Air Pollution in Beijing Goes Off the Index; Thomas Friedman Hardest Hit

Past performance is no guarantee of future results:

And, by the way, Wolf, you know who’s not debating this nonsense at all? China. China’s not debating this at all. They know their glaciers are melting. They know something’s happening. And you know what they’re trying to do? They’re trying to clean our clock in solar, wind, [unintelligible], because they know it’s happening. They’re not caught up in this idiot debate, and that’s where we should be.


The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, in a December 2009 interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, shortly after the infamous “Hide the Decline” ClimateGate scandal broke.

So how’s that green revolution working out in China? Perhaps the key phrase in Friedman’s 2009 rant is “clean our clock” — good luck even seeing a clock in Beijing right now:

People refused to venture outdoors and buildings disappeared into Beijing’s murky skyline on Sunday as the air quality in China’s notoriously polluted capital went off the index.

The Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Center said on its website that the density of PM2.5 particulates had surpassed 700 micrograms per cubic meter in many parts of the city. The World Health Organization considers a safe daily level to be 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

PM2.5 are tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size, or about 1/30th the average width of a human hair. They can penetrate deep into the lungs, so measuring them is considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other methods.

The Beijing center recommended that children and the elderly stay indoors, and that others avoid outdoor activities.

And, at the risk of extending this metaphor to its breaking point, the clock is ticking on China’s demographic time bomb:


As China’s population ages, scholars and officials are seriously considering proposals to phase out the one-child policy that is beginning to curb the flow of new workers into the economy, as well as raise retirement ages (currently 60 for men, 5 or 10 years earlier for women). But such adjustments are just as politically difficult in China as in in Western democracies because, as it turns out, not wanting to work longer is a widely held preference. Many Chinese also view the relatively early retirement age as a way to make vacancies for the millions of young people who enter the labor market each year. If older workers continue working into their twilight years, young workers may encounter greater difficulty in trying to find employment. This would pose its own issues for the country.

What does all this mean for the Asian, European, and American economies that trade with China? First, they should understand that China’s aging problem is a slow-motion fiscal crisis. China is not Greece, but local debt burdens are already enormous, and these calculations do not include the mounting pension obligations that local governments have incurred. Just as in America and Europe, the tendency in China is for local officials running state-level pension funds to ramp up current benefits and let future generations pay for them. China’s National Social Security Fund is the largest in the world at $150 billion, but these assets (some of which are permitted to be invested in stocks) still fall well short of the liabilities racked up by provincial and city pension funds.


But then, America has its own entitlement issues, as Michael Barone writes in the Washington Examiner today.

Update: “Commies suck at taking care of the environment, after all.  But you knew that already.” Well, everyone but Thomas Friedman did.

More: “China is doing exceptionally well,” Tim Blair spotted Australian climate commissioner Tim Flannery claiming in May. “They are on track to stabilise their emissions.” You go right on believing that, champ.


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