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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"History is harsh" and other sick jokes

As expected (see "Sweeping History Under The Red Carpet"), Shinzo Abe delivered, under one of his trademark smokescreens, an unapologetic speech to the joint session of the US Congress.

The controversial Japanese PM took no chances ahead of the event:
- press muzzled at home (e.g. "Effort by Japan to Stifle News Media Is Working" by Martin Fackler - NYT 20150426)
- USA bribed with sweeteners (no to AIIB, yes to TPP), and of course the promise to D.C. hawks that the region will be over-militarized for the decades to come (Collective Self Defense)
- public opinion fooled with symbolic visits (ah, the irony of watching a war crime negationist visit a Holocaust museum, a sex slavery denier tour the Lincoln Memorial...)
- ...

So let's listen to his messages.
Video and transcript of Shinzo Abe's speech in US Congress. Needed big font to deliver his fine print revisionism (
Following his new mantra, Abe repeats that he "will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers", but he never voices them, precisely because they include the closest thing to personal apologies ever uttered by past Japanese leaders.

Typically, where Murayama stated his personal remorse and apology ("my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology"*) over 'tremendous damage and suffering' caused to many nations by Japan's 'mistaken national policy', 'colonial rule and aggression', Abe keeps his distances and discards the key words 'apology', 'colonial rule' or 'aggression', and of course 'irrefutable facts of history' (see transcript). Even the 'human trafficking' tested on the way to D.C. disappeared. 

Fundamentally, Abe only refers to standard war casualties and collateral damage that occur in any kind of conflict: "History is harsh", people died on both sides, and Japan has not done anything worse than other belligerents. Again, you couldn't expect formal apologies from a man who devoted his whole life to the negation of war crimes and the destruction of post-war Japan (see Nippon Kaigi agenda). 

Abe can allow himself to get personal for the US victims of WWII ("with deep repentance in my heart"), but always remains distant from past embryos of apologies ("Post-war, we started out on our path bearing in mind feelings of deep remorse over the war") that are now restricted to the paragraph on Asian nations.

Abe's difference in treatment between the US and Asian nations reaches deeper than the need to tailor his speech for the US Congress: Abe clearly poses at the same level as the former (we fought each other, we're now friends, it was a good game, fair play, all is well), and leagues over the latter (the condescending "We must all the more contribute in every respect to the development of Asia. We must spare no effort in working for the peace and prosperity of the region").

In his speech, Abe mentions a couple of people present in the gallery, but of course not LEE Yong-soo halmoni, one of the last survivors of Imperial Japan's sexual slavery system. She came with Mike HONDA, who along with Steve Israel, Bill Pascrell, and Charles Rangell, took yet another stand at the Congress ahead of Abe's visit. GOP lawmakers were M.I.A. except Marco Rubio, who asked Shinzo Abe to cope with the issue... two days before licking his boots in a Wall Street Journal oped**. Some hawks / lobbyists / fundraisers must have reminded him that he could not say whatever he wanted during his presidential campaign.

Speaking of hawks: Shinzo Abe mentioned at least 3 fellow Nippon Kaigi followers in his speech: Yoshitaka Shindo, Fumio Kishida, and Gen Nakatani. The last two worked with John Kerry and Ashton Carter on a framework to push Abe and Nippon Kaigi's key reform, deliciously hyped as "a sweeping one in our post-war history".

If "the darkest night fell upon Japan" on March 11, 2011, history will also remember as a national tragedy the date Abe starts his destruction of post-war Japan by tearing down its peaceful constitution. A national tragedy except of course in the textbooks monitored by this jaded revisionist...

Gladly hiding behind Abe's smokescreen to push their own, more short-sighted agenda, the US clearly don't end up looking like the world's only hyperpower. And even if Abe didn't expose the triumphant body language of Netanyahu on the same soapbox a few weeks earlier, he clearly looks closer to his lifetime dream (Japan's nightmare) than ever.

Yesterday, at the Asan Plenum, Alexis Dudden distributed this Asahi Shimbun cartoon showing the leaders of the trilateral alliance (then LBJ, Park Chung-hee, Eisatu Sako) two days after the June 22, 1965 pact between Japan and Korea. Carrying the diminutive Park on his back, a towering Johnson says 'now I can rest easy, too' while his Asian partners shake hands:

The day after Shinzo Abe's speech in Congress, I guess it could show the US thanking Japan before leaving: 'thanks for taking care of the region, they need me somewhere else'. As they shake hands, the US and Japan seem to be of the same height, because the latter is standing on Korea's corpse.

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* key paragraph in Tomiichi Murayama's 1995 statement: "During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history"

** "Sen. Marco Rubio takes on Japanese prime minister over 'comfort women'" (L.A. Times 20150428) followed by "Asia Needs a Strong U.S.-Japan Alliance" (WSJ 20150430)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Seoul Power Play: One Less Nuclear Plant, One More Coal Plant

I almost choked the other day at the ICLEI World Congress. Not because of air quality (around Seoul's New Normal, in the mid 40s PPM), but because of the answer I received from an official about the convenient untruth I mentioned in my previous post. ICYMI (see "Cough Potato"): not only do Korea and Seoul lie when they say that most of the pollution in the capital is generated overseas, but hiding beyond China's growing fumes, they also shamelessly give in to coal and diesel lobbies.

ICLEI World Congress at the Seoul DDP - on time for the cherry blossom

The official came from the same institute as the suspect quoted in that post (NB: again, this controversial institute holds views that are not shared by all Seoul officials). His presentation, which also included a focus on the February 23 peak, was all about the city's efforts to curb pollution, and the importance of particles coming from Gyeonggi, Incheon, China, and Mongolia.

To my question how can Korea and Seoul fight against high PPM levels and at the same time open the doors to diesel cars and new coal power plants, he answered that Seoul was indeed building an new coal power plant, but with limited emissions, and outside of its city limits! So beyond the now usual 'clean coal' imposture, we were told the trick that helps Seoul magically record improvements: our city lets Gyeonggi-do carry its dirtiest footprints, and the blame that comes with them. At this rate, Seoul's objective of reducing its CO2 emissions by 40% by 2030 from the 2005 level will be a breeze.

Imagine my reaction minutes later, as I returned to the DDP's main hall, precisely when the giant screens were displaying Seoul's successful campaign for 'One Less Nuclear Plant'! What's the point of cutting energy consumption by 2 million TOE (Tons of Oil Equivalent) if you build One More Coal Plant?

If this carbon offset made me carbon upset enough to call it a day, I can't say that I'm really surprised. After all, countries too try to export their sources of pollution and get away with it as good environmentalists... and this city already proved that it could at the same time remove ugly elevated roads and build new ones. Once more, feel good politics wins over good politics.

A lot of politicians were on stage at the ICLEI, because that's an alliance of over 1,000 Local Governments for Sustainability. They elected PARK Won-soon as their new president until the next world congress in 2018, even if he's not as fluent in English as his brilliant predecessor David CADMAN; maybe a C40-suite mayor is more likely than a former Vancouver councilor to give more weight to the Seoul Declaration adopted ahead of COP21 in Paris.

The Paris conference is expected to set new targets for the UN members in the fight against climate change, and in their non-binding Seoul Declaration, local governments pledged to do their share: cities account for over 50% of the world population (a proportion expected to reach 90% by the end of the century), and 70% of today's pollution.

Of course, as the co-author of 'The Limits of Growth' in 1972, Professor Jorgen Sanders, put it on stage, much more needs to be done than this 'toothless' declaration. In his 2012 predictions for 2052, he expects the climate crisis to hit really hard, even if politicians manage to do the minimum, which would be reallocating 2% of the GDP from 'dirty' to 'clean' activities.

I had a quick chat with Jorgen Sanders after his lecture - and this interview. In his radical views, visionary authoritarian regimes have a better chance to succeed than corrupt democracies in forcing change. Well you could mention Park Chung-hee's tree planting program as a great success, but environment was not on top of his agenda as far as industries were concerned...

Nevertheless, this ICLEI World Congress will probably be remembered as a success. And lively workshops made for an endless opening ceremony featuring too many empty congratulatory speeches, only interrupted by surreal apparitions of 'Little Angels'. It took five minutes - too late in the afternoon, alas - for a couple of ICLEI execs to break the ice by inviting each member of the audience to stand up and introduce themselves to two unknown people.

Yodeling on stage, the "Little Angels" added a surreal Pyongyang touch to the show

Reaching out is the answer. Preferably not just to export your waste.

How to make a difference with micro-projects under USD 3,000 and 'big projects' under USD 40,000? Kirtee Shah proved it was even scalable across 19 countries at the CITINET workshop on affordable housing in urban environments (

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cough Potato

Yesterday, a typical summer rain poured over Seoul, following a particularly dry winter. A welcome boost for the Spring colors that already popped up across the capital.

It also toned down less welcomed color bursts, like these recurrent pollution peaks:

Ways better than the recent Everest (over 1,000 ㎍/㎥) recorded on February 23. That day, I was not in Seoul (yay!), but in Shanghai (ugh)...

The March 29 peak shown above was 'solved' by drizzling episodes on April 1s, and for a few minutes the concentration of nanoparticles went as low as 6 per cubic meter:
'Best April Fools in a long time: Seoul pollution only 6 ㎍/㎥! (

Of course, rain only washes dust away and 'cleans' the air temporarily, it doesn't solve pollution. Typically, even after last night downpour, we were back to the 40-50s today. In Paris, 50 triggers an information flash, and 80 an alert.

Seoul posted a 5-year high of 71 ㎍/㎥ on average in March, a month where precipitations were five times weaker than normal, and sandstorms from China occurred three times more than usual ("Spring Haze Worse Than Ever" - Chosun Ilbo - 20150403):


According to Seoul Metropolitan Government, the nanoparticles come mainly from China and Mongolia (30-50%, followed by Gyeonggi and Incheon (25-30%), the capital itself (20-25%), and natural causes (4%):
Nanoparticle pollution rising in Seoul (
So here we are, cough potatoes stuck to our sofas while airpocalypse creeps around our home, a foreign disease born in Chinese factories / coal power plants, and borne by winds made even dryer by cashmere goats turning the vast plains of Mongolia into barren deserts.

A convenient untruth, I'm afraid.

Of course, Seoul receives a lot of its pollution from China, and the situation will get worse before it gets better on that front. The worst peaks in Beijing (often after firework frenzies) give birth to lower peaks in Seoul in the days that follow. But most of Seoul's pollution is generated in Korea, and some people are doing their best to not only hide that truth, but also to undermine the effort to curb local emissions.

If you read the fine prints (mercifully not as fine as the said particles), the media are talking about incremental pollution, not the basis: "analysis shows that China will be responsible for 36.8% and Gyeonggi Province for 16.3%. Seoul itself will only cause 16.2% of the increase in the density of fine particles in the city"*. 

Last month, Greenpeace exposed the imposture: "despite what is widely reported through the Korean media, from 50 to 70 percent of particle-laden smog, which is also known as PM2.5, is generated within the country"**. And just when Beijing closes its fourth coal power plant***, and just when Paris considers banning diesel cars, South Korea is pushing a very controversial agenda, embracing diesel and planning a dozen more coal power plants by 2021.****

Obviously, local polluting lobbies are doing their job well beyond the media and lawmakers. PARK Chan-goo, head of atmospheric measurement and management at the Seoul Institute of Health and the Environment, goes as far as to imply that Seoul doesn't need to do more to curb its own pollution: "Since China is exerting such a big influence, I think this may be the most Seoul can hope to achieve through its current efforts (...). In order to achieve more results, it would be much more effective to cut down on the sources of the particles in China, Mongolia, North Korea, Gyeonggi Province, and Incheon".

Hopefully, in the same article*, we hear sounder words from YOON Chang-jin, head of atmospheric improvement for the Seoul Metropolitan Government: "Seoul’s independent efforts to reduce fine particles are extremely important in the sense that they are keeping the particulate density from exceeding critical levels. Without these efforts, particle density would increase, which could have a deleterious effect on citizens‘ health".

Needless to say, the capital is also trying to collaborate with its Chinese counterparts, even if that's more on the monitoring than on the operational level (e.g. in February 2014, "Seoul works with Beijing to combat ultrafine dust"). Again, megacities have the power and the duty to push for positive changes that are sometimes more difficult to implement at the national level.
And in case you worried about North Korea, know that they are on the same page as the South these days, and building a coal power plant in Samdung-ri, Kangdong-do "Pyongyang’s Perpetual Power Problems" (Curtis Melvin - 38 North - 20141125)

See also "Air Pollution: New Measures, Please", all posts related to environment.

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* "More than a third of fine particle pollution comes from China" (The Hankyoreh - 20141106)
** "Greenpeace spares China from blame for fine dust" (The Korea Times - 20150304)
*** "Beijing to Shut All Major Coal Power Plants to Cut Pollution"(Bloomberg News - 20150324)
**** "Coal plants cause over 1,000 premature deaths each year: group" (Yonhap News - 20150304)
See also the recent White Paper: "Megacity Air Pollution Studies–Seoul - MAPS-Seoul" (NIER - National Institute of Environmental Research - 20150225):
"MAPS–Seoul’s objectives are as follows:
① Increase the performance of the air quality model prediction by reducing the bias in model simulation, and strengthen management decisions in policy development
- Improve emission inventories, particularly for anthropogenic NOx (NB: nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide), VOCs (NB: Volatile Organic Compound, mostly from solvents and automobiles), NH3 (NB: ammonia), CO (NB: carbon monoxide), SO2 (NB: sulfur dioxide), and biogenic VOCs (BVOCs)
② Assess long-range transports of pollutants from Asian megacities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and the SMA (NB: Seoul Metropolitan Area)
- Characterize the chemical evolutions of oxidants and aerosols in and out of the SMA, including O3 (NB: ozone), NOy (NB: reactive mixes like nitrous oxide), secondary organic aerosol (SOA), and their precursors to precisely constrain critical photochemical processes that should be considered in the air quality forecast modeling framework
③ Validate aerosol and selected gaseous products of GOCI (NB: Geostationary Ocean Color Imager) and other satellite sensors to integrate satellite observational products for reliable urban and regional air quality and emission inventory analysis
- Characterize the optical/physical/radiative properties of aerosols in the SMA and surroundings to resolve the effects of air quality on visibility reduction and urban weather forcing
This plan proposes a scientific research program integrating in-situ observations with one preliminary (in 2015) and two intensive (in the summer of 2016 and the winter of 2017) field campaigns in the SMA with the use of remote and satellite sensors, and modeling platforms. This will be partly conducted in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other international scientific communities.

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