China Eats the World

Chinese village/reactor, on the rails to Shanhai

It’s true, it’s true…it’s all true. China does eat the world…following the West’s example, but without the West’s natural resources…

Tracking back through my trip to China (1, 2) in the spring of this past year, I can only say “Thanks!” to MotherJones, that typically soggy, lazy, reactionist-Lefty, pseudo-anarcho-pod-person journal, for getting this article so very, very right. Kudos to the gifted writer, Jacques Leslie and his on-point, illustrative, and concise reporting.

The situation: Chinese economic growth and expansion are ruining China (and affecting its many neighbors), leading, most likely, to famine and pestilence not seen in China since the good old, bad old days of Chairman Mao.

What is to be learned, what is to be done?

Not every landmass is created equal,” would seem to be a basic tenet that is ignored when demand outstrips supply, in our rush to see just how far we can push Adam Smith’s ideology. Beneficial as it has been (and it has, it has), everything has its limits in the material world.

So, what Is to be done?

Certainly, innovation will meet seize the day (where famine and plague don’t). That is, we’re not all going to be able to have hybrid cars with built-in MP3 players…but we’re sure going to try.

A healthy excerpt from the piece:

  • China uses half the world’s steel and concrete and will probably construct half the world’s new buildings over the next decade. So omnivorous is the Chinese appetite for imports that when the country ran short of scrap metal in early 2004, manhole covers disappeared from cities all over the world—Chicago lost 150 in a month.[…]
  • Chinese ecosystems were already dreadfully compromised before the Communist Party took power in 1949, but Mao managed to accelerate their destruction. With one stroke he launched the “backyard furnace” campaign, in which some 90 million peasants became grassroots steel smelters; to fuel the furnaces, villagers cut down a 10th of China’s trees in a few months. The steel ultimately proved unusable.
  • With another stroke, Mao perpetrated the “Kill the Four Pests” campaign, inducing the mass slaughter of millions of sparrows and a subsequent explosion in the locust population. The destruction of forests led to erosion and the spread of deserts, and the locust resurgence prompted a collapse of the nation’s grain crop. The result was history’s greatest famine, in which 30 to 50 million Chinese died.
  • 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. […]
  • 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.[…]
  • 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. […]
  • 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. […]
  • During the Mao era, the People’s Liberation Army ritualistically fired shells at the Taiwan-controlled island of Quemoy; now, the mainland spews garbage that floats across the mile-and-a-quarter-wide channel and washes up on Quemoy’s beaches at the rate of 800 metric tons a year.
  • Acid rain caused by China’s sulfur-dioxide emissions severely damages forests and watersheds in Korea and Japan and impairs air quality in the United States. […]
  • Seeking oil, timber, gold, copper, cobalt, uranium, and other natural resources, China is building massive roads, bridges, and dams throughout Africa, often disregarding international environmental and social standards. Finally, China overtook the United States as the world’s leading emitter of CO2 in 2006, according to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency.
  • All this is common knowledge among the scholars and activists who follow Chinese environmental trends. The news, however, has not yet shaken China out of its money-induced euphoria. One indication is that China’s 10 percent growth rate takes no account of the environmental devastation the boom has caused. In June 2006, an official at China’s State Council said environmental damage (everything from crop loss to health care costs) was costing 10 percent of its gross domestic product—in other words, all of the economy’s celebrated growth.

[end excerpt. Read the entire article (and there’s a great deal more to it) HERE]

So…how are you feeling? Need a rest? A break? Want to hear no more about it? Well, do me one favor before you tune out:

Go to any one of the dozen or more pieces of electronic equipment (clothing, furniture, kitchen equipment, dishes, plastic containers, musical instruments, cd cases, Halloween costumes, Christmas decorations…bathsoap holders, you-name-it), in your apartment or home, and look for the “Made in…” label…and tell me what it says…

Right. It’s not just China that’s the problem… it’s our appetite for cheap, cheap, cheap…everything. It’s a major, catastrophic problem – and it’ll get a dozen times worse before it gets better….

And I guarantee you, not one candidate will be talking about it with anything resembling a decisive policy, because to do so is to court political suicide.

Because, given our new found love for everything shiny and plastic and metal and electric…We need China. China is our new slave labor force. No reparations, no equal rights, just production, to the lowest bidder. So, in the end, we’re polluting China, as much as the Chinese are.

Take that, Adam Smith.

Liam

2 Comments

  1. POLLUTION TO THE OROYA CITY

    The years 2006 and 2007 the Blacksmith Institute have accomplished a research about the most contaminated cities in the world, and arrived at the conclusion that the Oroya City was among the 10 cities most polluted of the world: Blacksmith Institute has be benevolent [generous]; according to my research to many years that I am publishing, the Oroya is the most polluted in Peru, Latin America and the world, and every day is being more polluted:

    lead in blood in children in the Ancient Oroya at an average of 53.7 ug/dl ( DIGESA 1999);
    women’s pregnancies – 39.49 ig/dl ( UNES 2000),
    new-born children 19.06 ug/dl, puerperal 319 ug/100 grams/placenta ( Castro 2003)
    and workers 50 ig/dl ( Doe Run 2003). Top lead in blood accepted 10 ug/dl; present day is 0 ug/dl ( Pediatric of Academy to USA)

    When the Oroya city was in hands to the CentroMin eliminated only by the upper chimney to 167.500 meters, in average by day in tons:

    sulfur dioxide 1000,
    lead 2500,
    arsenic 2500,
    cadmium, particulate matter 50 and so on,
    more than 24,000 toxic gas products from the incomplete combustion of the coal,

    without count it is eliminated by industrial incinerator and by the 97 smalls chimneys, it is estimated 15,000 (PAMA . El Complejo Metalúrgico de la Oroya, 1996); they add 45,000 tons by day,

    Every three months Doe Run envoys the concentrations of the heavy metals to the Ministry of Energy and Mines and with the same data Ceverstav have demonstrated the pollution was increased; for example the sulfur dioxide has increased to near 300 %, by increment to the production (Cederstav. La Oroya no Espera 2002 )

    The American Association of the Environment say that the environmental quality to the Oroya is seriously deteriorated since Doe Run became owner, and the same enterprise
    declared that the concentrations of the heavy metals gas it is iincreased in the air:

    lead 1160 %,
    cadmium 1990 %
    and arsenic 6006 % (Portugal, et al. Los Humos de Doe Run 2003)

    More

  2. And here’s some more on the Blacksmith institute and Oroya, Thanks Godo, for your comment!

    http://www.blacksmithinstitute.org/site10f.php

    [from the webpage:]

    Potentially Affected People: 35,000

    Type of Pollutants: Lead, copper, zinc, and sulfur dioxide.

    Source of Pollution: Heavy metal mining and processing

    The Problem:

    Since 1922, adults and children in La Oroya, Peru – a mining town in the Peruvian Andes and the site of a poly-metallic smelter – have been exposed to the toxic emissions and wastes from the plant. Peru’s Clean Air Act cites La Oroya in a list of Peruvian towns suffering from critical levels of air pollution, but action to clean up and curtail this pollution has been delayed for area’s 35,000 inhabitants. Currently owned by the Missouri-based Doe Run Corporation, the plant has been largely responsible for the dangerously high lead levels found in children’s blood.

    Health Impacts:

    Ninety-nine percent of children living in and around La Oroya have blood lead levels that exceed acceptable limits, according to studies carried out by the Director General of Environmental Health in Peru in 1999. Lead poisoning is known to be particularly harmful to the mental development of children. A survey conducted by the Peruvian Ministry of Health in 1999 revealed blood lead levels among local children to be dangerously high, averaging 33.6 µg/dL for children between the ages of 6 months to ten years, triple the WHO limit of 10 µg/dL. Neurologists at local hospitals state that even newborn children have high blood lead levels, inherited while still in the womb. Absurdly large rates of premature deaths are linked to noxious gasses from the smelter. Lung-related ailments are commonplace.

    Sulfur dioxide concentrations also exceed the World Health Organization guidelines by a factor of ten. The vegetation in the surrounding area has been destroyed by acid rain due to high sulfur dioxide emissions. To date, the extent of soil contamination has not been studied and no plan for clean up has been prepared.

    Numerous studies have been carried out to assess the levels and sources of lead and other metals still being deposited in La Oroya. Limited testing has revealed lead, arsenic and cadmium soil contamination throughout the town.

    Status of Clean-Up Activity:

    Doe Run Corporation asserts that an environmental management plan has been developed for the processing plant. However, the Corporation asked the government for a four-year extension to the plant’s environmental management plan in 2004. A concerted NGO movement is now underway to pressure the company and the government to develop effective strategies for implementation of site remediation agreements and to provide health care for affected residents. Some sampling and testing has been done in the local communities and the areas outside the plant to determine the levels of pollutants.

    In response to the listing of La Oroya in the 2006 Top Ten, Doe Run sent a letter to Blacksmith Institute on May 2, 2007 stating that it has curbed its toxic emissions and has invested approximately $1 million yearly in joint program with the Peruvian Ministry of Health designed to lower blood lead levels in the region. Doe Run states that it has made significant capital investments in emission control systems, water treatment plants and changing rooms. The company asserts that it has also introduced occupational and population health programs and has made its environmental improvement efforts more public. They report emission levels to have fallen since these health programs and investments were made in new technologies. Sanctions against Doe Run are still expected, mainly for sulphur dioxide emissions that it was required to reduce by this year. Doe Run is also investing in community development and poverty alleviation efforts by implementing various job-training programs. Doe Run is the main driver of the local economy and hence able to exercise control over the livelihood of the population.

    The government’s national environmental council approved a Contingency Plan for States of Alert (CONAM) on August 10th of this year. Its purpose will be to limit the exposure of the affected population by issuing red alerts to stay inside in response to highly toxic air quality and weather conditions that exacerbate pollution levels. The mayor of the city of La Oroya states that the alert programme will remain in effect until Doe Run fully complies with pollution reduction measures. If the contingency plan was already implemented, a state of emergency would have been declared 183 days so far this year.

    More here:
    http://www.blacksmithinstitute.org/site10f.php

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