Angel Hsu on Driving (Environmental) Data Home

We recently had a group of culinary enthusiasts visit the Linden Centre from the U.S. to learn and experience the fare and flair of Yunnan. Of course, a discussion of local ingredients and agriculture goes hand in hand with China’s environment. So when we caught wind that U.S.-based environmental expert Angel Hsu ( was passing through Yunnan, we had her provide the much-needed context of China’s environmental challenges.

Learn more about what Angel had to say about China’s Environmental Challenges here.

At the beginning of the discussion, Angel asked the guests (who primarily hailed from the American Midwest) to share their impressions of China’s environment from the short time they had been here. Dean was so impressed by the cleanliness of the Xizhou streets, yet was surprised by the amount of garbage in the streams winding down to Erhai lake. Janet made comparisons to Los Angeles, and felt a new perspective on the city’s air pollution after experiencing that of Shanghai’s. Mike wondered about the prevalence of highly-polluting diesel vehicles – a transportation species that has all but gone extinct in the U.S. Carla was quite impressed that compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) seemed to be staples in China’s light fixtures. Our colleague, Bai Liping, who is a native of Chengdu in Sichuan province and attended university in Beijing, talked about how weather as opposed to industry also affects the air quality in her hometown.

When it comes to China’s Environmental Challenges, Angel cited five: Water, Air Quality, Climate Change and Energy, Land Management and Agriculture, and Desertification.

Given Angel’s focus on air quality and in light of recent air quality events in Beijing (, folks seemed to be quite interested in how this affects peoples’ daily lives.

Briefly, PM2.5 (PM stands for particulate matter) are the smallest particles that have consequences for human health. These particles (2.5 microns in diameter or less and what comprises haze, dust, soot, etc.) are quite dangerous to people’s health as there are most easily lodged in peoples lungs. Most of the audience (myself included) found it interesting that until recently (last year), the Chinese government was only providing PM10 numbers (that is particles of 10 microns in diameter – things like sand and dust) as a leading measurement in determining how good the air was in a particular area. Under this system, many of the coastal cities scored significantly better on their air quality rating as opposed to a number of areas out West. It seemed a bit funny to most that places like Xinjiang and Gansu were scoring dangerously high whereas Beijing and Shanghai were seemingly okay. But when netizens (“internet citizens”) learned about the importance of PM2.5 there was quite a lot of dialogue online. As a result, the Chinese government quickly responded, announcing that they would incorporate PM2.5 as a leading measurement for air quality where data would be publically released as early as this year for major metropolitan areas including Beijing, Shanghai, and the Pearl River and Yangtze River Deltas.

Bringing the discussion back to Xizhou, most folks in our village have a difficult type of air quality problem. Due to the burning of solid fuels (e.g. charcoal, wood, biomass) for the purpose of activities like cooking and heating, this contribute to indoor air pollution, and respiratory problems.

But enough of the problems, how about some solutions?

Angel gave credit to the Chinese government for the project and policy work they have done to help improve the country’s environmental situation. The four solution areas include: Technology, Energy Efficiency, Policies, and Economic Incentives. The most impressive of these solutions would be the solar water heaters (used in 40M homes and counting), as well as with wind power/turbines that has China with the highest installed capacity in the world.

Much of Angel’s work revolves around measurement and data-driven approaches to policy making decisions. She spoke a bit about a project she has worked on with her colleagues at Yale and Columbia (htttp://, that takes into account globally-available data on pressing environmental issues, which has enabled this team to assess the environmental performance of 132 countries. With indicators such as water quantity, forest cover, climate change and energy, to name a few, my biggest takeaway from additional questions at the end was the fact that there is so little data on recycling, and that so many people are asking for it. I know I will be on the lookout to understand what it takes to be a “responsible stakeholder” and how this relates to us in our Xizhou community.

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