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September, 2008:

Beijing Set For New Measures On Vehicle Use

Agence France-Presse in Beijing – Updated on Sep 29, 2008

Beijing will implement new traffic control measures aimed at clearing the capital’s smoggy skies and road congestion.

However, the measures will not be as tough as the rules implemented for the Olympics.

From Wednesday, 30 per cent of government vehicles would be taken off the roads, the municipal government announced yesterday on its website.

From October 11, the remaining government vehicles and all private cars would be banned from the city’s roads for one day each week, depending on their number plates.

The measures were intended to “reduce the impact of vehicle emissions on air quality and maintain basic transport order”, the government said.

The stricter Olympic restrictions, which expired on September 20, limited private motorists to driving on alternate days, removing more than a million of the city’s roughly 3.3 million vehicles each day. Other measures included shutting factories and halting construction activity.

The measures led to unusually blue skies. Authorities said atmospheric data showed Beijing enjoyed its best air quality in a decade. Since then, the usual traffic gridlock – and the smog – has returned.

Beijing’s air is among the most polluted in the world, and the problem is getting worse, with about 1,000 new private cars bought each day by its increasingly affluent residents.

The apparent success of the steps for the Olympics led to calls for them to be made permanent. Instead, the new measures will be implemented on a trial basis until April.

The authorities are also encouraging employers to shift their workdays to begin and end later to ease rush-hour congestion.

Parking fees may also rise.

Cutting Back Buses To Improve Air

Cutting back buses to improve air only encourages more cars

Updated on Sep 29, 2008 – SCMP

The Hong Kong government has for the past few years been keen to reduce the number of buses entering busy streets, because buses with diesel engines contribute to the city’s serious air pollution problem.

As I have observed, however, this policy has proved to be seriously flawed.

Reducing the number of buses in busy areas means reducing the number of public transport options available to people wanting to go into and out of these areas.

Also, it has become apparent that the public transport services available in these areas have become increasingly unable to meet the rising demand brought about by new commercial developments.

Anyone travelling on the MTR in peak hours will notice that the network has become much more congested.

Moreover, when the number of buses is reduced, residents in remote areas with no rail services are almost always the ones to suffer.

Due to the absence of direct bus routes running between these newly-developed remote districts and urban areas, commuters will have to pay for feeder services to the rail stations at their own expense.

This inconvenience has thus far discouraged many residents of Tin Shui Wai, dubbed the “city of sadness”, from finding jobs in the urban areas.

Ironically, owners of new private housing developments that have been built around new railway stations are often investors who do not actually live in those apartments, or car owners who seldom travel by rail.

Another recent case in point is the rerouting of the only all-day bus that ran between Ma Tau Wai and the Star Ferry, which was always full of passengers. It was originally designed to reduce the number of buses in Tsim Sha Tsui.

At a time when rail services have yet to cover most of Hong Kong, the reduction in bus services will only serve to make Hong Kong’s public transport less efficient and encourage more people to switch to private cars.

Charles Lieou, Sha Tin

Asia’s Growing Number Of Sneezes

Pollution to blame for Asia’s growing number of sneezes

Posted on : 2008-09-29 | Author : DPA – News Category : Health- The Earth Times

Hong Kong – It starts with a sneeze, a runny nose and a cough. You think it’s a cold but when the symptoms persist, you consult your doctor. The diagnosis: Bad air. You are suffering an allergic reaction to pollution. Smog is a worsening problem in Asia’s cities, impacting increasingly on the quality of life and the general health of the people who work and live there, say experts.

Dr Johnny Koo Tak-ching has no doubt pollution is partially to blame for the growing number of coughs, sneezes and sore throats he treats at the private Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic in Central Hong Kong where the majority of patients are expatriates who move from city to city in their work.

“Those patients who have long-term rhinitis, sinusitis and nasal polyps get worse when they are working in a city with higher pollution. They can tell which city has the highest pollution by how bad their symptoms get.

“They feel much better in places like Cyprus and some of the northern Chinese cities like Harbin but feel worse when they move to places like Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.

“Singapore is better than Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur is better than Singapore.”

A report by the Hong Kong think-tank Civic Exchange claimed poor air quality was responsible for 10,000 premature deaths and 440,000 bed days in hospital a year in the Hong Kong, Macau and China’s Pearl River Delta area.

And it is not just the very young, old or those with existing respiratory problems such as asthma who are paying the price for pollution. Ear, nose and throat experts claim they are seeing an increasing number of seemingly healthy people seeking help for problems of the upper respiratory system caused by pollutants in the air.

Ear, nose and throat expert Dr John Woo Kong-sang said in most cases the allergy to pollution manifests itself as rhinitis or rhino-sinusitis – inflammation of the mucous membrane lining of the nose or sinuses – causing symptoms such as runny noses, sneezing and coughing.

A sore throat, phlegm, loss of smell, watery or itchy eyes are also common reactions to pollution.

Dr Woo, a Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong specializing in ear, nose and throat problems, estimates that patients with allergic rhinitis or rhino-sinusitis now account for around 30 to 40 per cent per cent of cases at the Ear Nose and Throat clinic compared to around 10 to 15 per cent a decade ago.

Dr Woo said the nose, being the air filter to the lungs, was the first to suffer from pollution.

“When working properly, the nose filters out about 90 per cent of pollutants. But when you have a lot of pollutants in the air, it has to work harder,” he said.

In people with allergic tendencies who have become sensitive to pollutants, a slight increase in pollution may be too much for the nose to bear, resulting in the allergic reaction including inflammation and all the accompanying symptoms.

“You may think you have a cold and the symptoms may be the same. But the difference is that an infected condition, even without treatment, is self-limiting. It may last one or two weeks and then you get over it,” said Dr Woo. “With allergic rhinitis the symptoms will not get better but will linger on.”

It is the lingering nature of these symptoms which distinguishes an allergy from a cold and eventually leads many people to their doctors.

Respiratory specialist Dr Lam Bing, honorary assistant professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, said rhinitis was known to affect around 20-30 per cent of the population in the world.

A recent report by the International Study into Allergies and Asthma found that while cases of asthma had appeared to plateau, the minor health problem of rhinitis is on the increase.

“It is very common problem but many people ignore it,” Dr Lam said.

Exactly how much pollution is to blame is difficult to say, noted Dr Lam, however studies have also shown people living nearer to highways have far greater chances of developing respiratory problems than those living in urban areas.

The bad news for all among us living and working downtown in Asia’s polluted cities is there is little we can do while pollution remains a problem.

Anti-histamines, which reduced the allergic reaction, can alleviate the itching and sneezing, while steroid-based nasal drops can reduce some of the inflammation and clear the nose and pain killers provide relief in the case a sore throat.

But all these only treat the symptoms and not the cause and in the long term nasal allergies can lead to nasal polyps which may require surgery and are more difficult to treat.

Dr Koo offers this advice. “Reduce your exposure to the very polluted areas. If you know you are going to a more polluted area, then start the preventive medicine for the allergy before you go.

“If you have minor symptoms such as throat discomfort, more phlegm, keep an eye on your health, drink more water and take some Vitamin C, and you should be fine. If symptoms persist, see a doctor.

“Unfortunately my impression is generally there is no escape – unless you move to somewhere less polluted such as Cyprus or Greece.”

Hong Kong Choking On Its Own Pollution

Dirty old town

Hong Kong is slowly choking on its own pollution. Technology may be a major cause, but it could also be a cure

David Wilson – Updated on Sep 28, 2008 – SCMP

Hong Kong survived the bird-flu pandemic and Asian financial crisis in 1997 and the Sars outbreak in 2003. Now many fear that it will be a chronic crisis – air pollution – that will do most harm to the city’s future.

In a place where earnings and acquisition have long been people’s priorities, a dramatic shift in behaviour appears necessary to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a victim of its “toxic sewers”.

Calls have been made, urging consumers to adopt “clean” technologies, and the city’s government and commercial sectors to pursue more green initiatives.

Clean technology, as described by United States-based research firm Clean Edge, is “a diverse range of products, services and processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduce the use of natural resources, and cut or eliminate emissions and wastes”. It notes that clean technologies “are competitive with, if not superior to, their conventional counterparts”.

Green initiatives include campaigns against “light pollution” – the excessive use of neon lights and overlit advertising. Government-led efforts include implementing strict guidelines for auditing the carbon emissions of commercial and residential buildings and more stringent air-quality, fuel and vehicle emission standards.

According to research conducted at the University of Hong Kong, the city’s air contains almost three times more soot and other pollutants than New York’s and more than twice that of London. Hong Kong is bedeviled by high particulate matter levels, which are linked to increased mortality risk. It also has high levels of sulphur dioxide, which has been linked to childhood respiratory disease.

The main culprits are coal-fired power plants, wasteful household consumption and traffic. It was reported that Hong Kong’s roads are the world’s most crowded, with almost 280 vehicles for every kilometre. Early this month, Greenpeace China unveiled its Real Air Pollution Index for Hong Kong, to spur the government to fall in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. On the green group’s website, there is the Air Pollution Clock – a free download that counts the number of hours since July 1 this year that Hong Kong’s air has failed to reach WHO standards.

As well as discouraging tourists, the pollution is threatening Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s financial hub. US investment bank Merrill Lynch has warned that the air quality is so lousy it poses a real danger to the city’s long-term competitiveness. Already, multinational corporate executives have given up on Hong Kong’s smog-filled skyline and moved to greener Asian cities, such as Singapore. We have asked a group of local experts to share their views on how members of the community can do their bit to help clean up the city and the planet.

Christine Loh Kung-wai is a former Hong Kong legislator and chief executive of Civic Exchange, an independent, non-profit public policy think-tank.

“Anything that is more energy-efficient can qualify [as clean technology], including bicycles and other pedal-powered devices. Look at the Segway two-wheeled electric transporter. Consider low-energy light bulbs and lightweight hybrid cars such as the Hypercar from the Rocky Mountain Institute []. The vehicle offers ultra-light construction, low-drag design and hybrid-electric drive. Cars made with strong lightweight materials go further on less fuel.

“Then there is clean water technology – aided by devices such as filters and low-flow shower heads. More and more Escos [energy service companies], architects and engineers, even power companies are providing energy-efficient products.

“But changing our behaviour is more important than buying new technology. We must consume less.”

Christian Masset, chairman of Clear the Air (, a volunteer organisation targeting Hong Kong’s air-pollution issues, suggests that households take the initiative and provide a good example in their local communities.

“To save on energy, install a room temperature controller such as the ION Tx PIR. It’s basically a smart thermostat that controls the overall temperature using a network of occupancy sensors in various rooms in a home. It can be paired with the air conditioner or, even better, with less energy-consuming ceiling fans.

“Whatever electronics you have in your house, it’s best not to leave them on standby. Switch them off when not in use. This simple energy-cutting solution can save up to 20 per cent on your electricity bill.

“If you live in a windy location, install Motorwind [] turbines to produce part of your electricity without drawing it all from the [electricity] grid. The nylon turbines can be installed on balconies of flats or rooftops of buildings and generate electricity at wind speeds as low as 2 metres per second.

“For cleaner transport, I think people should support the Hong Kong-made electric car designed by EuAuto Technology []. All you need to do is plug the car into a standard household socket for six to eight hours to recharge its batteries. Once the vehicle has been fully charged, you’re ready to go – and at speeds of up to 40mph.”

James Ockenden, publisher of environmental technology, engineering and finance magazine Blue Skies China [], believes that prudent investment decisions could make a big difference.

“Buy a clean-tech mutual fund but watch where the money is invested. Some high-street `climate change’ funds invest in Toyota, claiming hybrid development is worthy of green money. That is debatable. Make sure the fund manager’s definition of `green’ aligns with yours. If you have US$50,000 to invest, consider a specialist Chinese venture capital fund. The money will go pretty much directly into a clean technology start-up.

“Watch your carbon offsets [a carbon offset is a financial instrument representing a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions]. Choose a well-audited scheme such as [the non-profit US organisation buys and retires certified carbon offsets for its donors]. You can be sure your money will actually go towards making industry pay more for the right to produce carbon dioxide [CO2] emissions. A tonne of CO2 reduction costs from €20 [HK$230] to €30 in the European market, while some retail schemes charge 10 times that for questionable, even worthless, carbon certificates.

“Don’t pick up the IPO prospectus; try to read it online when possible. The Hong Kong stock exchange is experimenting with electronic market information. If successful, it could be applied to the Chinese stock markets, saving billions of pages of ink and paper each year.

“Ditch the car, get a trolley [to carry bulky goods]. The classic Hong Kong trolley, which costs HK$300 and up, is a remarkable piece of clean-tech engineering – it’s green like a bicycle, carries a decent payload and fits into a taxi for long trips.

“Until there’s a decent environmental building code in Hong Kong, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any energy efficiency benchmark to compare flats to. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask property developers tough questions. Demand some kind of energy efficiency/social responsibility report when looking at new buildings. Ask if the property has single-glazed windows. Check if the building uses low-VOC [volatile organic compound] paint. Organic vapour from paint is a major cause of brown haze.”

Martin Williams (, a Hong Kong-based conservationist, photographer and writer, sees the internet helping more people live an eco-friendly life.

“Technology tends to go against green living. But using the internet, consumers can get better information than many so-called `green’ television documentaries provide. The Web also allows individuals to take some action. You can join discussions, participate in online campaigns and play a role in making grander changes than simply switching to long-life light bulbs in your home.

“Also important: switch off, reduce, reuse and recycle. Have hi-tech gizmos repaired as soon as possible, don’t just buy new ones for the sake of fashion. Modern condoms may not be thought of as clean technology, but with the planet’s resources already overstrained by the human population, green living also means not having loads of children; future generations must be given a chance of a better life.”

For more information about Hong Kong’s air, visit Take a look at the Air Pollution Clock – if you dare.

China Overtakes US As Biggest Carbon Emitter

Agence France-Presse in Paris – Updated on Sep 27, 2008

China has overtaken the United States as the biggest carbon emitter, and India is heading for third place, scientists said yesterday in a report that warned global greenhouse-gas levels were scaling record peaks.

The report, by a research consortium called the Global Carbon Project, confirms an estimate that China had become the biggest producer of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main gas that causes global warming.

Until 2005, rich nations emitted most of the world’s man-made CO2. Today, developing countries account for 53 per cent of the total, it said.

“The biggest increase in emissions has been taking place in developing countries, largely in China and India, while developed countries have been growing slowly,” it said. “The largest regional shift was that China passed the US in 2006 to become the largest CO2 emitter, and India will soon overtake Russia to become the third largest emitter.”

Last year, China emitted 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon from fossil fuels, compared with 1.59 billion by the United States. Russia was third, with 432 million tonnes, followed by India, with 430 million.

In November 2006, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that China would overtake the United States as No1 carbon polluter by 2010. But in June last year, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said China became the biggest emitter the previous year, thanks to soaring demand for coal and a surge in cement production.

The project said global CO2 emissions last year were equivalent to almost 10 billion tonnes of carbon. Fossil fuels accounted for 8.5 billion tonnes and changes to land use, mainly through deforestation, accounted for the rest.

“The present concentration [of CO2 in the atmosphere] is the highest during the last 650,000 years and probably during the last 20 million years,” the report said.

The document also said:

  • Fossil-fuel emissions this decade were running at four times those of the 1990s.
  • Tropical deforestation amounted to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon last year, with Latin America and Asia each accounting for 600 million tonnes and Africa 300 million.
  • Natural “sinks” – the ocean, forests and other land – were “a huge subsidy” to the global economy, soaking up more than half of the CO2 that would be released into the atmosphere. But these “sinks” are in a bad way. Their efficiency has fallen by 5 per cent over the past 50 years “and will continue to do so in the future”.

The report, Carbon Budget 2007, was written by eight scientists sponsored by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Research and the World Climate Research Programme.

“Our numbers provide a reality check,” Corinne Le Quere, from the British Antarctic Survey and professor at the University of East Anglia said. “The scale of efforts [to tackle emissions] is not enough.”

Polluting Vehicles Must Be Driven Off The Road

Updated on Sep 27, 2008 – SCMP

We are accustomed to much talk about air pollution, but not enough action. The latest example is to be found in the Environmental Protection Department’s proposal to raise licence fees for owners of old, polluting commercial vehicles who do not switch to cleaner models. That sounds tough until you consider it is subject to discussion with the owners – and compare it with the compulsory phasing out of such vehicles in countries that adopt more stringent measures to improve air quality.

Roadside pollution is a major factor in poor air quality. The city’s commercial diesel fleet is a major culprit. To clean it up, the government offered owners the incentive of a grant towards replacement of pre-Euro-standard and Euro I light commercial vehicles with Euro IV models. This was a well-intentioned move. But owners have been slow to take up the offer. As a result nearly 50,000 of the older commercial vehicles remain on the roads.

The department has been overly generous in extending the deadline for claiming the grant for replacement of the dirtiest, pre-Euro polluters from next month to 2010 – the same as for Euro I and heavy vehicles. A higher licence fee for all old vehicles after that is a small price to impose for antisocial resistance to a proven air-quality initiative. Nonetheless, even this idea is bound to run into opposition from the transport trade and some lawmakers. The trade may have issues about the suitability of available Euro IV models. But these must be weighed against the public interest. This is a chance for the government to show a sense of urgency about pollution, something which is often lacking in efforts to improve our city’s air quality.

Studies for the semi-official Council for Sustainable Development show strong support among Hong Kong people for a range of initiatives. They include electronic road pricing to combat traffic congestion and roadside pollution, a colour-coded pollution warning system and a ban on leaving vehicle engines idling. Two years after the World Health Organisation issued new air-quality guidelines, we are still waiting for the government’s response. At least it is pressing ahead with a ban on idling engines. But until the legislation emerges intact from consultations with the transport trade, we must wait to see whether talk is translated into action.

For the sake of our health and quality of life, the time for talking is over. A tougher stance on older, polluting vehicles is needed.

Global Pollution Levels At Record

China ‘world’s biggest carbon polluter’

Global pollution levels at record, say scientists

Agence France-Presse in Paris – Updated on Sep 26, 2008

China has leapfrogged the United States as the world’s biggest carbon emitter and India is heading for third place, scientists said on Friday in a report that warned global greenhouse-gas levels were scaling record peaks.

The report, by a research consortium called the Global Carbon Project (GCP), confirms an estimate that China has become the biggest producer of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal gas that causes global warming.

Until 2005, rich countries emitted most of the world’s man-made CO2. Today, developing countries now account for 53 per cent of the total, the GCP said.

“The biggest increase in emissions has been taking place in developing countries, largely in China and India, while developed countries have been growing slowly,” it said.

“The largest regional shift was that China passed the US in 2006 to become the latest CO2 emitter, and India will soon overtake Russia to become the third largest emitter.”

The GCP said CO2 emissions last year were the equivalent to almost 10 billion tonnes of carbon. Fossil fuels accounted for 8.5 billion tonnes and changes to land use, mainly through deforestation, accounted for the rest.

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 surged 2.2 parts per million (ppm) last year to reach 383 ppm. The rise was 1.8 ppm in 2006.

At 383 ppm, CO2 levels are 37 per cent above the benchmark of 1750 when the start of the Industrial Revolution unleashed voracious use of coal, oil and gas, it said.

“The present concentration is the highest during the last 650,000 years and probably during the last 20 million years,” the report said.

It warned: “All of these changes characterise a carbon cycle that is generating stronger climate forcing, and sooner than expected.”

The document, to be unveiled simultaneously at conferences in Paris and Washington on Friday, also made these points:

Emissions have risen starkly since the Millennium. From 2000-last year, the average annual hike has been 2.0 ppm. This compares with 1.3 ppm per year in the 1970s, 1.6 ppm in the 1980s and 1.5 ppm in the 1990s.

Fossil-fuel emissions this decade are running at four times those of the 1990s.

Tropical deforestation amounted to 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon last year, with Latin America and Asia each accounting for 600 million tonnes and Africa 300 million.

Natural “sinks” – the ocean, forests and other land – are “a huge subsidy” to the global economy, worth US$500 billion annually for soaking up more than half of the CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and increase the greenhouse effect.

But these “sinks” are in a bad way. Their efficiency has fallen by five per cent over the past 50 years “and will continue to do so in the future.”

The GCP report, Carbon Budget last year, is authored by eight scientists in a project sponsored by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Research (IHDP) and the World Climate Research Program.

It is based on UN data, statistical models and climate research published in major peer-reviewed journals and on energy data collected by the oil giant BP.

“Our numbers provide a reality check,” said Corinne Le Quere, from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the University of East Anglia in Eastern England.

“The scale of efforts (to tackle emissions) is not enough.”

In last year, China emitted 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon from fossil fuels, compared with 1.59 billion by the United States. Russia was third, with 432 million tonnes, followed by India, with 430 million.

In November 2006, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that China would overtake the United States as No 1 carbon polluter by 2010.

But in June last year, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency said China had already become the biggest emitter the previous year, thanks to soaring demand for coal and a surge in cement production.

Analysts say the question of top polluter is politically charged. It touches on a nerve point at UN talks for a new global deal to address climate change.

The United States has led the charge for China and India to sign up to tougher curbs on heat-trapping gases, arguing that a pact would be worthless without constraints by the big emitters of the future.

Keeping Up With China’s Olympic Shine – Part II

Keeping Up With China’s Olympic Shine – Part II
Shoppers, intent on bargains, bear some responsibility for Asia’s pollution

Alexandra Harney – YaleGlobal – 24 September 2008

China has become known as factory to the world – as manufacturers invested in factories to take advantage of a labor force that accepts low wages and a government with minimal environmental standards and even less enforcement. Shoppers like low prices while the companies enjoy immense profits. China, indeed the entire world, pays a heavy price for manufacturing firms gathering in a place with such lax enforcement: Annual costs of pollution exceed $100 billion, refugees must leave damaged villages and farms, and toxic air and water spill far beyond China’s borders, explain author Alexandra Harney in the second article of this series that addresses China’s post-Olympics goals. Some multinational firms maintain high standards, but many others are secretive about suppliers and press for ever-lower prices and protections. Harney concludes that companies and consumers around the globe, along with China, must take responsibility for protecting the environment and take some serious and immediate steps to stop regarding “ever-cheaper products as a fundamental human right.” – YaleGlobal

HONG KONG: Beijing may have delivered its best air quality in a decade for the Olympic Games last month, but many Chinese in other parts of the country continued to live under a canopy of haze, breathing air that prompted American athletes to arrive wearing face masks.

Before critics in the West point fingers at China for soiling itself, they should consider their own role in contributing to the problem. Western consumers and companies enjoy the benefits of China’s polluting factories every day, and must bear more of the responsibility for helping these plants clean up.

The products the West buys from China are cheap in part because they do not include the full costs of environmentally-safe production. To keep costs down and enhance its competitive advantage, China has chosen to selectively enforce its environmental laws.

While Western companies generally follow the law at their wholly-owned facilities, many take advantage of China’s lax enforcement by pressing suppliers there to continually lower their prices. Companies provide few, if any, incentives to plant managers to behave responsibly. The West’s appetite for the $30 DVD player and the $3 T-shirt helps keep Chinese factories spewing toxic emissions into the air, pouring industrial waste into the waterways and damaging the health of employees.

China is paying a high price for its success as the world’s manufacturer. The costs of China’s outdoor air and water pollution now amount to $100 billion a year, according to the World Bank. Air pollution contributes to perhaps 750,000 deaths every year. Some 150 million Chinese farmers may eventually have to leave their land because of pollution and become “environmental refugees,” according to the country’s top environmental official. In 2005, there were almost 1,000 protests about environmental pollution every week in China.

Multinational companies play a direct role in exacerbating these problems, though the scale of their contribution is difficult to determine because most keep the identities of their thousands of suppliers a secret. The handful that do publicly disclose their suppliers, including Nike and Timberland, identify the factories by their English names, complicating the process of tracking them down in China.

But occasionally, this veil of secrecy is drawn back, and the connection between our shopping habits and China’s pollution becomes clear. In 2006, Chinese authorities fined a Hong Kong-owned textile manufacturer that counted Target, JCPenney and Land’s End among its customers, for dumping 22,000 tons of contaminated water into the Mao Zhou River.

Factory managers, who must work and live in a cloud of smog and next to black rivers, know that their neglect of environmental laws comes at a price. In the case of Fountain Set, the Hong Kong-owned textile maker, officials said the factory had created fake records to conceal its illicit effluent. But few managers think much beyond the next order. They ignore the larger, longer-term consequences of their behavior.

That’s because most Chinese factories face little pressure from government officials to clean up their act. They answer to their customers, including multinationals, who expect low prices and high quality and rarely bother to check whether their suppliers are known polluters. One sourcing executive at a large American computer brand complained to me that on her visits to factories in China, the air was almost unbearable. It never occurred to her that her suppliers might have something to do with the choking air. As a senior official at China’s health ministry told me, foreign companies “brought dangerous work and pollution and left with the profits.”

We are just starting to get a whiff of the deleterious effects of the West’s pursuit of ever-cheaper goods. Scientists at NASA and other organizations have tracked the movement of pollution from China to the West Coast of the United States. Both Japan and South Korea suffer from acid rain as a result of China’s coal-fired power plants.

Most of the time, though, shoppers in the West select their bargains in happy ignorance of the consequences. More than a decade after activists targeted Nike for buying from sweatshops, most companies tell us nothing about the environmental impact of their international sourcing. And why should they bother? None of us seem to care.

If we’re concerned about the health of our planet and our children, we need to start caring. As consumers, we should insist that retailers tell us whether or not their foreign suppliers even attempt to follow the environmental laws in the countries where they operate and what they are doing to encourage factories to reduce emissions.

This wouldn’t be hard for multinationals to do. Most large retailers already inspect their foreign suppliers for violations of labor laws; a progressive few already evaluate suppliers’ environmental compliance. We might even ask companies to declare, through labels, at the checkout counter or online, the environmental impact of the goods they sell. With transparency comes greater responsibility.

As they step up inspections, multinationals can draw on a growing body of information about Chinese factories’ environmental records. China’s state-controlled media report with increasing frequency on pollution. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, a Chinese non-governmental organization, has created an online database of polluting companies in China, which contains more than 27,000 incidents of companies violating environmental rules.

Consumers and companies in the West should be prepared to spend more on goods from China as factories clean up their act, though better environmental policies do not always cost more money. Suppliers that lower their energy consumption, for example, will be more competitive. As commodity and fuel prices soar, the incentive to use material more efficiently will be greater than ever.

To be sure, multinationals are only part of the picture. China causes plenty of environmental damage without the West’s help. Many of China’s dirty factories supply the local market. The world’s most polluted city, Linfen in Shanxi province, is in the heart of China’s coal-producing region, not its coastal export factory zones. China’s heavy dependence on coal-fired power stations, its explosion in car ownership, and its rapid development of heavy industry have all contributed to continuing environmental disaster.

The Chinese government bears primary responsibility for turning this around. Until China starts to take the environment much more seriously – by preventing known polluters from reopening without cleaner processes, by raising price of electricity and water to encourage conservation, and by significantly increasing the penalties for violating environmental laws – the factories that make our goods are unlikely to feel much pressure to change.

Still, the environmentally aware must not ignore the irony of stuffing their Toyota Priuses full of products that help generate pollution strong enough to kill.

Globalization has allowed us to enjoy the benefits of people’s hard work across the world – by one conservative estimate, “made in China” goods save the average American family $500 a year. But by moving manufacturing to developing countries like China and counting ever-cheaper products as a fundamental human right, we lose sight of the environmental consequences of our addiction to cheap goods.

Alexandra Harney is the author of “The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage” (Penguin Press, 2008). Click here to read an excerpt.

Rights: © 2008 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Pollution Fight

Updated on Sep 24, 2008 – SCMP

The South China Morning Post did a great job keeping us abreast of the pollution in Beijing leading up to the Olympics.

We saw the progress (both good and bad) from regular photos taken from the same point over the Forbidden City.

I would like to see them continue to be published. Let’s see how long it takes Beijing to slip back into its old ways.

Wendy Allen, Stanley

Pollution May Cause Chronic Laryngitis

Red Orbit – 24th Sep 2008

Everyday exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, allergens and air pollution may be the root of chronic cases of laryngitis, U.S. researchers said.

Researchers and physicians generally attribute laryngitis — symptoms include hoarseness of the voice, cough and chronic clearing of the throat — to a viral infection and overuse of the voice. Other factors, including consistent exposure to second-hand smoke, have also been cited as a trigger.

However, researchers have now found through animal models that exposure to different environmental pollutants, including dust mites and everyday air pollution, can cause what they term as “environmental laryngitis.”

The findings are significant, given recent reports on diminishing air quality and increased unhealthy levels of ozone and particle pollution, especially in countries like China, which could lead to more cases of laryngitis and chronic laryngitis, Dr. Peter C. Belafsky, of the University of California at Davis said.

The findings were presented at the American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery Foundation annual meeting & OTO EXPO in Chicago.