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.