Can China Catch a Cool Breeze?

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Chinese civilization is one of the most ancient in the world. Its long and rich history was marked by the falls and rises, wars and times of peace. Each period of the Chinese history presented the world with various achievements in arts, philosophy, architecture, warfare, and literature. Many monuments, palaces, and temples serve as reminders of the times of prosperity and deterioration. Thousands of tourists from all over the world pay visits to explore the places of interest and experience the culture of the ancient land. However, when the tourists leave the plane, the first impression they receive about the country is far from being positive. The upsurge of the Chinese economy has required consistent sources of energy. The preference of coal as a primary source over others entailed the pollution, especially in the major cities; today, it affects the health of people around the country, as well as brings significant changes to the world climate.

The introduction of the command economy in China has brought little benefit to people. The attempts of the Chinese communist leader, Mao Zedong, to reach economic stability for the country, and become a leader on the world market were not destined to bring any change. Only after the reforms, introduced in 1979, the Chinese economy was decentralized. The priority to control the provincial and local performance was delegated to provincial and local governments respectfully. Special incentives were granted to farmers, who were encouraged to sell some of their crops in the open market. The government promoted the opening of the new businesses by the people (Morrison 2-3).

The economic rise induced the vast constructions that required a powerful source of energy. The pursuit of economic stability entailed the construction of the new houses for the citizens (Minter 58). The developing and rapidly growing industries were in need of water and power for maintaining the manufacturing processes. Therefore, laying of channels, pipelines, and power lines was initiated countrywide (Fairley 58). The economy was also in need of organized and fixed infrastructure. Therefore, the government started the construction of highways and repair works of the roads across the country (60). Coal became the primary energy source for the development plan implementation. It is still utilized to produce three quarters of all the energy in China (Ohshita 75).

Having been chosen as a primary source of energy due to its accessibility, coal has become a primary reason of pollution in China. The extensive combustion of coal in the industrial processes and households has inflicted a spectrum of nationwide environmental issues. The coal combustion releases carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and many other hazardous substances that contaminate the air and cause the greenhouse effect. Moreover, the gases cause the acid rains, which, in turn, pollute the water, and ground. The flora and fauna diminish; the fact induces the desertification of the land, especially in the rural areas ("China: Just the Facts" 24).



Coal vs. Renewable Energy Sources

Coal is the most accessible source of energy in China. According to the estimations, coal available on the territory of China is enough to sustain the development of the country for more than a century. Northern China provides industry and households with the obtained coal. The biggest coalfield called Shenfu Dongsheng stretches for 31,000 kilometers from the furthest corner of Shaanxi Province to Inner Mongolia (Fairley 57). Nowadays, 26,000 active mines extract coal all over China, emitting 13.5 billion cubic meters of methane in the atmosphere ("Water Shortages and Air Pollution" 22).

In the 1990s, the Chinese government expected the rush in the extraction and use of coal. Therefore, they started to explore methods that would make the obtained coal clean. The Chinese scientists proposed a procedure that originated in the early twentieth century - coal gasification. The coal gasification method produced a gas, which was abundant in hydrogen, and was called synthetic gas. The syngas could be burnt by the plants as cleanly as the natural gas. Moreover, the right conditions and catalysts could transform the syngas mixture into the gasoline and diesel fuel. Therefore, the coal gasification could eliminate the soot and smog produced by the power plants, as well as decrease the need in oil supplied from abroad (Fairley 57).

The technology of the coal gasification did not receive the wide popularity due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the central government agencies pursued different goals while developing the policies. Secondly, despite the delegation of some responsibilities to the provincial and local governments, there was still some tension between the central and local authorities concerning the policies implementation. Moreover, the enterprises and plants were not encouraged by the government to use the clean coal technologies (Ohshita 75).

Despite the attempt to introduce the clean coal treatment methods that would benefit the Chinese economy, the government launched a program that was going to utilize renewable energy. The recent article informs that 65.3 billion dollars were allocated for the development of the renewable energy plants in 1998 (Konsky). The article in National Journal implies that the new government with Li Keqiang at its head, unlike the previous one, is going to take even more serious actions to eliminate the environmental issues. The new Premier plans to diverge from the extensive use of coal to an economy that will exert less impact on the environment (Davenport).

Over these years, China has become a leader in the development and utilization of the renewable energy. It is a leader in the production of energy from sun and wind in the world (Konsky). The plan of the government is to construct more wind farms that will produce enough energy, which will account for fifteen percent of the energy consumption in China (Parenti 21). However, the government has still to deal with a number of issues regarding the renewable energy use. Firstly, most of the resources of the renewable energy are located in the west of the country while the majority of population and industry is located in the east. The problem is to transfer the energy through the whole country. Secondly, the renewable solar and wind energy is unreliable. The plants either produce much energy, which cannot be stored, or too little to satisfy the demands of people and industry. Thirdly, the energy obtained from the renewable sources has less density than the energy produced by the conventional sources (Konsky).

Causes of Pollution in the Major Cities

According to the reports, China was a country with seven of the ten most polluted cities in the world in 2005 (Robert). Over the period of almost a decade, the government took serious steps under the public pressure that removed China from the list of the most contaminated places in the world (Biello). However, there are still a number of problems that need to be addressed in the big cities.

The increasing number of cars, especially in densely populated cities, has become a serious threat to people. The rapid leap in the economic development of China entailed the growth of the middle class. The government encouraged banks to offer people more comfortable loans allowing them to swap bicycles for cars, which shortly became a symbol of prosperity. In 2012, people in China bought 13 million cars. According to the data, in 2013, the number of cars in Beijing approximated 5.18 million. The scientists inform that 22 percent of hazardous particles are emitted into the air by the cars. Moreover, the situation is exacerbated by the lack of effective public transport system. The subways are reported to be overcrowded, people have to walk long between the lines, and the bus stops are located far from the subway stations. Furthermore, the Asian Development Bank reports, in its environmental analysis of China, that the vehicle emissions are worsened by the slow development of the environmentally-friendly automobile technologies (Watt).

The major cause of pollution in Shanghai is construction. The extensive construction is not the only source of dust that spreads over the city with wind. The design of the new buildings does not involve the use of the insulation materials. Therefore, people are bound to use coal as the primary and most accessible source of heating, especially in the winter time. The statistics says that people use half of all energy supplies for heating of their households (Minter 58).

The burning of coal for heating is peculiar not only to Shanghai. Taiyuan is the capital of the Shanxi Province in the north of China. It is abundant of coal; thus, there are many mines in the region. The coal extracted from the mines contains a big amount of sulfur. Living in a coal-mining province, people have more access to coal, which is used at homes for heating and cooking. Therefore, the continuous use of untreated coal by millions of people releases a substantial amount of sulfur oxides into the air (Minter 56). Moreover, the results of the study conducted in 2009 gave reason for the researches to state that cooking was one of the major sources of organic pollutants in both Beijing and Shanghai (Yilun).

The water contamination in China is as dire as the air pollution. According to the reports, seventy percent of lakes and rivers in the country are seriously polluted. The sources of water pollution are the untreated sewage waters, and fertilizers used for industrial purposes and in farming. The contaminants are simply dumped into the country's water system. The problem is particularly dire for China's capital (Roberts). Apart from the predictable sources of contamination, there are also accidents that may take their toll on the people like the benzene spill in 2005. The eighty-kilometer spill reached the capital of the Heilongjiang Province. The spill contaminated the Songhua River, which was the source of water for the city with four million people (Lague).

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Health Effects of Pollution

The accessibility of coal, especially in the northern regions, as well as the need to heat the houses due to the construction methods that lack insulation forces people to use coal. The use of untreated coal releases a number of hazardous gases, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides, which influence the air pollution, and contribute to the greenhouse effect. Despite the global impact of the air pollution, it takes its toll locally, in each household, inducing the health problems.

The particles, which are released when the coal is being burnt, cause adverse health issues. According to the research conducted by Zhang and Smith, people in China suffer from both indoor and outdoor air pollution. The indoor pollution is the result of coal burning, which is used for heating and cooking. Lung dysfunction and cancer, chronic lung illnesses, respiratory diseases, and impairments of the immune system are the most frequent consequences of the indoor air pollution (848).

Because of a lifetime exposure to the great density of hazardous particles in the air that inflict a substantial damage to the health of people, the life expectancy in China is reported to decrease by an average of five years (Silk). The dire statistics is induced by the fact that 500,000 people inhabit the north of the country. The policy of the northern region provides people with coal for free, which is used for heating and cooking (International Business Times). The statistics accompanying the research by Zhang and Smith state that the indoor pollution accounts for 420,000 premature deaths each year. 300,000 more died from the outdoor air pollution (848). Therefore, the total number of years lost due to a cut in the life expectancy of the Chinese people in the 1990s amounted to 2.5 billion years (International Business Times).

The harmful effect of air pollution in China exerted its toll not only on the generation that did not pay much attention to the influence of coal burning on their health. The pollution caused genetic change in kids, and the newborn generation is bound to pay the price for the negligence of their predecessors. An analysis of the recent study displayed the genetic change in children who were born in the Tongliang County before the coal-fired plant was shut in 2004. Tongliang has around 800,000 people who were exposed to the hazardous gases emitted by the plant, which was situated in the city center. The scientists report that the level of protein that was crucial for the development of the brain was lower in the children delivered before the shutting of the plant. However, the children born afterwards showed better results and higher level of vital protein in their cord blood. Moreover, the researchers continued their study and tested the specimen later. The examination took place when the children were two years old. The evaluation concerned the children's ability to facilitate the muscle coordination, as well as to perform cognitive functions. Although the plant was not in operation at that time, the dire repercussions took their toll on the children. The lack of essential protein had caused the poor performance in learning and influenced their memory skills. The researchers were concerned with the results. They stressed that the changes that took place on a genetic level were very hard to reverse ("Air Pollution May Cause Genetic Change in Kids").

Effect of China's Pollution on the World

In 2006, China became the leader in emitting the greenhouse gases surpassing the United States. Despite its economic development, China has been suffering the consequences of its negligence for a few decades now. However, the pollution in the country as big as China cannot take its toll on itself alone. Each country shares the same atmosphere with the others. Therefore, any action or impact exerted in one corner of the world may influence people and nature in the other part. According to the recent China studies, the gas emissions and vehicle exhausts influence the rainfall patterns in different regions of the country, entail acid rains in the neighboring countries and change the weather patterns in the Pacific area while also having global warming restraining effect.

The experimental study facilitated by Yang Zhou, a researcher at Nanjing University, showed the change in the rainfall patterns in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and the Yangtze River delta (2013). The previously obtained data confirmed that both areas were badly contaminated by sulfur dioxide, which is easily transformed to sulfate aerosols. The uneven distribution of the particles interested the scientists in the matter. They decided to investigate the influence that the sulfur particles might have on the weather in the abovementioned areas. A number of experiments were conducted to determine the change. The obtained results were compared with the patterns and results available for the periods of 1999-2008 and 1989-1998. The data analysis let the researchers conclude that the rainfall decreased in the area between Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, and in the delta of the Yangtze River. The study also concluded that the higher concentration of the sulfur particles induced the downward air motion, which was observed in the abovementioned area. However, the compensation force balanced the air currents by causing the upward air motion in the area of the Huang-Huai River, which bordered with the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area and the Yangtze River in the north and south.

The environmental influence of the rapidly expanding economy that utilizes coal as the primary source for sustaining its growth is exerted on the neighboring countries, as well. The majority of the Chinese plants and heavy industry enterprises are located in the east. Moreover, the majority of the biggest Chinese cities, abundant in vehicles that produce harmful emissions, are situated on the east coast of the country. Therefore, the exhausts and gases being released rise into the atmosphere and are carried by the wind to the neighbouring countries, where they settle into the ground in the form of acid rains causing damage to the well-being and economy of the other nation (Hayami 213).

Because of the interrelation of all the systems on the Earth, a serious pollution in China influences not only the neighboring countries but also induces the changes in the further regions, reaching even the coast of the United Stated. A report published in the Nature Communications states that the weather patterns in the Pacific region are being subjected to the changes because of the serious pollution in China (Jakuboski). Renyi Zhang, a professor at Texas A&M University, along with the team conducted a study and discovered that the pollution, which originated in Asia, mainly China, affected the general air circulation models. The pollutants rise in the upper layer of the atmosphere and strengthen the cyclones and storms that emerge there. "This pollution affects cloud formations, precipitation, storm intensity and other factors and eventually impacts climate. Most likely, pollution from Asia can have important consequences on the weather pattern here over North America," Zhang says (Texas A&M University).

Despite all the negative effects that the pollution has on the country and planet as a whole, some of the data claim the positive influence of the Chinese air pollution. On the one hand, the carbon dioxide that is released while burning the coal either for industrial purposes or in the household settings exacerbates the greenhouse effect. It keeps the heat from the Earth in the atmosphere increasing the average temperature patterns around the globe. On the other hand, the sulfur particles, which are also released while burning the coal, prevent the heat from the Sun from penetrating into the atmosphere of the Earth. Therefore, the emissions originating in China have been keeping the temperatures relatively stable. However, the environmental policy of China, which entails shutting of numerous coal-fired plants and utilization of the new technologies in obtaining the energy, will decrease the sulfur emissions, and thus accelerate the global warming ("Coal-Burning China Cools the Planet").

China as a rapidly developing country with the increasing number of the middle-class citizens has been neglecting the issues of the environmental pollution for too long. The Chinese people demonstrate patience and perseverance regarding the issues they have to deal with each day. They wear respiratory masks to reduce the negative effect of the air they breathe, they have school days-off on the smoggiest days, and they also shut the biggest highways on such days ("A Scare in the Air"). However, the issue of the air and water pollution exerts influence on the neighbouring nations, as well as the rest of the world. Therefore, the issue of pollution is the problem of international concern; it has to be addressed and resolved in terms of the international cooperation and assistance.

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