Sunday, December 29, 2013

Where is the Shanghai pollution coming from?

Polluted Shanghai
The pollution that has hit Shanghai, and much of eastern China, was a mystery to me, looking at it from clean Switzerland. Not the fact that China was producing a lot of pollution was new, but unlike the horror stories Beijing, Shanghai has been able to keep its air reasonable clean.
When I flew in last Thursday, it was obvious those days were over, but did not yet explain why in the past the reasonable success to keep Shanghai´s air relative clean image was gone.
In the second half of the 1990s, air quality was also bad, although we did not have the detailed figures that are able today through the internet. But Shanghai´s government did a lot of smart things to wipe clean their own front-store.
A handful of measures, I could recall. Coal burning was banned. The thousands of building projects were ordered to cover up, literally, and stopped the dust from spreading over the city by using green nrts to cover those projects. The number of cars was strictly limited. Busses and taxi´s were forced to change to LPG. Polluting industries were moved to neighboring provinces and got a decent funding to modernize its new operations, as they could sell expensive ground in downtown Shanghai.
Compared to the horror stories from Beijing (coal, the Gobi desert and a disadvantaged geographical position), Shanghai was for a while doing well.
What has happened, according to my friends in Shanghai, is that the city is now the victim of the success of its past policies. In the past, China´s export industry was mainly concentrated in the south, Guangdong, Fujian. Those industries were polluting too, but the winds blew into a for Shanghai favorable direction.
Now, much of manufacturing, including that of Shanghai, moved west, because of the availability of cheap labor. Unfortunately, the winds are now blowing into the direction of Shanghai. And those newly industrialized areas are out of the political influence of the cities who are hit by the pollution.
Of course, Shanghai itself is doing its own bit, by increased car traffic and energy production. But now the negative effects of the country´s economic boom cannot be reversed by measures in Shanghai only. So, even if new measures against environmental degradation are put in place (always a big if in China), it might easy take ten to fifteen years to repair the damage.
Not surprising some of my friends are discussing emigrating all together.
On the positive side, many Shanghainese have switched to mostly electric motorbikes. Unfortunately, they are often massively driving on the sidewalks, offering pedestrian a quicker death than that from lung cancer and other lung-related diseases.

This evening, dinner with Mario Cavolo, one of few of our speakers who has not fled the city during the holidays. Meetings with Mark Schaub and James Farrer are in the making.
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