china smog beijing cough environmental

The UK's Guardian Touts a Solution
hazaardous economic loss

China's Smog Taints Its Economy, People's Health

China is home to seven of the world's 10 dirtiest and thus deadliest cities. Fortunately, the British press discusses a reform that would work. We excerpt two 2012/13 articles from (1) Los Angeles Times, Jan 26, on China by D. Pierson, and (2) The Guardian, Dec 30, on tax reform by P. Inman.

by David Pierson and by Phillip Inman

When a thick quilt of smog enveloped swaths of China earlier this month, it set in motion a costly chain reaction for the world's No. 2 economy.

Authorities canceled flights across northern China and ordered some factories shut. Hospitals were flooded with hacking patients.

A fire in an empty furniture factory in eastern Zhejiang province went undetected for hours because the smoke was indistinguishable from the haze. In coastal Shandong province, most highways were closed for fear that low visibility would cause motorists to crash.

Residents in the capital have taken to mocking their famously filthy air and its attendant health hazards with the expression "Beijing cough." Meanwhile, Shanghai's Environmental Protection Bureau has introduced a cartoon mascot to communicate daily air quality on its website: a pig-tailed girl who bursts into tears when smog reaches hazardous levels.

The cost to the nation in lost productivity and health problems is soaring. The World Bank estimates sickness and early death sapped China of $100 billion in 2009, or just under 3% of gross domestic product.

Until recently, state media was loathe to use the word "pollution," opting instead for the euphemism "fog."

After the staggeringly bad bout of air pollution in the middle of this month, micro-bloggers took to posting pictures of themselves online wearing masks. Some held handwritten signs that read, "I don't want to be a human vacuum cleaner." The phrase became the top-trending topic on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, attracting several million hits.

Burning coal accounts for about 70% of China's energy production.

Nearly 20 million vehicles were sold here last year, more than anywhere else in the world.

The combined effect is persistent air pollution, which at its worst swallows whole cities with a toxic miasma and conceals objects no more than a few hundred feet away.

Fewer than 1% of Chinese cities met standards recommended by the World Health Organization.

To read more

JJS: No matter how dire the smog is, there is a solution.
* The exhaust from tailpipes and smokestacks can be treated by scrubbers and catalyitic converters.
* The fuel being burned can be replaced by cleaner natural gas in power plants and by alcohol or hydrogen in car engines.
* The engines and power plants themselves can be replaced by electric motors that are fueled by fuel cells using renewable gases or by the various sun-driven devices from photovoltaic to wind to wave.

Even more fundamental, demand can be reduced. Appliances and buildings can be made more efficient. And personal rapid transit can replace car ownership.

Even if not all the techno-fixes are not immediately available, they could soon come into widespread use. The problem is not technology and never has been. The problem is custom and policy and always has been.

Presently, we let others poison us without making them compensate us. Not only do we not demand compensation, we provide them with subsidies. And worse still, we fail to charge extractors for the value of fossil fuels in the ground. And even if we do, and they fail to pay royalties as agreed upon, we don’t punish them. We keep doing business with them and, in the case of the US, deploy our military as a private enforcer for the resource corporations.

Our tax laws also give tax breaks to companies using up natural resources and to investors speculating in land, and shift the burden of taxation upon wages directly or indirectly by taxing purchases. The result is to reduce the reward for those who invest in R&D in alternative power sources. Plus, since jobs that reduce energy use -- such as recycling and remodeling -- are labor intensive and the entrenched dirty ways are capital intensive, present tax policy discourages the former and encourages the latter.

All these interventions by law and custom make the burning of coal, oil, and gas artificially cheap and make the clean alternatives mistakenly appear expensive. If we were to eliminate the favoritism for entrenched ways, then burning fossil fuels would have to compete on a level playing field with clean alternatives. The methods such as geo-thermal and ocean-temperature-gradients would expand their market share and the environment could become healthy again.

The key to reforming revenue policy is for society to recover its socially-generated values of locations and resources. It’s not only the most powerful reform but the most difficult to enact. Fortunately, it often appears in the British press.

As Fred Harrison, research director of the London-based Land Research Trust, points out in his new book, The Traumatised Society, rent-seeking by a wealthy class of people hooked on accumulating even greater wealth is the cancer that has brought down many more civilizations than the present one.

Placing a sky-high charge on locations -– either to rent or buy -– undermines the incentive to work and, more importantly, the incentive to innovate.

Only an annual tax on land can end the obsession with property. Once landowners face a tax, they will free up land they are sitting on, rather than wait for a rising market to make a killing.

To read more

JJS: Many people might assume that awesome inventions come from big corporations. Sometimes that’s true, but more often not. Inventors who think outside the box tend to not work for big firms that demand conformity and instead work for themselves.

If we had geonomics in place, then all our basement inventors -- and everybody in general -- would be receiving a rent share, a Citizens’ Dividend, an equitable portion of all the money that their society spends on land and resources, somewhat similar to how Alaska shares oil value. Because that spending is so immense -- for the land beneath buildings, for the oil and other resources in the ground -- each citizen’s share of it would be pretty hefty, too. Out from under the onerous pressure to just get by, our most original thinkers would become more productive. And investors, no longer able to make a killing in land speculation and sprawl and resource depletion, would eagerly seek out the novel and spectacular gizmos. The pace of techno-change would accelerate by leaps and bounds, as it does in computers, a field not so terribly infected by subsidies and tax loopholes.

The Chinese pollution is so horrible, it might just push people there to do the right thing, and that right thing is geonomic revenue policy, the only revenue policy to work wherever tried.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .

Also see:

Playing Favorites Or Enforcing Equality?

Suicide blast over land row kills China family

US Orders Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels

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