I sat down with Piers Corbyn who is an astro-physicist and climate and weather expert and forecaster, Founder and Managing Director at weatheraction.com. Piers’s brother Jeremy Corbyn is the Leader of the British Opposition Labour Party.
NB: Piers, you have just returned from China, a trip that coincided with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. Could you tell Eurasia Future about your experience there, why you were there, what developments occurred while you were there, and any possible future projects that may have sprung from this visit?
PC: The main reason I went there was to discuss improving pollution control in China which coincided with the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth on the 5th of May 1818 and I attended an event there on such an occasion, plus other meetings about housing issues in China, etc.
The thing about China is that it’s different from everywhere else, and the role of the Marxist ideology in the Party and businesses is very important. Regarding pollution, I was there to work with others to develop better ways of tackling China’s pollution with solutions that could come quicker than the solutions that happened in London after the smoke pollution of the 1950s and also Los Angeles. Finding a solution for Beijing is a much bigger problem than either of those two cities in the west experienced, yet in China they are actually making great strides considering that their pollution problems are both bigger than the coal smoke pollution in London in the 1950s, and also bigger than the (mainly) car pollution of Los Angeles due to the geography of Los Angeles. Beijing has the worst of all worlds in that respect, and of course it is also much bigger.
That said, China has already made some great advances, and so I pose the question, could Beijing and China clean up quicker than it took the UK and USA?
NB: What do you think?
PC: The answer is definitely yes. Because the party apparatus there, once it decides on something, it can happen very fast, so long as they make the right decisions. I was there to talk about advances in improving the moving of smoke from chimneys, coal stacks in the West and the Chinese are already doing this in very advanced form. There is also the question of improving all the plants and ways of doing that and the issue of the cars in that China could do more to have cleaner fuel. In America a lot of the problems were solved by having very low sulphur fuel, and while they have low sulphur fuel in Beijing, it could be even lower. And there can be a whole string of measures which could be more rapidly applied in China so we are trying to build some kind of cooperation between leading institutions and colleges in the UK and China on such issues.
NB: And you could be the person who may help to facilitate such a thing?
PC: Yes but you see, there is the issue of bringing in new technology, or applying existing technology and there are the rules by which these are applied, which is to some extent a weak point in China.
NB: Could you elaborate?
PC: Well the rules they apply are somewhat vague at times which means they are open to different officials to interpreting them in different ways. Now obviously all the different businesses in China are there to make money although they are a part of the state apparatus, they are still there to make money, so they might want to cut corners where they can, unless there is severe implementation of policies. And the point that was made in one of the meetings I was at, was that the wealth of China is the driving force for all the pollution in China, China being the workshop of the world, with you and I consuming Chinese goods, but the pollution that is produced when goods are made, stays in China. So I suggested that China could have the West contribute, I suggested they could have a pollution surcharge. They have a campaign in China called Action Blue Sky Campaign, where they want to be able to see blue sky all the time.
Blue Sky Campaign is about reducing smoke pollution in Hong Kong. Half the time it is more or less OK, but quite often the sky is yellow which is caused mostly by coal fired power stations which are producing electricity for factories, and also by polluting cars. The Chinese have done a lot to reduce pollution from cars, for instance, there are no motorbikes there, every two wheeled vehicle is electric powered, very quiet and very good. Amazing advances, and they have planted trees everywhere and we could do a lot more of that here in London.
NB: Piers, how would you say the West could possibly assist China with this problem, because by and large and increasingly China does not need the West as China diversifies. But you mentioned a possible cooperation between Britain and China. What could Britain offer China that China does not have or cannot produce?
PC: There are advances going on in some colleges in any case, and also about implementation of rules. But there could be ways where some involvement of the West could assist in implementation of the rules properly or tightening of the rules, and even have more incentives for example I make a point that you could sell things in the West with ‘Blue Sky” label on them, the blue sky label says you’re part of a campaign which is to make the sky blue in China, which would mean improving the removal of dust from factories etc. Any product, in order to get a blue sky label would have to show that it is doing things seriously and green campaigners in the West would buy these things with a small surcharge to clean the air in China because we are after all gaining more affordable products from China and yet the pollution is costing them, so that’s one idea. But there will be more. You could have an interchange of experts and academics. I think people I met at the Department of Climate Change Policy Research Environment and Economic Policy Research Centre at the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the People’s Republic of China, are interested in these sort of co-operative ventures which will also probably lead to investment in China and also benefit institutions in Britain by exporting knowledge and perhaps running courses in China, or assisting courses in China.
NB: Having just come back from China, having seen the immense developments there, the buildings, roads, do you think the West could benefit from China in terms of investment opportunities ?
PC: Britain can learn from China in a number of ways. I was interested in social housing, the Chinese have built tower blocks for councils, council rent which are essentially similar to those here in Britain, but the spacing between their modern tower blocks is bigger than the spacing between similar tower blocks in London and I think that is very important. Green space is very important for mental and social wellbeing, and they understand that. In terms of investment, the difficulty with capitalist investment in London is that they’re all after a fast buck. London is building properties for the super rich, which are often kept empty and are making a profit over rising land values. In China by contrast, that could be a motive but they would be more interested in more straightforward investment i.e building for long term, receiving lower income per year but a long term investment which would or could fund social housing. But these are just ideas, there were plenty of ideas going around, my main purpose going there was the pollution issues, and meanwhile other things came up in discussion.
NB: What do you believe is the most interesting and innovative thing that China has come upon with in recent years?
PC: Well, the most exciting thing happening in China is the One Belt And Road, big development of trade and infrastructure all over the world, Asia, Eurasia etc and the West, if the West cooperates.
NB: Was there much discussion of OBOR?
PC: There was actually, yes. There is a lot of money being spent on it, it is an economic wheel engine, so you see there has to be caretaking with regards to the upheavals that could occur to existing populations while these highways, railways, etc, etc are being built, all of which need to be looked at. Also, one has to bear in mind changes in climate where these railways etc are being built, whether they will suffer fog, or snow drifts or whatever in the future, so issues like that.
NB: All of which ties in with pollution, and you could prove your expertise on long range forecasting?
PC: Yes, But I think the One Belt And Road or as sometimes we in the West call Silk Road because part of it is the old Silk Road which would link Europe to China, is a really exciting project, and I think Britain and America ought to join in the action. It is the way forward as opposed to Imperialist wars.