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  • Energy Futures and Urban Air Pollution: Challenges for China and the United States
  • Herman F. Huang (bio)
National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council. Energy Futures and Urban Air Pollution: Challenges for China and the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2008. xix, 366 pp. Paperback $76.25, ISBN 978-0-309-11140-9.

China has been experiencing rapid economic growth and urbanization, resulting in soaring energy consumption and degraded air quality. Energy demand from China and other industrializing nations contributed to the rise in world oil prices in 2008. In China, environmental protection has not kept pace with industrialization, as was the case in the United States some decades ago. China is now taking various measures to reduce emissions of air pollutants. One can recall the well-publicized restrictions on motor vehicle use during the months prior to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.

Therefore, Energy Futures and Urban Air Pollution: Challenges for China and the United States, a comparative study of energy and air quality in China and the United States, is a timely publication. This book is the latest product of an ongoing collaboration between the U.S. National Academies (National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council) and the Chinese Academies (Chinese Academy of Sciences and Chinese Academy of Engineering). Among their earlier joint publications are Cooperation in the Energy Futures of China and the United States(2000), Personal Cars and China(2003), and Urbanization, Energy, and Air Pollution in China: The Challenges Ahead(2004).

To conduct this study, each country's academies appointed committees of experts in energy and air quality. Chaired by John Watson of the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, the American committee consists of twelve members, who [End Page 140]hold positions at universities, nonprofit organizations, and consulting firms. The Chinese counterpart, chaired by Zhao Zhongxian of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, comprises fourteen members, mostly from the same academy or from Peking University.

Energy Futuresis composed of a summary, twelve chapters, and four appendices. The first chapter gives an overview of the book. Chapter 2 contains extensive information about American and Chinese energy resources and consumption. Coal supplies 69 percent of China's energy, of which 71 percent is used by industry. In the United States, energy is furnished largely by petroleum (40 percent) and is consumed by industry (32 percent) and transportation (28 percent). The third chapter describes air quality standards, emissions trends, and health effects. The effects of air pollution on China's cultural relics and agriculture are analyzed.

The roles of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, China's State Environmental Protection Agency, and nongovernmental organizations in both countries are the focal point of chapter 4. Both countries have air quality and energy legislation, but the implementation and enforcement mechanisms differ. In the United States, the federal government takes the lead. In China enforcement is primarily the responsibility of local governments, which are often under pressure to ease environmental regulations for the sake of economic development (pp. 146-147).

Chapter 5 discusses energy intensity (the ratio of energy consumption to gross domestic product) and energy efficiency (productivity per unit of energy input). It also mentions various policies and technologies that increase efficiency. Chapter 6 covers coal combustion processes and pollution control technologies. The promise and challenges of renewable energy—hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydrogen—are dealt with in Chapter 7. Hydropower is expected to remain dominant in both countries while wind is projected to have the highest percentage of growth.

The next four chapters are case studies of four cities: Pittsburgh, Huainan (in Anhui Province, roughly 500 kilometers northwest of Shanghai), Los Angeles, and Dalian (a port in Liaoning Province, about 500 kilometers east-southeast of Beijing). The authors cite Dalian as an example of a Chinese city that has enjoyed economic growth while improving air quality to meet or exceed national standards. Despite its adoption of similar measures, Huainan has been less successful in improving its air quality. Each city's case study discusses air pollution levels, energy resources, and air quality management practices. The American case studies also include sections on the cities' historical context and lessons learned...