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Authorities Say Park the Car and Grab a Face Mask as Air Quality Index Tops 300

Updated on December 10, 2015

So you wake up to discover that your SUV bearing an odd-numbered license plate has been ordered off the road for the day. And, you run around the house searching for the face mask that you've been ordered to wear outside.

Imagine, just imagine, the hue and cry if Americans faced such draconian edicts. Imagine being one of 20 million people subject to such drastic measures.

Surgical masks popular when smog descends on Beijing
Surgical masks popular when smog descends on Beijing | Source

It's real. It has happened, in China

During the afternoon of December 8, 2015, the air quality index in New York City was 49, according to the Wall Street Journal. At the same time, the index topped 300 in a metropolitan area that's home to 20 million people - Beijing, China. This prompted the issuance of a first-ever red alert, and half of the city's vehicles were ordered off the road. It got so bad that counterfeit face masks have become a problem. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an air quality index of 300 in the U.S. usually happens near forest fires only.

Forboding Air in the Forbidden City
Forboding Air in the Forbidden City | Source

What do you think?

Where should energy policy be focused?

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Tumbling Oil Prices + Cheap Coal = More Smog

The smog episode in China's capital occurs against a backdrop of falling global oil prices. In fact, the benchmark Brent Crude price fell below $40 per barrel the same week. This is important to air quality because lower oil prices invariably shift the economic advantage toward fossil fuels and away from renewable energy. The inevitable truth is that governments will finance and subsidize renewable energy to a lesser degree in the face of cheap coal, oil and natural gas.

This is a reality in the global energy marketplace that will likely remain. Very possibly, renewable and fossil-fuel energy prices will move opposite one another for decades to come. That is, cheap fossil fuels will undercut the pace at which renewable energy projects are financed and deployed. Conversely, any prolonged spike in oil, coal or natural gas prices will send governments scurrying to promote solar, wind, hydro and other renewable energy sources.

The difference between renewable energy goals and fossil fuel realities is stark indeed. For example, the Solutions Project, which details how the U.S. could move to 100-percent renewables by 2050, stands in stark contrast to the drama unfolding in the lives of Beijing residents living in health-threatening smog.

Industrial-scale carbon capture

New Carbon Capture Technologies

A convergence of events like relatively cheap fossil fuels, the war on global warming and rampant air pollution in some locales underscores the importance of carbon capture technologies. Novel ideas continue to emerge. Calgary-based Carbon Engineering is already commercializing technology that can capture CO2 directly from the air.

At Queen's University Belfast (QUB), researchers announced an entirely new fluid called porous liquid infused with special "hollow cage" molecules that can potentially capture CO2 at 500 times the rate of untreated liquids.

Hollow cage molecules can capture Co2 in porous liquids
Hollow cage molecules can capture Co2 in porous liquids | Source

At Queen's University Belfast (QUB), researchers announced an entirely new fluid called porous liquid infused with special "hollow cage" molecules that can potentially capture CO2 at 500 times the rate of untreated liquids.

Learn More About Carbon Capture

A Strategy Advancing Both the Real and the Ideal


A long-term energy strategy that gets too optimistic about renewable energy too soon is not realistic. One that accepts the need to deal with the inevitability of carbon emissions for decades to come is.

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