Is China Greenhouse Pollution Worse than the U.S.?
Both China and the U.S. produce massive amounts of greenhouse gases and pollution. Now we wonder which is worse – air pollution in China or air pollution in the United States. Let’s take a look at these two countries comparatively.
What are greenhouse emissions?
In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released a report showing that U.S. greenhouse emissions are down. This news provided the backdrop for another study that found over a million Chinese people die early every year from air pollution.
Greenhouse gases include emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. These serve to line the atmosphere, causing temperature changes on earth due to the trapping of heat in the atmosphere.
While much of the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere result from natural respiration, when this is added to other forms of emission such as factories, vehicles, factory farms and others – the result is that carbon builds up in the atmosphere faster than it can be removed.
According to the EPA report, the leading producer of greenhouse gases in the U.S. is electricity generation, at 35%, followed by transportation at 28%, industry at 20%, commercial and residential emission at 11% and agriculture at 8%.
The EPA has been conducting studies of greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, and this annual report – conducted for 2011 – details a 1.6% drop in overall U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 2010 emissions.
The 2011 emission rate was also nearly seven percent less than 2005 greenhouse emission levels.
The EPA attributed the decreases in greenhouse gases from changes in electricity generation, fuel efficiency improvements among vehicles and miles driven reduction, along with weather-related changes.
The report found that 2011’s emissions of the six gases were about 6.7 billion metric tons – using carbon dioxide as a weighted measure.
When compared to 1990 when the testing began however, electricity emissions have increased 8.4%. Electricity emissions have been the bulk of this increase, with 18% over 1990.
This reduction also relates directly to respiratory illnesses. Of the entire emissions, according the EPA report, 84% is carbon dioxide, 9% is methane, 5% is nitrious oxide and 2% is fluorinated gases.
Growing polluters from Asia
Unfortunately, many countries are on the upward swing with regard to greenhouse emissions. This of course relates to India, China and countries of Latin America that are buying more cars and building more factories.
China’s pollution emissions are suffocating its citizens – producing a rapid growth of respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The U.S. has already experienced this hike in asthma and related respiratory diseases.
Research published in the British Journal of Medicine Lancet – found that at least 1.2 million Chinese people die early each year from respiratory diseases related to air pollution. Air pollution-related death is the fourth cause of death among Chinese.
Dr. Robert O’Keefe of Boston’s Health Effects Institute who presented those findings in Beijing this week, said: “This is the highest toll in the world and it really reflects the very high levels of air pollution that exist in China today.”
Recent reports from China indicate that many people are forced to wear masks, and the pollution is so bad in the cities that it is difficult to see across the street.
U.S. air quality has been improving
Meanwhile, the improvement in air quality throughout the U.S. is encouraging. The process and methodology of emission inventory is steered to a great degree by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was ratified by the U.S. in 1992. Because of a lack of progress, six UN countries formed The Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) in February of 2012.
“Short-lived climate pollutants” (SLCPs) include black carbon (soot), methane, ozone and certain hydrofluorocarbons. These are seen by scientists as the primary agents involved in the increases in global warming that researchers have found.
Researchers funded by the National Academy of Science determined that the earth’s average surface temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit – equivalent to .8 degrees Celsius since the early 1900s. National science academies from other industrialized countries have confirmed and recognized this finding.
The research has also established that at its present rate, temperatures will increase another 2 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit (1 to 6 degrees Celsius) during this century.
International scientists have determined that reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 100% under current levels would allow the atmosphere to naturally begin to decrease its CO2 concentration. But this would require an almost elimination of industrial CO2 production.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. National Greenhouse Gase Emissions Data. April 12, 2013.
National Research Council. Committee on America’s Climate Choices. National Academies Press, 2011.
Lai HK, Tsang H, Wong CM. Meta-analysis of adverse health effects due to air pollution in Chinese populations. BMC Public Health. 2013 Apr 18;13(1):360.