Saturday, March 16, 2013

China and Japan in diplomatic row over air pollution

Fast Company via Scientific American: Can Air Pollution Start Wars?
By Terry Tamminen
February 15, 2013
Mixed up in the current spat between China and Japan is an accusation that Chinese pollution is damaging Japan.

In recent months, Japan and China have blustered over disputed islands that don't appear to have any real economic or territorial benefits for either nation. Jets have scrambled and radars locked on opposing vessels, all signs of increasing tension. But the two Asian powerhouses have now begun to argue over a shared threat that actually does have impacts on the health and future of their respective populations--air pollution.

Japanese media and environmental authorities have accused China of being the source of increasing levels of soot in the air (particulates 2.5 microns or smaller, which can lodge deep in the lungs and bloodstream, called PM 2.5). That PM 2.5 in the air comes largely from diesel exhaust, causing asthma and other respiratory diseases. It is also linked to heart disease and, therefore, more than 6 million premature deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization. China shot back that the cause is Japan's switch from nuclear power to new dependence on burning coal and trash for energy.
Two of the points I make in class are Barry Commoner's admonitions that "everything is connected to everything else" and "there is no away." Both of them work very well in a class that's as much about global awareness and understanding as it is about scientific literacy. This fight over air pollution between the two most powerful nations in Asia serves as an example of both, as well as how environmental issues become foreign policy and national security issues. While I've mentioned China's air pollution as a problem for its neighbors before, I haven't made the reciprocal point about Japan, mostly because they weren't a big coal burner until after Fukushima. I think I will, which will serve as an example for another of Commoner's Laws, "there is no free lunch."

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