Planning an October holiday escape? Need some fresh air? How does Norway sound? The European Arctic. That should be far enough from the pull of Shanghai’s pollution, right? Wrong. These days, there’s no escaping China’s chief export: Crappy air.
Researchers at the Norwegian Polar Institute have said that they’ve detected chemical traces from China all the way up north on Spitsbergen Island. How do they do it, you ask? Well apparently with some smart detective work, scientists are often able to tell where certain chemical traces come from because “the particles are slightly different in the United States, Russia, China, Europe or India”.
From a Reuters report:
Emissions from cars, for instance, have a different chemical signature according to national gasoline blends. Israel is alone in using a type of pesticide on its orange trees.
More ghoulishly, funeral pyres in some Asian countries release toxic mercury from fillings in the teeth of the deceased. If detected, the mercury means air did not come from Europe, North America or Japan where crematoriums have filters.
Greenhouse gases are at the highest levels in about 650,000 years, and a growing proportion of them can be traced to China. Carbon dioxide levels have also risen from 270 parts per million before the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century to 390 ppm this year. All that global warming means glaciers are melting, icebergs are disappearing, and polar bears are dying (with two thirds of them dead by 2050). Ironically though, Shanghai stands to gain from it all as global warming opens up arctic shipping routes. From a report we found on transarctic shipping and transportation:
The distance from Iceland to the Pacific through the Bering Strait is for instance about 3,500
nm whereas the distance from Rotterdam through the Suez Canal to Shanghai is about 9,600
nm. If ships are too large to pass the canal they have to go beyond The Cape of Good Hope in
South Africa a distance of 13,900 nm.
What all this means in dollars and cents is dramatic:
Based on a charter cost of $30,000 a day, traveling speed of 22 knots and fuel costs of $170 per tonne, the route from Rotterdam to Shanghai via the Northwest Passage would be $590,000 cheaper than through the Suez Canal if the Canadian passageway were free.
So while the significance of ports like Singapore and Hong Kong which have benefited from the opening of the Suez Canal is likely to be diminished, northern ports like Shanghai and Yokohama stand to gain by being the new shipping gateways to Asia. Honestly though, Shanghaiist hopes to be long dead before all of that happens along with the consequent environmental disasters of an ice-free arctic circle.
Reuters: In pure Arctic air, signs of China’s economic boom
Reuters: Global warming boosts Arctic shipping, oil: report
Asia Times: Nations scramble over Arctic Silk Road
Arctic Portal: Breaking the Ice – Arctic Development and Maritime Transportation
Prospects of the Transarctic Route – Impact and Opportunities
Photo of Greenpeace ship travelling along the coast of Greenland to document the effects of rapid Arctic warming from adavies.