Aug 11, 2008

China's pollution goes global

Well, the Olympics have started - so has the "Great Wall of GreenWashing"
    More than 500,000 trees were planted in and around Olympic venues and on the Olympic green. There will be 500 alternative energy vehicles operating within the Olympic Village and some of the fans that attend the Olympic competitions in Beijing may ride to the events in one of the 1000 new Beijing public transportation vehicles that run on biodiesel.  The renewable energy vehicles being used at the Olympics include 20 hydrogen fuel cell, 55 electric and 25 hybrid passenger vehicles. In Qingdao, the Olympic Sailing Center, which was constructed at a cost of more than 11 million Yuan [US $1.6 million], uses solar power technology to operate the air conditioning system.
    As is so often the case in China, the Summer Olympics in Beijing present two contradictory views of China's environmental and energy stewardship. Will China's future development realize the promise of the enlightened environmental and energy infrastructure now on display at the Olympic venues as China’s pollution goes global?
    The Australian Financial Review last Friday in their Review section republished Jacques Leslie’s cover story in the February edition of Mother Jones entitled The Last Empire: China’s Pollution Problem Goes Global. It’s over 9000 words, but it’s well worth a look.
    Leslie tells of Mao’s assault on the environment when he launched the “backyard furnace” campaign. Some 90 million peasants set up mini steel smelters stripping 10% of China’s trees within a few months to fire them in order to produce unusable steel. Mao also launched the “Kill the Four Pests Campaign” resulting in the mass killing of sparrows followed by a great locust plague. The consequent harvest failure and famine saw between 30 and 50 million Chinese die, according to Leslie.
        Yet the Mao era’s ecological devastation pales next to that of China’s current industrialization. A fourth of the country is now desert. More than three-fourths of its forests have disappeared. Acid rain falls on a third of China’s landmass, tainting soil, water, and food. Excessive use of groundwater has caused land to sink in at least 96 Chinese cities, producing an estimated $12.9 billion in economic losses in Shanghai alone. Each year, uncontrollable underground fires, sometimes triggered by lightning and mining accidents, consume 200 million tons of coal, contributing massively to global warming. A miasma of lead, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other elements of coal-burning and car exhaust hovers over most Chinese cities; of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, 16 are Chinese.
        The government estimates that 400,000 people die prematurely from respiratory illnesses each year, and health care costs for premature death and disability related to air pollution is estimated at up to 4 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Four-fifths of the length of China’s rivers are too polluted for fish. Half the population—600 or 700 million people—drinks water contaminated with animal and human waste. Into Asia’s longest river, the Yangtze, the nation annually dumps a billion tons of untreated sewage; some scientists fear the river will die within a few years. Drained by cities and factories all over northern China, the Yellow River, whose cataclysmic floods earned it a reputation as the world’s most dangerous natural feature, now flows to its mouth feebly, if at all. China generates a third of the world’s garbage, most of which goes untreated. Meanwhile, roughly 70 percent of the world’s discarded computers and electronic equipment ends up in China, where it is scavenged for usable parts and then abandoned, polluting soil and groundwater with toxic metals.
    Robert Merkel told us last year of an environmental disaster that killed 750,000 Chinese. The Chinese government persuaded the World Bank to suppress the story because it could cause social unrest. It seems their fears were justified.
Please read  full by Big Gav