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The GreenMan goes to China

Christian Nofziger | Sunday, September 1, 2013

Welcome home, fellow tree-huggers and green enthusiasts. I hope you all had restful and fulfilling summers; I know I did. Having heard some hubbub about all the pollution problems in China, I, your beloved Greenman, decided to visit the other side of the world.
I didn’t experience any language barriers during my time in China because as my fans know, I don’t speak, and as my stalkers know, I have been literate in Mandarin since the age of three. However, I did have a serious crisis: There wasn’t any Mexican food. None. I couldn’t believe it. A month without my garden fresh salsa was almost enough to make me go mad, but I was on a mission.
The Chinese capital of Beijing is covered by a permanent hazy cloud cover. I am not talking about the “perma cloud” that envelopes South Bend every December (although the weather during my summer in Beijing did seem almost as gloomy as my winters in the Bend). This cloud was a sign of the industry that has so rapidly developed China but which is also slowly killing its natural wonders. You see, while in China, I also had the opportunity to climb Mount Hua. Do you know that absurdly steep mountain with the two foot wide wooden planks sprouting from the side of it? No? Well, I did make it to the top of Mount Hua, but I must admit the reward was a bit lacking. The view was not as epic as my expectations, instead it was grey. You see, western China’s largest coal power plant is located about 30 miles north of Mount Hua.
China’s air pollution problem stems from its electrical production, not its factories. About 70 percent of China’s electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. By comparison, the United States only gets 37 percent of its electricity from coal. These plants also produce PM2.5 particles that are as small as specks of dust. However, when lots of coal is burned in an area like Beijing (which is protected from heavy winds), the PM2.5 forms huge clouds that block out the sun and cause lung problems for residents.
After discovering the cause of this problem, I did what any green hero would do: I went to the beautiful Beihai Park in Beijing, pulled out my laptop and looked up what China was doing to solve the problem. Turns out, last year China invested $58.4 billion in renewable energy sources while the United States added $30.4 billion. Not only that but between 2006 and 2007, China shut down 350 outdated coal plants. Surprisingly, China stands as not only a strong example of how serious the consequences of pollution can be but also as a role model for countries trying to solve their own pollution issues.
I’ve heard a lot of students studied abroad over the summer. Shoot me an email and let me know what your travels were like and what environmental wonders or struggles you saw during your time abroad.