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Chris P. Nielsen

Chris P. Nielsen is Executive Director of the Harvard China Project in Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 

Titles by This Editor

Reconciling Air Quality, Climate, and Economic Goals

China’s carbon dioxide emissions now outstrip those of other countries and its domestic air quality is severely degraded, especially in urban areas. Its sheer size and its growing, fossil-fuel-powered economy mean that China’s economic and environmental policy choices will have an outsized effect on the global environmental future. Over the last decade, China has pursued policies that target both fossil fuel use and atmospheric emissions, but these efforts have been substantially overwhelmed by the country’s increasing energy demands. With a billion citizens still living on less than $4,000 per year, China’s energy and environmental policies must be reconciled with the goals of maintaining economic growth and raising living standards.

This book, a U.S.–Chinese collaboration of experts from Harvard and Tsinghua University, offers a groundbreaking integrated analysis of China’s economy, emissions, air quality, public health, and agriculture. It first offers essential scientific context and accessible summaries of the book’s policy findings; it then provides the underlying scientific and economic research. These studies suggest that China’s recent sulfur controls achieved enormous environmental health benefits at unexpectedly low costs. They also indicate that judicious implementation of carbon taxes could reduce not only China’s carbon emissions but also its air pollution more comprehensively than current single-pollutant policies, all at little cost to economic growth.

The Health and Economic Damages of Air Pollution in China

China's historic economic expansion is driven by fossil fuels, which increase its emissions of both local air pollutants and greenhouse gases dramatically. Clearing the Air is an innovative, quantitative examination of the national damage caused by China's degraded air quality, conducted in a pathbreaking, interdisciplinary U.S.-China collaboration. Its damage estimates are allocated by sector, making it possible for the first time to judge whether, for instance, power generation, transportation, or an unexpected source such as cement production causes the greatest environmental harm. Such objective analyses can reset policy priorities.Clearing the Air uses this information to show how appropriate "green" taxes might not only reduce emissions and health damages but even enhance China’s economic growth. It also shows to what extent these same policies could limit greenhouse gases, suggesting that wealthier nations have a responsibility to help China build environmental protection into its growth.Clearing the Air is written for diverse readers, providing a bridge from underlying research to policy implications, with easily accessible overviews of issues and summaries of the findings for nonspecialists and policymakers followed by more specialized, interlinked studies of primary interest to scholars. Taken together, these analyses offer a uniquely integrated assessment that supports the book's economic and policy recommendations.