China could face environmental disaster

China must sharply improve environmental protection or it could face disaster following two decades of breakneck growth that have poisoned its air, water and soil, the country's top environmental official warned Saturday. The director of the State Environmental Protection Administration said that more than half of China's 21,000 chemical companies are near the Yangtze and Yellow rivers - drinking water for tens of millions of people - and accidents could lead to "disastrous consequences."

"Facts have proved that prosperity at the expense of the environment is very superficial and very weak," Zhou Shengxian said at a news conference during the annual meeting of China's parliament. "It's only delaying disaster."

China's cities are among the world's smoggiest and the government says its major rivers are badly polluted, leaving hundreds of millions of people without enough clean drinking water. Protests have erupted throughout the country over farmers' complaints that uncontrolled factory discharges are ruining crops and poisoning water...

Regulator warns on China environment woes

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[quote]BEIJING, April 18 (Xinhua) -- "We cannot just sit for discussions behind the closed door while the sandy weather has raged outside for more than ten days," Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced at a national conference on environmental protection.

"Besides climatic factors, it mirrors the critical environmental situation we are facing," Wen said of Beijing being enveloped in yellow dust.

While addressing the conference held from Monday to Tuesday, Wen said China should be on high alert to fight against worsening environmental pollution and ecological deterioration in some regions, and environmental protection should be given a higher priority in the drive for national modernization.

The major targets of environmental protection during the recently ended tenth Five-Year Plan (2000-2005) were not achieved as scheduled, and new problems have emerged, he said.

China had set a target of cutting discharges of sulphur dioxideby 10 percent in 2000-2005. It set the same target for reducing emissions of carbon monoxide, but only managed a 2 percent cut, according to the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA).

"Lack of awareness, insufficient planning, and a weak legal framework can be blamed for the severe environmental pollution in the country," Wen noted.
...
The Premier has set out four priorities for current and future environmental protection. These include strengthening water conservation, controlling atmosphere and soil pollution, enhancingprotection of the national ecology, re-adjusting the economic structure and boosting the environmental technology and protectionindustry.

SEPA [Stete Environmental Protection Agency] has reported 45 other pollution accidents in the two and ahalf months after the Songhua River spill last November which had threatened water supplies of four million residents in the city ofHarbin, capital of Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province.

Another accident listed by the administration was a cadmium spill along the Beijiang River in South China's Guangdong provincethat also threatened the local drinking and agricultural water supplies.

Other major water pollution incidents included chemical spills along Northeast China's Hun River, central China's Hunan's Xiangjiang River, and a diesel spill along the Yellow River in Henan Province, as well as an oil spill in Ganjiang River in central China's Jiangxi Province.

Wen ordered local governments on Monday to release information on energy consumption and pollutant emissions every six months, set plans to control emissions and step up environmental assessment of construction projects.

Protective policies on the exploitation of resources should be carried out and legal and supervisory systems established, acknowledged Wen, who also urged localities to allocate more moneyand raise public awareness of environmental protection.[/quote]
[url=http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-04/19/content_4444571.htm]Wen sets environment protection goals[/url]

[quote]Worsening environmental problems are threatening social stability in China as aggrieved residents resort to protests to make their voices heard, a senior official said this week. Severe pollution prompted at least 510,000 public disputes last year, which "caused a great threat to social stability," said Zhou Shengxian, head of the State Environmental Protection Administration. "Mass incidents," such as protests related to environmental problems, have been rising at an average rate of 29 percent a year, Xinhua News Agency quoted him as saying. "If environmental protection continues to lag behind economic growth, [pollution] will get worse and will be harder to control," Xinhua quoted Mr. Zhou as telling a national conference on environmental protection Wednesday in Beijing. "Local officials ... who fail to meet requirements will pay a price for turning a blind eye to the law," Mr. Zhou warned. His remarks highlighted the growing unease felt by senior Chinese officials at increasingly frequent environmental disasters.... [/quote] Environmental woes mar social stability

more bleak news re China's environment

[quote]China's pollution problems cost the country more than US$200 billion a year, a top official said Monday as he called for better legal protection for grass roots groups so they can help the government clean up the environment.

Zhu Guangyao, deputy chief of the State Environmental Protection Agency, estimated that damage to China's environment is costing the government roughly 10 percent of the country's gross domestic product. China's GDP for 2005 was US$2.26 trillion.

Despite government efforts, China's environmental picture is not improving, but worsening, he said, and "allows for no optimism."

Zhu said environmental nongovernment organizations can play "important roles in promoting or pushing governments" to solve environmental problems.

He acknowledged that some local officials were not implementing the the central government's guidelines very well.

Zhu said implementing the central government's guidelines would also be a challenge for local officials who are accustomed to being judged on growth above all else and are fearful of the economic impact of tighter environmental controls. ....[/quote]
[url=http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2006-06/05/content_609005.htm]Pollution costs China US$200 billion every year[/url]

see also, on People's Daily online:
[url=http://english.people.com.cn/200606/05/eng20060605_271168.html]Full text: Environmental Protection in China (1996-2005)[/url]

Some years ago, I worked on an article about acid rain in Taiwan; found that at least some of the island's air pollution could be traced to Shanghai area. Here, findings show pollution from China travels much further - not that China unique in this, what with PCBs in polar bears etc. [quote]By TERENCE CHEA Associated Press Writer MOUNT TAMALPAIS STATE PARK, Calif. (AP) - On a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Steven Cliff collects evidence of an industrial revolution taking place thousands of miles away. The tiny, airborne particles Cliff gathers at an air monitoring station just north of San Francisco drifted over the ocean from coal-fired power plants, smelters, dust storms and diesel trucks in China and other Asian countries. Researchers say the environmental impact of China's breakneck economic growth is being felt well beyond its borders. They worry that as China consumes more fossil fuels to feed its energy-hungry economy, the U.S. could see a sharp increase in trans-Pacific pollution that could affect human health, worsen air quality and alter climate patterns. ... The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that on certain days nearly 25 percent of the particulate matter in the skies above Los Angeles can be traced to China. Some experts predict China could one day account for a third of all California's air pollution. ... . If current trends continue, China will surpass the U.S. as the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the next decade, said Barbara Finamore, who heads the Natural Resources Defense Council's China Clean Energy program, which is helping the country boost its energy efficiency. ``China's staggering economic growth is an environmental time bomb that, unless defused, threatens to convulse the entire planet regardless of progress in all other nations,'' Finamore said. Even Chinese environmental officials warn that pollution levels could quadruple over the next 15 years if the country doesn't curb energy use and emissions. Beijing plans to spend $162 billion on environmental cleanup over the next five years, but the scale of the country's pollution problems is immense. ... China's environmental challenges are daunting, but the country is taking action to reduce its energy use and air pollution, said NRDC's Finamore. Beijing has set ambitious goals for increasing energy efficiency, fuel economy standards and use of renewable power sources such as wind and solar, she said. ``There are tremendous opportunities for China to slow the amount of pollution it pumps in the air,'' Finamore said. [/quote] China's Air Pollution Reaches U.S. Skies

[quote]The State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) has finally found the culprit behind blood poisoning that has caused 179 villagers to be hospitalized in Northwest China's Gansu Province.

The lead smelter in the vicinity of the victimized village in Huixian county has had its production license revoked, and the SEPA has promised that the culprit and the local watchdog will both be punished.

Further investigations will be conducted on the contaminated soil around the plant, and the Ministry of Health has joined hands with the local health department in treating the poisoned villagers.

What has happened to this plant and the villagers is a repetition of the mode of economic growth at the expense of the environment in most parts of the eastern region.

This suggests that the development of the west, at least in some places, is facing the same imperative choice between the environment and economic growth.
...
The too-painful lesson is that the villagers and decision-makers were too blinded by immediate gains to have a far-reaching vision about the impact of environmental pollution.

A local official was quoted as saying that most of the industrial projects attracted to the county have environmental problems. It was almost impossible to lure high-tech projects to such a poor county.

It seems that those poor localities in the west must choose between a clean environment and economic growth. Do they have another way out? We need an answer to this question for the development of the western region.[/quote]
[url=http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2006-09/15/content_5094667.htm]Clean environment or economic growth[/url]

[quote]A report released paints a damning picture of China's "deteriorating environmental conditions" and suggests 51 initiatives that could be implemented to improve the situation.

The report, published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development with the approval of the Chinese government, says China has not done enough to prevent pollution of its land, water and air.[/quote]
[url=http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=160827]China's environment 'deteriorating'[/url]

Report summary (pdf) available at:
[url=http://www.oecd.org/infobycountry/0,2646,en_2649_201185_1_70342_119663_1... > Information by Country > China > Country Surveys/Reviews/Guides[/url]

It's been quite some years since [i]The Bad Earth [/i]by Vaclav Smil was published - in 1980s. Painted a grim picture of China's environment. At the time, Chinese officials said Smil was wrong; but since then, has been official recognition of worsening environment. Now, as this thread shows, things are increasingly serious: even as China's economy booms, its environment goes downhill. (Tho yes, there are a few bright spots.)

From article just in [i]China Daily[/i]:

[i]The environment situation in the country is reaching a "critical point," the head of the environmental watchdog said over the weekend.

"More and more environmental problems are beginning to pop up," Zhou Shengxian, director of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), told the annual meeting of the China Council for International Co-operation on Environment and Development (CCICED).

"In some places, environmental problems have affected people's health and social stability; and damaged our international image."

More than half of the country's rivers are severely polluted, and about a third of the territory affected by acid rain, Zhou noted.
[/i]
[url=http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2006-11/13/content_730900.htm]ENVIRONMENT SITUATION AT 'CRITICAL POINT'[/url]

Also, signs that China has been stung by recent criticism of its impacts on environment within and outside the country:
The Western media have neglected the positive impact China has on the environment outside the country, according to a report released by a high-profile think tank.

The report "Review and Perspective of the Environment and Development of China" was presented by a special task force of the China Council for International Co-operation on Environment and Development (CCICED) at its annual meeting over the weekend. The task force consists of leading experts from home and abroad on global environmental and affiliated sectors.

"Too much stress on the negative environmental externality will limit China's rights to development," the report said.
[url=http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2006-11/13/content_730956.htm]Green impact 'ignored by media'[/url]

Business comment article in UK's Independent covers pollution in China. Includes:

[quote]Environmental lobbyists have long castigated Americans as the planet's "filthy rich", but it is time we turned our attention to the East. You may be surprised to learn that China emitted more CO2 last year than the whole of Europe, and at current rates will overtake the US as the planet's main polluter within two years. Already, 16 of the world's top 20 most polluted cities are in China.
...
Nearly 80 per cent of its river water is now considered polluted. It was highly symbolic when a recent expedition to save the Yangtse dolphin (a beautiful creature, once considered a god in China) reported a few weeks ago that it was too late. None could be found.

...
The pollution clouds from China blow across Korea and Japan and are even thought to be reaching the US. If viewed from space, vast sulphurous clouds blank out where Beijing and Shanghai should be on the planet.

A Shanghai steel trader met me as I landed in China with the words "welcome to the future". His beaming face portrayed the boundless optimism that is propelling China forwards. But if this future is one of poisoned water and smog-filled skies - forget it. It won't work.

Wake up and smell the carbon.[/quote]
[url=http://news.independent.co.uk/business/comment/article2150497.ece]Expert View: Message to China... wake up and smell the carbon[/url]

- Trouble is, it seems the national government has - albeit belatedly - woken up to China's pollution problems, but isn't powerful enough to solve the problem, including as local officials are too often greedy and corrupt, evidently quite happy to ignore pollution while the dollars flow in.
Even in Hong Kong, chief exec Donald Tsang has asserted that air pollution isn't a major health issue; HK air isn't as clean as the arctic's, but not too bad he has claimed.
As I write this, the visibility in HK is a few hundred metres, thanks to severe smog as a cold front trundles our way.

For some years, I've figured China set to be the largest country to undergo ecocide on grand scale. Maybe not really so enormous an issue as that, but several recent stories show the environment in too many places is highly strained, or even at critical point.
For instance, algal blooms in three major lakes recently; at one or two, leading to severe problems with supplying water to people. In all, harm to fisheries etc.

The Financial Times has carried reports on a World Bank report that's due out soon, and saying Chinese officials have argued for not publishing several of figures, such as 750,000 premature deaths per year because of env problems.
In today's South China Morning Post, these reports denied by China, but World Bank refusing to comment.

From FT of 2 July:
[quote]Beijing engineered the removal of nearly a third of a World Bank report on pollution in China because of concerns that findings on premature deaths could provoke “social unrest”.

The report, produced in co-operation with Chinese government ministries over several years, found about 750,000 people die prematurely in China each year, mainly from air pollution in large cities.
...
Advisers to the research team said ministries told them this information, including a detailed map showing which parts of the country suffered the most deaths, was too sensitive.

“The World Bank was told that it could not publish this information. It was too sensitive and could cause social unrest,” one adviser to the study told the Financial Times.

Sixteen of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China, according to previous World Bank research.
...
Missing from this report are the research project’s findings that high air-pollution levels in Chinese cities is leading to the premature deaths of 350,000-400,000 people each year. A further 300,000 people die prematurely each year from exposure to poor air indoors, according to advisers, but little discussion of this issue survived in the report because it was outside the ambit of the Chinese ministries which sponsored the research.

Another 60,000-odd premature deaths were attributable to poor-quality water, largely in the countryside, from severe diarrhoea, and stomach, liver and bladder cancers.

The mortality information was “reluctantly” excised by the World Bank from the published report, according to advisers to the research project.
[/quote]
[url=http://www.ft.com/cms/s/8f40e248-28c7-11dc-af78-000b5df10621.html]750,000 a year killed by Chinese pollution[/url]
A report in the FT the next day included:
[quote]Residents of polluted cities do not need the World Bank to tell them the air is filthy. They breathe the stuff every day. But Chinese officials are right to be nervous. Environmental protests – rural and urban – have proliferated in recent years as Chinese citizens become better educated and more forceful in defence of their rights. In Xiamen, angry residents have stalled plans to build a petrochemical plant seen as a source of lethal pollution.

However, the correct response to the sort of grim news contained in the World Bank report is not to suppress the truth but to tackle the underlying problem. Reducing emissions from coal-fired power stations, for example, is neither as expensive nor as difficult as businesses and the provincial governments with which they collude often pretend.

Moreover, China can tie the essentially domestic crisis of urban air pollution into solving the international problem of climate change. Spewing out local air pollutants and carbon, the main global warming gas, often go hand in hand. The same holds for modernising plants to avoid either type of emissions. Many foreign companies are eager to fund these clean-up projects in exchange for carbon credits valued at home. In the meantime, these could help China solve its local air pollution problem.

All of the above can only happen if Chinese leaders overcome their fear of the facts and start telling the truth. They may find it easier than they think and it would certainly produce better results.[/quote]
[url=http://www.ft.com/cms/s/10f81a12-29a5-11dc-a530-000b5df10621.html]China must come clean about its poisonous environment[/url]

Post edited by: Martin, at: 2007/07/06 11:47

Big, strong article in the New York Times - start of "A series of articles and multimedia examining the human toll, global impact and political challenge of China’s epic pollution crisis."

Includes:

[quote]No country in history has emerged as a major industrial power without creating a legacy of environmental damage that can take decades and big dollops of public wealth to undo.

But just as the speed and scale of China’s rise as an economic power have no clear parallel in history, so its pollution problem has shattered all precedents. Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party. And it is not clear that China can rein in its own economic juggernaut.

Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.

Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for the 2008 Olympics.

Environmental woes that might be considered catastrophic in some countries can seem commonplace in China: industrial cities where people rarely see the sun; children killed or sickened by lead poisoning or other types of local pollution; a coastline so swamped by algal red tides that large sections of the ocean no longer sustain marine life.

China is choking on its own success.
...
Since Hu Jintao became the Communist Party chief in 2002 and Wen Jiabao became prime minister the next spring, China’s leadership has struck consistent themes. The economy must grow at a more sustainable, less bubbly pace. Environmental abuse has reached intolerable levels. Officials who ignore these principles will be called to account.

Five years later, it seems clear that these senior leaders are either too timid to enforce their orders, or the fast-growth political culture they preside over is too entrenched to heed them.

In the second quarter of this year, the economy expanded at a neck-snapping pace of 11.9 percent, its fastest in a decade. State-driven investment projects, state-backed heavy industry and a thriving export sector led the way. China burned 18 percent more coal than it did the year before.

China’s authoritarian system has repeatedly proved its ability to suppress political threats to Communist Party rule. But its failure to realize its avowed goals of balancing economic growth and environmental protection is a sign that the country’s environmental problems are at least partly systemic, many experts and some government officials say. China cannot go green, in other words, without political change.
... [/quote]
[url=http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/world/asia/26china.html]As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes[/url]
Series at:
[url=http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2007/08/26/world/asia/choking_on_grow... on Growth[/url]

Another long, informed article - on US Council on Foreign Relations website.
Summary:
[quote]China's environmental woes are mounting, and the country is fast becoming one of the leading polluters in the world. The situation continues to deteriorate because even when Beijing sets ambitious targets to protect the environment, local officials generally ignore them, preferring to concentrate on further advancing economic growth. Really improving the environment in China will require revolutionary bottom-up political and economic reforms.

Elizabeth C. Economy is C. V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenges to China's Future.[/quote]
includes:
[quote]China has become a world leader in air and water pollution and land degradation and a top contributor to some of the world's most vexing global environmental problems, such as the illegal timber trade, marine pollution, and climate change. As China's pollution woes increase, so, too, do the risks to its economy, public health, social stability, and international reputation. As Pan Yue, a vice minister of China's State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), warned in 2005, "The [economic] miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace."
...
The country is home to 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, and four of the worst off among them are in the coal-rich province of Shanxi, in northeastern China. As much as 90 percent of China's sulfur dioxide emissions and 50 percent of its particulate emissions are the result of coal use.
...
Yet coal use may soon be the least of China's air-quality problems. The transportation boom poses a growing challenge to China's air quality.
...
The Gobi Desert, which now engulfs much of western and northern China, is spreading by about 1,900 square miles annually; some reports say that despite Beijing's aggressive reforestation efforts, one-quarter of the entire country is now desert.
...
As Liu Quangfeng, an adviser to the National People's Congress, put it, "Almost no river that flows into the Bo Hai [a sea along China's northern coast] is clean." China releases about 2.8 billion tons of contaminated water into the Bo Hai annually, and the content of heavy metal in the mud at the bottom of it is now 2,000 times as high as China's own official safety standard. ... More than 80 percent of the East China Sea, one of the world's largest fisheries, is now rated unsuitable for fishing, up from 53 percent in 2000.
...
China is already the largest importer of illegally logged timber in the world: an estimated 50 percent of its timber imports are reportedly illegal.
...
China's Ministry of Public Health is also sounding the alarm with increasing urgency. In a survey of 30 cities and 78 counties released in the spring, the ministry blamed worsening air and water pollution for dramatic increases in the incidence of cancer throughout the country
...
Why is China unable to get its environmental house in order? Its top officials want what the United States, Europe, and Japan have: thriving economies with manageable environmental problems. But they are unwilling to pay the political and economic price to get there. Beijing's message to local officials continues to be that economic growth cannot be sacrificed to environmental protection -- that the two objectives must go hand in hand.[/quote]
[url=http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20070901faessay86503-p0/elizabeth-c-econom... Great Leap Backward?[/url]

From new report on future of the world:
[quote]China is expected to become the world's biggest polluter and largest importer of natural resources.[/quote]
U.S. power, influence will decline in future, report says
 

[quote]China is the king of coal. It is the world's biggest producer and consumer but this reliance on coal is costing the country dear. For the first time top Chinese economists have calculated just how much this love affair with coal is costing the nation.
Last year environmental and social costs associated with China's use of coal came to RMB1.7 trillion – that's about 7.1 percent of the nation's GDP for the same year.
This staggering amount was calculated by China's top economists  in The True Cost of Coal, a new report commissioned by Greenpeace, the Energy Foundation and WWF.[/quote]
China's coal crisis [you can download report via this link]

Warnings and evidence of environmental disaster continue emerging; yet real action to reverse declines remains lacking. [Not that the planet as a whole is in great state by any means; China just more rapacious in devouring its environment than many a country.] For instance:

Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian said conflict between development and nature had never been so serious.

He said if China meant to quadruple the size of its economy over 20 years without more damage, it would have to become more efficient in resource use.

Otherwise, he said, there would be a painful price to pay.

China pollution 'threatens growth'

and:

"The ecological situation is terrible," admits Xu Jun of the Ministry of Science and Technology. More than a quarter of China's grasslands, for instance, have been lost to farming and mining activities in the past decade, and 90% of the country's remaining 4 million square kilometres of grassland is in poor health. The grassland loss contributes to problems such as water shortages and sandstorms.

Coastal areas are under even greater pressure — from pollution, drainage and development. "Of all ecosystems, wetlands are the worst hit," says Yu Xiubo, an ecologist at the Beijing-based Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

China faces up to 'terrible' state of its ecosystems

 

See this page on NASA site for image of east China covered by haze thanks to particulates in the air:

Winter haze blankets China

From results of a Gallup poll:

Fifty-seven percent of Chinese adults surveyed in 2011 -- before the country's economic slowdown grabbed headlines -- prioritized protecting the environment, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. About one in five believed economic growth is more important. Chinese attitudes are typical of those in other emerging-market economies, where residents sided with the environment over the economy in earlier surveys.
...

More Environmental Challenges Lie in Urban Areas

More than three in four (77%) Chinese are satisfied with current efforts to preserve the environment. Residents living in the urban areas, the hub of much of China's industrial activity, however, are significantly less satisfied than their rural counterparts with these efforts, as well as the quality of the air and water where they live. With good reason: The World Health Organization finds air pollution in Shanghai and Beijing is double or even triple the severity it is in London or Los Angeles. Further, China's Ministry of Environmental Protection finds groundwater at 57% of its monitoring sites in cities is polluted or extremely polluted.
...

Implications

China still lags behind developed countries in terms of efforts to protect the environment. At the same time, it is investing heavily in new energy sources and low-carbon technologies that could satisfy the substantial power demand from rapid urbanization while protecting the environment and reducing overreliance on coal.

Without aggressive strategies to combat pollution, China's environmental problems will likely only worsen as its urban areas continue to expand. Comprehensive urbanization policies that focus on conservation and the efficient use of natural resources such as energy, air, water, and land will be necessary to ensure the sustainability and quality of these resources in the future. On a regional level, cities such as Qingdao, Tianjin, and Shenyang are emerging as role models for urban economic and environmental development. They have all have shown leadership in developing best practices in successful green urban planning.

Majority of Chinese Prioritize Environment Over Economy

 

 

 

Back in 1984, Vaclav Smil warned of China's environmental troubles (much of which then "secret"; and most of which promptly denied, later acknowledged) in book titled The Bad Earth.

How apt the title now seems, given report in the Guardian that includes:

Nowhere is the global push to restore degraded land likely to be more important, complex and expensive than in China, where vast swaths of the soil are contaminated by arsenic and heavy metals from mines and factories.

Scientists told the Guardian that this is likely to prove a bigger long-term problem than air and water pollution, with potentially dire consequences for food production and human health.

Zhou Jianmin, director of the China Soil Association, estimated that one-tenth of China's farmland was affected. "The country, the government and the public should realise how serious the soil pollution is," he said. "More areas are being affected, the degree of contamination is intensifying and the range of toxins is increasing."

Other estimates of soil pollution range as high as 40%, but an official risk assessment is unlikely to be made public for several years.
...
Unlike in Europe where persistent organic pollutants are the main concern, Chen said China's worst soil contamination is from arsenic, which is released during the mining of copper, gold and other minerals. Roughly 70% of the world's arsenic is found in China – and it is increasingly coming to the surface with horrendous consequences.
...

Calls for a clean-up of the land are slowly gaining prominence. Huang Hongxiang, a researcher from the Institute of Agricultural Resources and Regional Planning, warned earlier this year that China needed to widen its focus from production volumes.

"If we don't improve the quality of farmland, but only depend on increasing investment and improving technology, then – regardless of whatever super rice, super wheat and other super quality crops we come up with – it will be difficult to guarantee the sustainable development of our nation's agriculture."

The clean-up begins on China's dirty secret – soil pollution

 

 

Excellent, lengthy article by Jonathan Watts, reflecting on his nine years' reporting from China includes:

The mix of communist politics and capitalist economics appeared to have created a system designed to exploit people and the environment like never before.
...
This has been a decade of cement and steel, a time when economic development has pushed into the most remote corners of China with a series of prestige projects
...
This has been an era of protest in China. The government stopped releasing figures a few years ago, but academics with access to internal documents say there are tens of thousands of demonstrations each year. The reasons are manifold – land grabs, ethnic unrest, factory layoffs, corruption cases and territorial disputes. But I have come to believe the fundamental cause is ecological stress: foul air, filthy water, growing pressure on the soil and an ever more desperate quest for resources that is pushing development into remote mountains, deserts and forests that were a last hold-out for bio and ethnic diversity.

This is not primarily China's fault. It is a historical, global trend. China is merely roaring along the same unsustainable path set by the developed world, but on a bigger scale, a faster speed and at a period in human history when there is much less ecological room for manoeuvre. The wealthy portion of the world has been exporting environmental stress for centuries. Outsourcing energy-intensive industries and resource extraction have put many problems out of sight and out of mind for western consumers. But they cannot be ignored in China.

The worst problems are found in the countryside: "cancer villages", toxic spills, pitched battles to block a toxic chemical factory, health hazards from air pollution and water and the rapid depletion of aquifers under the north China plain – the country's bread-basket.

The implications are global. China has become the biggest greenhouse-gas emitter on the planet. This year, it will probably account for half the coal burned in the world. The number of cars on China's roads has increased fourfold since 2003, driving up demand for oil. Meanwhile, there is less and less space and respect for other species. For me, the most profound story of this period was the demise of the baiji – a Yangtze river dolphin that had been on earth for 20m years but was declared extinct in 2006 as a result of river traffic, pollution, reckless fishing and massive damming.

I switched my focus to environment reporting. It was not just the charismatic megafauna and the smog, though the concern about air quality never went away. It is really not funny to send your children off to school on days of high pollution with a cheery "Try not to breathe too much", knowing they will probably be kept in at break-times because the air outside is hazardous.

As I have noted at greater length elsewhere, I had come to fear that China may be where the 200-odd-year-old carbon-fuelled capital-driven model of economic development runs into an ecological wall. Britain, where it started, and China may be bookends on a period of global expansion that has never been seen before and may never be repeated again.

Developed nations have been outsourcing their environmental stress to other countries and future generations for more than two centuries. China is trying to do the same as it looks overseas for food, fuel and minerals to satisfy the rising demand of its cities and factories. This has been extremely good news for economies in Africa, Mongolia, Australia and South AmericaI sympathise with China. It is doing what imperial, dominant powers have done for more than two centuries, but it is harder for China because the planet is running short of land and time.
...
 In the future, I believe the most important political division will not be between left and right, but between conservers and consumers. The old battle of "equality versus competition" in the allocation of the resource pie will become secondary to maintaining the pie itself.

China: witnessing the birth of a superpower

 

from Greenpeace:

Study on premature deaths reveals health impact of PM2.5 in China

Greenpeace calls for capping regional coal consumption

December 18, Beijing – An estimated 8,572 premature deaths occurred in four major Chinese cities in 2012, due to high levels of PM2.5 pollution, a joint study by Greenpeace East Asia and Peking University’s School of Public Health has concluded. The report also estimates PM2.5 pollution caused the cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi’an and Beijing to suffer a combined total of US$1.08 billion in economic losses over the past year. Greenpeace is calling for an urgent policy adjustment, including capping regional coal consumption, De-NOx retrofiting for existing coal-fired power plants, and shutting down inefficient coal-fired industrial boilers.

http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/releases/climate-energy/2012/ai...

From Daily Telegraph, Jan 2013:

ProfessorQuGeping–whobecamethefirstdirectorof China'senvironmental protection agency in 1987 – told Hong Kong's South China Morning Post that greater accountability was needed for Beijing to win its war on pollution.
"I've always felt ill at ease whenever I was recognised for my contribution to China's environmental protection, because the country now faces so many environmental problems," Prof Qu said. "But looking back, there was not much more I could have achieved as an individual. Without actions from the whole government and without changing the system, nothing could be done.
"I would not call the past 40 years' efforts of environmental protection a total failure," added Prof. Qu, who is now 83 and has received a number of prizes for his work. "But I have to admit that governments have done far from enough to rein in the wild pursuit of economic growth and failed to avoid some of the worst pollution scenarios we, as policymakers, had predicted."
...
Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Prof. Qu blamed a lack of government accountability for China's current environmental predicament.
Asked why Beijing's attempts to reconcile rapid economic growth with environmental protection had not been effective, Prof Qu replied: "I think it is because there was no supervision of governments." "It is because the power is still above the law."

From article in the Economist:

If China were simply following the path of rich countries from poverty through pollution to fresh air, there would be little to worry about (unless you lived in one of those hellish cities). But the parallels fall apart, for two reasons. One is time. When Britain’s industrial engine was gaining speed, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere were the same as they had been for millennia. Now they are half as high again, and not far off 450 parts per million, which most scientists think is the danger level. The other is place. China is so vast and its economy is growing so rapidly that its effect on the world is far greater than that of any other single country.

Dragon breath

The muck that spews from Chinese factories most immediately affects those unlucky enough to live nearby. In January 2013 the air of Beijing hit a level of toxicity 40 times above what the World Health Organisation deems safe. A tenth of the country’s farmland is poisoned with chemicals and heavy metals. Half of China’s urban water supplies are unfit even to wash in, let alone drink. In the northern half of the country air pollution lops five-and-a-half years off the average life.

Can China clean up fast enough?

The world’s biggest polluter is going green, but it needs to speed up the transition

 

As I write, there is serious smog over Hong Kong.
But even worse further north in China; newspaper photos have shown Shanghai, say, where looks more like heavy fog than murky smog.
NASA has picked smog over China as an image of the day:

http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=82535

News item in South China Morning Post includes:

Worsening smog on the mainland is blocking natural light and could spell disaster for agriculture, scientists have warned.

He Dongxian, an associate professor with China Agricultural University's College of Water Resources and Civil Engineering, said an experiment in Beijing over recent months showed a drastic slowdown in the photosynthesis process, which allows plants to thrive.

Applied on a larger scale, such a slowdown could affect agriculture, which contributes 10 per cent to GDP. Farm output was likely to be affected by serious air pollution in winter and spring, with the prices of agricultural products expected to rise.

Agriculture feels the choke as China smog starts to foster disastrous conditions

 

From Business Week:

Air pollution led to genetic changes that may have sapped learning skills in children whose mothers were exposed to a Chinese coal-fired power plant before it was shuttered a decade ago, researchers found.

Babies born in the southwestern Tongliang county just before the plant was shut in 2004 had significantly lower levels of a protein crucial to brain development in their cord blood than those conceived later, a March 19 report in the Plos One journal said. They also had poorer learning and memory skills when tested at age two, the study by Columbia University and Chongqing Medical University found.

“I wasn’t anticipating such a clear difference when we compared the first and second cohorts, and this shows how much of an impact effective policies can have on local populations,” said Columbia’s Deliang Tang, lead author of the report...

Air Pollution May Cause Genetic Harm in Kids, China Study Finds