March 25, 2013

400 million Chinese cars in 15 years - there goes the climate

A crappy Beijing smog day in 2013, like this one, may just be the new normal
in 15 years or so./New York Times photo
Well, 17 years, if you want to be technical, according to the New York Times.

Since China has just 90 million now, that means that the world will, from China alone, get another United States or so of vehicles added to world roadways by 2030.

Actually, given that Chinese emissions controls are far worse than US ones, and no better than Chinese controls of pollutants in general, as far as general pollution, we'll probably get the equivalent of about 3 United States' worth of drivers added to roads. And, on things like diesel, particulants from it may be 5-10 times worse.

And, just as here in the US, EPA mileage standards kind of "cook in" current pollution levels for some time, because people don't buy new cars every year, failure to require new pollution controls in China will "cook in" its dirty air for years, even decades, to come.

There's another factor. Per the story, a fair amount of China's oil production industry, along with its electric power industry, is state-owned. Requiring more efficiency and more cleanliness might show just how fragile the Chinese economic boom really is.

That said, this will make for a unique scientific experiment of sorts.

We already have some idea that particulate pollutants reduce global warming by reflecting sunlight. Given the dirtiness of Chinese diesel, but its leaders' recognition it will have to clean that up to prevent massive health problems, we're going to learn more and more about just how much it does, or does not do, to affect global warming.

We're also going to learn more about how a relatively less polluting (not counting carbon dioxide) China affects global warming once it adds more and more drivers. And, such learning will probably let us project more what India's eventual driver explosion will do.

Beyond that, the surge in particulate pollutants, before China tackles dirty diesel and dirty coal, will surely affect weather patterns in the region. Probably not so much China itself, except coastal areas, as it will Japan and North and South Korea, further to the east. And maybe even Canada and the US.

Meanwhile, the smog will provide fertile ground for other medical experiments. Like how carcinogenic particulate pollutants are or not. We'll possibly get information related to the EPA's 2.5 micrometer (2.5-10 micrometer, to be precise) fine particulates standard, even if the Chinese are primarily pumping out larger particulates. We may get information on how particulates beyond sulfur and nitrogen oxides contribute to acid rain. (I'll bet Japan and South Korea are soooo looking forward to that.)

We may even get geopolitical research information ... i.e., a World Trade Organization complaint from one or the other of those countries over Chinese "exportation" of pollution.

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