Shared solutions to air pollution

Janet Babin Sep 6, 2007
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Shared solutions to air pollution

Janet Babin Sep 6, 2007
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Kai Ryssdal: The United States is the world’s biggest energy user. China’s a close second. They’re also the world’s biggest air polluters. A report out today looks at what the two countries can learn from each other about how to clean up that pollution — or to prevent it in the first place. Marketplace’s Janet Babin reports now from North Carolina Public Radio.


Janet Babin: The collaboration between U.S. and Chinese scientists compared air pollution and clean-up in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh with the Chinese cities of Dalian and Wein-on. It found that air pollution in China is worse than even our most polluted metro areas.

But it’s easy to forget that just a few decades ago, the opposite was true.

John Watson: Midday, in Pittsburgh, you couldn’t even see the headlights on the vehicles.

That’s John Watson with the Desert Research Institute, the study’s lead author. He says the two countries can learn from each other’s pollution mistakes.

And parallels remain. Both, he says, estimate that pollution control and clean-up will cost a lot more money than they actually end up costing. And he thinks he knows why:

Watson: ‘Cause people don’t want to do it, they want to throw road blocks in the way. I think there’s a reticence to spend any money, and so there’s a tendency to try to put the numbers higher than they actually turn out to be.

The report found that pollution control is expensive in both countries, but far less than the cost of doing nothing. That adds up to billions in crop damage, health care expenses and lost productivity.

Frank O’Donnell with Clean Air Watch fears China’s on the road to repeating many of our pollution mistakes, beginning with lax reporting.

Frank O’Donnell: They don’t even measure the pollutants that are the biggest problems in the United States: smog or ozone and fine particle matter.

On the other hand, scientists say China may have an easier time implementing new technologies. That’s because China’s not bogged down by the democratic process or resistance from utilities.

I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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