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Fear the Airpocalypse
America Chokes on Asia’s Smog

The United States’ smoggy days are mostly behind it, and our air quality is only getting better as shale gas continues to displace sooty coal as our country’s primary source for power generation. But pollution doesn’t respect national borders, and new research suggests that America’s west coast is suffering from air pollution produced clear across the Pacific Ocean. NPR reports:

“Scientists found Asian air pollution contributed as much as 65 percent of an increase in Western ozone in recent years,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai. “China and India, where many consumer products are manufactured, are the worst offenders.”

The problem, scientists say, is that Asian countries’ emissions of nitrogen oxides — which sunlight then breaks down in reactions that produce ozone — have tripled since 1990. When those harmful gases circulate to North America, they offset gains in U.S. air quality that have come from cutting nitrogen oxide emissions by 50 percent.

This problem has been documented for several years, and it underlies just how serious Asia’s pollution problem really is. We can separate environmental problems into two general categories: local (smog, water pollution, soil pollution, etc.) and global (greenhouse gases). China and India’s struggles in dealing with these more localized pollution problems are well known at this point. Both Beijing and New Delhi are paying large economic and social costs for their rapid respective industrializations, and a recent study from the World Bank found that air pollution alone costs the global economy more than $5 trillion annually.

But smog can drift, and water pollution can flow downriver, and even a country like the United States—bound on both sides by vast oceans—can be forced to deal with problems created by reckless development halfway across the world.

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  • Fat_Man

    We would have less pollution if we hadn’t exported all of our industries to China. Isn’t that an irony. I like it that the hardest hit are the environmentalist loons of the West Coat. It seems like condign punishment.

    • Andrew Allison

      Whilst I agree with your sentiments, the truth is that most of the manufacturing we’ve exported is not carbon-intensive and that environmental lunacy is nationwide. Ironically, the high levels of atmospheric CO2 on the west coast are stimulating the growth of the two-thirds of the nations produce which is grown there and increasing, rather than decreasing the benefits to the state. Should we perhaps be grateful [/grin].

      • Fat_Man

        I do not regard CO2 as a pollutant.

  • Andrew Allison

    It isn’t just oxides of N, the CO2 on the West Coast is significantly higher than on the east as the country continues to mop up other peoples CO2 via agriculture.

    • rheddles

      Sounds like a competitive advantage for west coast agriculture. Maybe that’s why the feds are keeping the water out. Level the playing field.

      • Andrew Allison

        It’s nationwide.

  • Old Gunny

    How can this possibly be happening to us? As noted in the first paragraph we are doing everything possible to ensure we have clean air. Are you telling me that the rest of the world has to clean up their act or else our air can be compromised? Does Al Gore know about this?

    • Andrew Allison

      Yes, that’s exactly what we’re telling you. CO2 emissions in the USA are at 40-year lows whilst those in the rest of the world are increasing. Fortunately, the news is not all bad — as noted above, increased levels of CO2 are not necessarily a bad thing. And yes, opportunistic son-of-a-bitch Al Gore is perfectly well aware of this while private-jetting around the world to spread lies and consuming as much CO2-derived heating and electricity for his home as a dozen-or-so families.

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