatar
    tekdemon

    It’s easy to criticize but having actually been to China, including Beijing when it was a sweltering 102 degrees and smoggy I would actually argue that the average Chinese person is FAR more eco-conscious and pollutes a lot less than your average American-especially since they can see with their own eyes just how horrible things can get (whereas in the US you’ll have idiots decatting their cars to get 10HP and rolling coal).

    But there’s so many more people and factories there and with the poor airflow around Beijing you get this kind of air quality. It’s clearly a problem but I don’t get why people think talking smack about Beijing actually solves anything. You think the Chinese government is going to clean things up more quickly because TTAC made a post about how polluted it is? The reason they’re cleaning it up is because they all have to live there and they have to deal with the ire of the Chinese public-all the leaders of China have to spend their time in Beijing so they’re the ones breathing this crap in along with the other 20 million people who live there.

    The fact that they’ll be adopting US 2007 level pollution standards by 2017 is actually fantastic progress. Improvements don’t happen overnight and it’s not like 2007 was some stone age era where the US was polluted beyond belief or something.

    And as an aside? Beijing isn’t the only damned city in China, and even with current pollution controls many cities actually have very livable air. Coastal areas with good airflow have lots of cities that have blue skies all year round. Look at the southeast coast and you’ll see tons of cities like Wenzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou that already have very good air quality, and adopting circa 2007 US pollution controls would actually lead to excellent air quality much like most of the US in 2007.

    Either way, I’m sure China will clean their act up, they pretty much have to unless all their leaders want to breathe smog for the rest of their lives. It’s actually rather lucky that Beijing also happens to be the capital city so none of the leaders can really avoid seeing the problem on a daily basis.

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