Archive for February, 2009

some 2008 chinese vehicle statistics released

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

I’ve been too busy to blog much recently, but this news deserves a quick post. China’s National Bureau of Statistics this week released the “Statistical Communiqué of the People’s Republic of China on the 2008 National Economic and Social Development” (English and Chinese). The report includes updates to total vehicle population in China:

The total number of motor vehicles for civilian use reached 64.67 million (including 14.92 million tri-wheel motor vehicles and low-speed trucks) by the end of 2008, up 13.5 percent, of which private-owned vehicles numbered 41.73 million, up 18.1 percent. The total number of cars for civilian use stood at 24.38 million, up by 24.5 percent, of which private-owned cars numbered 19.47 million, up by 28.0 percent.

Also note production statistics: 9.35 million total motor vehicles produced in 2008, of which 5 million were cars.

It appears that that the detailed data is not yet available in the online statistical yearbooks.

I’ll have a lot more to say about these numbers over the next few days. But if anyone wants to start crunching your own numbers, here’s some good tables to start with:

NBS data on possession of civil vehicles through 2006
NBS data on possession of private vehicles through 2006

list of chinese energy and environmental standards for vehicles

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

gb

The content of this post has been moved to a permanent page on this blog. Please update your links!

http://www.livefrombeijing.com/standards/

evidence of pollution spike from mandarin oriental fire

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

I posted yesterday that the API of 307 would be classified by the US EPA as hazardous, and I wondered if it was related to the Mandarin Oriental fire. Today, both Xinhua and China Daily mentioned yesterday’s highest grade pollution amid stories about the fire. China Daily even hinted that human health impacts from the pollution spike should be counted in the total cost of the fire (though to be fair I’m not exactly sure what they mean by “sphere”):

The total cost of the disaster has not been calculated, the fire department said, but the environmental bureau in the capital recorded a maximum grade for air pollution due to Monday’s fireworks sphere.

Also today, we have a new data point implicating the fire as the key cause of yesterday’s asphyxiating pollution. Take a look at MEP’s graph of the last 30 days of API data:

fire api spike

We’ve seen some dramatically rapid air quality changes in the past here in Beijing, but I can’t remember ever seeing a spike like this that could be directly tied to a single event.

Lastly, I think it is interesting to note in the above graph that there is a slight rise, but no dramatic spike, in pollution just after Chinese New Year’s Eve (the impact of which would have shown up in the January 26th data point), despite the fact that the sky that night looked like this:

fireworks

Image in graph: https://docs.google.com/View?docid=dggh5mp6_0cmqqrrdb
Fireworks image: Boston.com’s The Big Picture


Update 3/11/09
I know this happened a month ago, but I feel I should note that a commenter below pointed out that the Beijing EPB issued an explanation for the 307 API pollution spike. The explanation did not reference the fire, only the fireworks:

燃放爆竹带来今年首个重度污染天
2009-02-10

受不利气象条件和元宵节燃放烟花爆竹的双重影响,今天北京出现了今年以来最严重的污染天气,空气质量五级,污染程度达到了重度污染。

据市环保监测中心的监测数据显示,由于风速小、大气层稳定,大气污染物扩散条件变差,9号白天我市已经出现了轻微污染;晚上19点开始,由于元宵节燃放烟花爆竹,污染物浓度迅速上升,并且长时间维持在较高水平。19点到凌晨4点一直在每立方米400微克以上,其中21点时浓度最高,达到每立方米810微克,早晨5点为399微克每立方米,开始降到每立方米400微克以下。但由于受到静风等不利气象条件的影响,污染物浓度下降速度缓慢。

通过多年不间断的控制大气污染措施,本市出现5级重度污染的天数已经屈指可数,上一次重度污染天气出现在去年的5月29号。

Rough translation:
Setting Off Fireworks Brings This Year’s First Heavy Pollution Day
2009-02-10

The dual impact of unfavorable meteorological conditions and the setting off of fireworks for the Lantern Festival led to Beijing’s first severe pollution day this year. The air quality grade was 5, heavily polluted.

According to data from the environmental monitoring center, due to low wind and stable atmosphere, the atmosphere dispersion conditions changed to unfavorable. During the day of the 9th, the air quality was lightly polluted, but starting from 7pm, due to the Lantern Festival fireworks, pollution increased quickly and remained high. From 7pm to 4am, the PM10 concentration was above 400 ug/m3; it was highest at 9pm, reaching 810 ug/m3. By 5am, the concentration was 399 ug/m3, and began to drop after that. But because of calm winds and unfavorable meteorological conditions, the drop in pollution concentration was slow.

Through the continuous implementation of air pollution control policies, this city has experienced fewer and fewer grade 5 pollution days. The last grade 5 pollution day was last year on 5/29.

warning: beijing air today is hazardous

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Beijing’s API today is at 307, corresponding to a PM10 concentration of 426 ug/m3. The US EPA calls this “Hazardous - Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.” China, on the other hand, merely calls it 重污染, heavy pollution.

hazardous

I wonder if this is related to the Mandarin Oriental fire?

fire3

Image: The Beijinger
Another recommended link about the fire:
https://docs.google.com/View?docid=dggh5mp6_0cmqqrrdb

Much more info about China and US API designations in this related post:
12/9/08: stay inside today – beijing api at 246

australia’s prime minister speaks fluent mandarin

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Just in case you haven’t heard, Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, speaks fluent Chinese.

This is awesome:

Approximate translation: “Greetings. On behalf of the Australian government, I extend to the Chinese people blessings for the Spring Festival. I hope that, in the Year of the Ox, the friendship between Australia and China can become one step closer. Although the world’s economy is currently experiencing difficulty, I believe that, with cooperative effort, each country can certainly be victorious over this challenge. With the New Year, I wish the Chinese people health and success. Thanks, and all the best.”

Via Evan Osnos via Shanghaiist.

climate change drama on boingboing and thoughts on skeptics

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

Over the course of the past day, an interesting drama related to climate change unfolded on boingboing, the internet’s most popular blog. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

I’ll describe what happened, then write a few words about my opinion and position on “climate change skepticism.”

First, boingboing guest blogger and science fiction author Charles Platt posted four consecutive “Climate Heresy” posts advocating climate change skepticism. (Links here, here, here, and here.) The posts contain lengthy reviews of books written by climate skeptics, selective presentations of evidence that supposedly refutes global warming, and a conspiracy theory info-graphic showing how everyone who believes in the threat of climate change is tied together in a tangled knot of fear.

The fact that Mr. Platt posted these to boingboing is mind-blowingly infuriating and irresponsible, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, the reason I referred to this as a “drama” is that, less than half an hour after Mr. Platt’s last post, boingbong’s Cory Doctorow responded with his own series of four consecutive posts defending the science and reality of climate change (links: here, here, here, and here). Shortly thereafter, bb’s Xeni Jardin weighed in with her own posts on the truth about climate change (here, here). Even bb’s Mark Frauenfelder got in on the climate change action, with his live-blogging of Al Gore’s TED2009 presentation.

Regular readers of boingboing will know that it is very, very unusual to see consecutive posts on the same topic, and almost never do multiple authors post on the same thing. And yet here we have 11 posts from 4 authors (one guest) in a single 24-hour period on one divisive subject. Mr. Doctorow and Mr. Platt even debate each other briefly in the comments of one post. Drama.

The politics of boingboing aside, let me try to explain why this is such a big deal to me.

First of all, I want to be clear that this post isn’t about the specifics of what Mr. Platt said. I do not, and will not, debate skeptics on a point-by-point basis. It is very difficult to win such debates. Dr. Joe Romm at Climate Progress has written a lot about this (examples here and here). The reason is because most climate skeptics are unwilling to concede defeat when scientific evidence contradicts their claims, even though skeptics are happy to use outdated science, refuted theories, and/or selective evidence when they seemingly support their cause. Even when you are successfully able to scientifically defeat climate skeptic theories or selective evidence, skeptics will almost never acquiesce; rather they will simply come back with a brand new argument, and the process must repeat. Whack-a-mole could not be a more accurate analogy.

(Side note: for reference and curiosity, I recommend these links for evidence refuting specific climate denier points:

Grist’s post on how to talk to a skeptic
RealClimate reponses to common contrarian arguments
Skeptical Science list of most popular skeptic arguments)

Moving on, if we ignore then the specific content of Mr. Platt’s posts, then the core issue becomes whether it is appropriate to doubt the world’s best and leading and consensus scientific position on climate change (that it is real and caused by humans) on the world’s most popular blog.

At certain points, Mr. Platt seems to frame his posts as just healthy debate / devil’s advocacy. He introduces his first climate post as follows:

At the risk of stimulating outrage, I’m going to ask some questions about climate. No one disputes that planetary warming occurred during the second half of the twentieth century; the question is whether it was primarily anthropogenic (i.e. caused by human beings). The Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that the debate on this issue is over. I’m not so sure anymore.

Later, in one of his comments replying to Mr. Doctorow, he says, “Instead you are appealing to authority, basically saying ‘My experts trump your experts.’ I don’t think this is a strong argument, if indeed it is an argument at all.”

But the problem here is that it is disingenuous and incorrect to describe the debate on the causes of climate change as having strong scientific arguments and experts on both sides. This is not a case of “some people believe this, some people believe that,” with both sides having merit.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t advocate a blind acceptance of anything, even science. By all means, if you don’t want to unquestioningly swallow the pill of anthropogenic climate change, then don’t. Let’s say you are a skeptic by nature who wants to read the evidence on your own and come to your own conclusion (as Mr. Platt seems to portray himself). But if you are serious about this – about reviewing the science, about understanding the evidence for anthropogenic climate change – and you perform a true and complete review of the real science of the issue, then there is only one conclusion you can come to, and that is the conclusion reached by serious, real scientists: that climate change is being caused by humans.

Given the urgency of climate change and the impending disasters that will result from continued inaction, propagating any other conclusion is dangerous and widely irresponsible.


Update 2/7/09: Charles Platt voluntarily decided to stop guestblogging at boingboing at couple of days early, writing (in the comments):

Of course I was not asked to leave! I certainly never meant to create that impression…

…To be fair, I did ask in advance, very carefully, if there were any rules for guest bloggers, and I also offered all my posts for preapproval.

I was dismayed by the anger response from two of the people involved, which made me wonder what else I might say that would trigger a similar reaction. Since I couldn’t predict it, and I didn’t want to provoke it, and I didn’t want to start censoring myself, it was easiest to stop.

new york times blocked again

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

I’m currently unable to access the New York Times online from my office here in Beijing.

My guess is that the block is due to this story: China Rights Advocate Who Tried to Aid Quake Victims’ Parents Faces Trial.

Consistent with past blockages, I can access http://nytimes.com, but not http://www.nytimes.com. According to a commenter quoted by James Fallows, this could be because nytimes.com and www.nytimes.com technically have different IP addresses, and China is only blocking one.

I’ll update as I hear / discover more. Can anyone confirm this?

Last time China blocked the New York Times, it was for a few days, from around December 19th to 22nd. I wonder how long the block will last this time.


Update 2/3/09 6:00pm
After being blocked for me for the entire afternoon, the New York Times is now back up again, including the article I mentioned above.

For anyone who thinks this was just some technical glitch or problem with my computer or my network, I refer you to this passage in James Fallows’ Atlantic piece on the Great Firewall:

Taken together, the components of the control system share several traits. They’re constantly evolving and changing in their emphasis, as new surveillance techniques become practical and as words go on and off the sensitive list. They leave the Chinese Internet public unsure about where the off-limits line will be drawn on any given day. Andrew Lih points out that other countries that also censor Internet content—Singapore, for instance, or the United Arab Emirates—provide explanations whenever they do so. Someone who clicks on a pornographic or “anti-Islamic” site in the U.A.E. gets the following message, in Arabic and English: “We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political, and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.” In China, the connection just times out. Is it your computer’s problem? The firewall? Or maybe your local Internet provider, which has decided to do some filtering on its own? You don’t know. “The unpredictability of the firewall actually makes it more effective,” another Chinese software engineer told me. “It becomes much harder to know what the system is looking for, and you always have to be on guard.”

I wonder if perhaps the New York Times piece, which features dozens of sensitive terms, may have automatically triggered a block requiring review before being lifted.

Or perhaps the government read my blog and was embarrassed at being called out, and so lifted the block…