January 20, 2010
East Asian Pollution Driving Western North America Ozone

The planet is so small and Asian economic development so big that the north American west coast ozone surges from Asian pollution. Too many people industrializing and too much dirty energy technology.

Springtime ozone levels above western North America are rising primarily due to air flowing eastward from the Pacific Ocean, a trend that is largest when the air originates in Asia. These increases in ozone could make it more difficult for the United States to meet Clean Air Act standards for ozone pollution at ground level, according to a new international study. Published online Wednesday, Jan. 20, in the journal Nature, the study analyzed large sets of ozone data captured since 1984.

"In springtime, pollution from across the hemisphere, not nearby sources, contributes to the ozone increases above western North America," said lead author Owen R. Cooper, Ph.D., of the NOAA-funded Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "When air is transported from a broad region of south and east Asia, the trend is largest."

We'd be better off with more nuclear power. But coal electric is cheaper than nuclear. So China's continuing a massive coal electric build up. Expect a lot more pollution where that came from.

In the absence of national policies and/or binding international agreements that would limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, world coal consumption is projected to increase from 127 quadrillion Btu in 2006 to 190 quadrillion Btu in 2030, an average annual rate of 1.7 percent. Much of the projected increase in coal use occurs in the non-OECD Asia region, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of the total world increase in coal use from 2006 to 2030. In fact, much of the region’s increase in energy demand is expected to be met by coal, particularly in the electric power and industrial sectors. For example, installed coal-fired generating capacity in China is projected to nearly triple from 2006 to 2030, and coal use in China’s industrial sector grows by nearly 60 percent.

I hope Richard Heinberg's correct that world coal reserves are greatly overestimated. I like Heinberg's summary of the interests at stake in the recent Copenhagen climate negotiations.

China produces half the world's cement and 40 percent of its iron and steel; over the next 15 years, it plans to urbanize a number of its people about equal to the total population of North America—a continent that took more than a century to accomplish a similar-sized task. That means more cement, steel, appliances, power plants, and all the other energy-guzzling accouterments of urban existence. Mark Lynas, an environmental writer who was present at the final Friday night negotiations at Copenhagen, summarized the situation this way: "China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower; indeed its newfound muscular confidence was on striking display in Copenhagen. Its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and its power increases commensurately. Its leadership will not alter this magic formula unless they absolutely have to."

More ozone coming from ethanol in gasoline too.

"What we found is that at the warmer temperatures, with E85, there is a slight increase in ozone compared to what gasoline would produce," said Diana Ginnebaugh, a doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering, who worked on the study. She will present the results of the study on Tuesday, Dec. 15, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. "But even a slight increase is a concern, especially in a place like Los Angeles, because you already have episodes of high ozone that you have to be concerned about, so you don't want any increase."

But it was at colder temperatures, below freezing, that it appeared the health impacts of E85 would be felt most strongly.

"We found a pretty substantial increase in ozone production from E85 at cold temperatures, relative to gasoline, when emissions and atmospheric chemistry alone were considered," Ginnebaugh said. Although ozone is generally lower under cold-temperature winter conditions, "If you switched to E85, suddenly you could have a place like Denver exceeding ozone health-effects limits and then they would have a health concern that they don't have now."

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 January 20 10:13 PM  Pollution Trends

Bruce said at January 21, 2010 7:31 AM:

North America should be using more coal to produce cheaper electricity so businesses can compete. That would slow down China's progress somewhat.

But NOOOOOO. "Environmentalists" want our businesses to die or transfer to China so China can burn even more coal. They want us to burn E85 which means it costs way more per mile for our cars to run and it even produces more pollution.

"Environmentalists" .... what else can they destroy? (I shouldn't have asked that).

Rob said at January 21, 2010 8:09 AM:

If you want to be shocked, google "asian brown cloud". You will find that pollution in southeast asia is worse than now that it ever was in the US, even in the bad old days. The pollution is so thick that 20% less sunlight hits the ground than it did back in the 1970's. It's a huge environmental problem that is almost never talked about in the west, because there's hardly any way to blame it on the US.

If you want to be shocked again, google "china coal fires".

Engineer-Poet said at January 21, 2010 9:51 AM:

Hmmm, interesting.  Could California sue the Asian countries for their pollution, and perhaps impose duties on their products by way of compensation?  Moving production from China to the USA would both increase efficiency and reduce California's air-quality problems.

LarryD said at January 21, 2010 1:43 PM:

China's population policy means that the mean age of its population is getting higher. The ruling elite understand that they need to become a prosperous country before the mean age gets too high. They also understand that prosperity tracks available energy fairly well. So their policy is to maximize the deployment of generating capacity, and they are deploying everything, coal, oil, gas, nuclear, wind, solar. And if the West wants to subsidize some of that, they are OK with that. But they aren't going to slack off, they know they can't afford to. And no one is going to be able to talk them into a policy change.

They are starting to take pollution into account, because it is becoming a problem for them. That their pollution is becoming a problem for us, well too bad. We are just going to have to deal with it.

DennisR said at January 21, 2010 1:56 PM:

Nuclear power is practically free, once the power plants are built... and non-polluting. It's the coal industry that's preventing nukes from being built through scare tactics, ridiculous safety mandates, etc

Tim G said at January 21, 2010 2:10 PM:

China manufactures and pollutes, US gets more ozone, US places more regulation on its manufacturers that drive up cost, customers buy from China so
China manuf...

Bookdoc said at January 21, 2010 2:47 PM:

Blame the coal industry??? Why don't you look at the environmental idiots that thought "The China Syndrome" was a documentary. You might also look at the governmental regulation and the amount of approvals you have to get and the fact that the enviro-idiots will put every possible roadblack in the way of building reactors.

Xavier Itzmann said at January 21, 2010 3:21 PM:

«It's the coal industry that's preventing nukes from being built through scare tactics, ridiculous safety mandates, etc»

I disagree. I think it is the green lobby (Sierra Club, Greenpeace, etc) that keeps us from having squeaky clean nuclear energy.

Fat Man said at January 21, 2010 6:39 PM:

And our negotiating leverage with the Chinese is less than zero, it is a couple of trillion dollars less than zero. Aren't budget deficits a really smart idea?

Bruce said at January 21, 2010 7:36 PM:

"The pollution is so thick that 20% less sunlight hits the ground than it did back in the 1970's"

Is that any different than the people proposing to shoot SO2 into the atmosphere to stop mythical global warming? (Other than it creates more jobs in China).

What's interesting is the attitude of people who don't want China to industrialze and go through the wealth building phase western economies went through. They don't seem to realize that they are de-industrializing their own countries and thereby insuring they haze zero leverage on China.

What a role model: Tell the Chinese to not aspire to good strong economies that produce goods that people want to buy. Tell the chinese they should base their economy on housing bubbles like Japan and the USA. The shrieks of laughter must be amazing ...

troy said at January 22, 2010 5:05 PM:

The irony of it all is not lost on the fact that I type this response on my computer made in China, under my light bulb made in China and all the while staying comfortable in my cargo pants and hoodie that were manufactured in China.

I'm sure the complaining will stop once we learn how to make a buck off it.

Bob said at January 23, 2010 3:12 PM:

Randall, I'm not a big fan of coal pollution (Go Nuclear!), and I'm quite leery of the rise of China as a great power (at least under its current regime), but: "I hope Richard Heinberg's correct that world coal reserves are greatly overestimated." Did you misspeak, or are you actually hoping that the Chinese economy crashes, with the inevitable repercussions?

Engineer-Poet said at January 25, 2010 7:57 AM:

If China's coal reserves cannot support the projected level of consumption, China faces certain choices:

  1. Switch to non-coal energy (wind, nuclear, solar).
  2. Contract the economy.
Either path reduces emissions.  If the Chinese won't take advice at this point, it's their own fault if they do not choose wisely.

Nick G said at January 25, 2010 9:25 AM:

Randall, E-P,

Heinberg's article says: "global oil production has probably already entered its terminal decline and coal and gas extraction will likewise do so in about 15 years", but this appears to me to be very likely incorrect - US, UK and Australian coal will almost certainly last much longer than that if there is demand. A number of analysts have mistaken peak demand for peak supply.

I don't know much about Chinese coal reserves, though - they may have much less. What do we know?

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