Local, regional governments could take lead in curbing global air pollution

As the world's population surges, pollution generated in one country more and more frequently invades the air of another country, most often a nation in the same part of the globe but occasionally one that lies thousands of miles away.

While it might seem the problem is ripe for negotiations among national governments, an international relations specialist at the University of Washington, Bothell, suggests that effective answers might require efforts on the regional and local levels as well.

"There is no one magic solution to international environmental problems," said Nives Dolak, an assistant professor at UW Bothell. "I believe actions need to be taken at all of these levels. The question is what actions are taken at which level."

Dolak cites research by her colleague Dan Jaffe that pollution generated in China has at times degraded air quality in the Pacific Northwest so much that the region was out of compliance with federal rules. That research also has demonstrated that particulates from the Gobi Desert could have had health effects as far away as the southeastern United States.

She notes the governments of Japan, Korea, the United States and Canada as well as two or three Canadian provincial governments are working together to provide monitoring in China so they can document when pollution is likely to have an impact in other countries. Results of the monitoring are given to China's national government as well as those in provinces where the pollution is being generated, so they can begin trying to curb emissions.

Japan has the most at stake, she said, because it is most directly affected by acid rain resulting from Chinese pollution. The other nations also are affected, but in Canada and the United States the effects often are confined to smaller regions, mostly along the West Coast.

"Many of the same activities that produce global climate change also cause the pollution that's coming here," Dolak said.

Contact: Vince Stricherz
University of Washington

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