China could face environmental disaster

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  • #4834

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

    Winter haze blankets China

    #4860

    From results of a Gallup poll:

    Quote:
    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

     

     

     

    #4861

    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:

    Quote:

    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

     

     

    #4862

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

    Quote:
    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

     

    #4883

    from Greenpeace:

    Quote:
    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/air-pollution-health-economic/

    #4886

    From Daily Telegraph, Jan 2013:

    Quote:
    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."

    #4904

    From article in the Economist:

    Quote:
    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

     

    #4911

    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

    #4915

    News item in South China Morning Post includes:

    Quote:

    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

     

    #4917

    From Business Week:

    Quote:

    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

     

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