Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Viewpoint On The Pollution Problems

Starting Wednesday China's 3000 top officials met to discuss some serious economic changes. Li Keqiang (China's premier) announced in his speech that the government would declare war on pollution. This is a major milestone, because the government finally is willing to recognize that there truly is a crisis. The international newspapers mainly like to report on the air pollution, but the problems are actually far more deep rooted: Water is China's main worry. 
The country is already facing some serious shortages and pollution levels of water in China are steadily rising. Most of the ground water around major urban areas is grade 4 or higher. (Unsuitable for human contact) 
The major contribution to this problem is chemical fertilizer used in agriculture. China's farmers use up to 3 times the amount used on average in European countries and this is mainly because the biological matter in the soil is extremely low in most areas in China. 
Farmer's are often ignorant towards how dangerous the overuse of chemical fertilizer can be. The runoff not only will end in the vegetables and fruit you eat, but also in the water systems. 

Kunming is situated right next to a huge lake: Dianchi. Dianchi lake is very big, but on average it is only 5 meters deep. There are no major currents entering or leaving the lake so it takes extremely long for water to run through the lake. 
In the late 1990's the lake was so polluted that you could drop an egg into the lake and it would dissolve in 30 seconds or less. The major issue was that factories were built along the lake and were simply dumping all of its waste into the lake. (all of the cities sewage included)
Since then, the government has poured billions of dollars into cleaning up the lake and has achieved some moderate success. 20 years and billions of dollars have apparently managed to get all of the heavy metals out of the lake, but the lake water still has grade 5 (hazardous for human contact). 
The main reason (that no one wants to talk about) is that farmers surrounding the lake for hundreds of kilometer are overusing fertilizer, which will run off into the lake and will not only kill most of the biological matter in the lake, but also cause blue algae to bloom like crazy. This will then suck out all the oxygen in the water, ...... and so on and so on. I am sure you get the point. 

(borrowed from: http://www.chinadiscover.net)

(Dianchi lake algae problem)  

Li Keqiang also promises to address the issue of chemical fertilizer, which is more than great, because around 8 million acres are already too polluted from heavy metals to grow vegetables on. (Chicago Tribune
All together it sounds like there will be some major changes, but the one question sitting in the back of my head was: how? 
Apparently China promised to close down smaller coal burning and steel manufacturing plants (apparently a number amounting to Italy's annual output, which is only 2% of China's output), but that would cause a lot unemployment and even though I am sure the government has a plan for this problem it all sounded too good to be true. 

When I woke up this morning and checked the news it seemed Bloomberg had also picked up on that and has now started reporting on something I really hoped would not happen: 
The government might just move its plants further inland to more isolated provinces where the media attention does not really go. (Bloomberg: China’s Air Pollution Heads West)
You might think this is not a real thing, but this has been happening for a long time now. China has removed its most polluting industries from the coastal areas and has simply moved them to impoverished counties, where people neither have the resources nor the power to sue the government. (If you want more detailed and better sourced information let me know and I will send you my thesis on the agricultural crisis in China) 
However, we can't solely blame the Chinese government with this: It has been happening all over the world for much longer and was probably started by the West. The US outsources its polluting factories to poorer countries and Japan did the same thing with China in the 20th century. Its is an ongoing cycle, but I really hoped that China would break it. 

I really do not want to point any fingers or blame anyone in specific, because every country has faced big pollution problems in the quest to modernization. Think London during the industrial revolution (thousands of people died due to the terrible air pollution), Ohio's Cuyahoga River, which caught on fire, because its water was so polluted, and many more. The worst one in my opinion was the Love Canal Incident, where a chemical factory buried its toxic waste in the ground and then sold the property to the school board without really telling them that they had buried 21000 tons of chemical waste without treating it. (Love Canal Scandal) It caused an emergency after kids had dug out the waste and played with it during recess. 
Imagine this would happen in China today: they would be penalized so much for it, but yet I am sure none (or few of you) were aware of this scandal in the US. 

(Londons Smog during Industrial Revolution) 

(Cuyahoga River on fire)

(Love Canal Scandal)

What I am trying to say here is that we really have no ground to stand on to criticize China. If we had the internet and such good media attention on environmental issues during the industrial revolution in London I am sure that we just as much would have criticized them. 
Also there is no reason for China to pollute their environment just because we did it. That is not how the world should work, but we just have to put everything into perspective I guess. 

In the end we can't and shouldn't forget that China is not even 100 years old and that we can't and should not compare China to Europe or/and the US. It is a developing country facing many of the issues some of the poorest countries in the world do. It just so happens that a lot of that gets ignored based on the image we get from Shanghai, Beijing and any other modern cities on the coast. 
Remember: 600 Million people in China still live in the countryside and many million (approximately 60 million) of them lack the simplest things such as running water and electricity. 

Okay that's it! Now you know my opinions on the matter. 

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