Here´s a wonderfully written article from the New York Times on how China´s environmental policies are a disaster for the Chinese people, and for the world as a whole. The story explains, in detail, how while other industrialized countries only saw the consequences of pollution once they were rich that China is still far from being rich and is already incredibly polluted. This is summarized in a great metaphor as China is described as a smoking teenager with emphysema. I can personally testify that my family cut short our latest visit to Beijing last year because two of my children started having respiratory problems and we ended up mostly locked in our rooms at the Hyatt Hotel. Fon´s offices in China are in Hong Kong, by the sea. We considered having them in Beijing but high pollution was a factor in our decision. While Hong Kong is also polluted it is not as bad. I can imagine that American companies sending employees to work in Beijing could eventually be sued in the same way they were sued in the 80s when they had employees working in buildings with asbestos. By now we have enough information to know that a person who moves to Beijing for a few years from say San Francisco is likely to suffer health damage akin to starting to smoke.
What should China do? In my view there are two simple steps to take. One is to steadily increase taxes on gasoline and diesel fuels so as to encourage people to get small cars and use public transportation. This is what also USA should do, to bring gasoline prices to European levels. The second one, and I know that I will be criticized for this, is to go nuclear “a la France”. France derives 2/3 of its electricity from nuclear plants. China should replace coal burning for nuclear energy. Of course solar and wind energy should also be widely adopted but with the energy intensive developmental model that China is pursuing I don´t see another possibility than going nuclear. Nuclear energy has its risks but I think that at this point with all we know about global warming it´s the lesser of two evils.
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