The Green Leap Forward [Washington Monthly]
The article is of primary interest for the way it throws around supposed facts. They make interesting reading:
1. Ninety percent of the country’s cities have contaminated groundwater.
2. The World Bank predicts that in the next fifteen years, China’s shortage of clean water will create 30 million “environmental refugees.”
3. As much as 40 percent of the air pollution in Japan and Korea can be traced to China - now China's pollution is becoming a global problem.
4. "On bad days, a quarter of Los Angeles’s smog originates in China." - now that must be an incentive for the US to act.
5. "Just by breathing the city air, Lanzhou’s 3 million residents inhale the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day." - there have to be side effects down the line. Just as the UK bans smoking in doors. No such luxury for the Chinese.
6. "Time reported that only 6 percent of Chinese agricultural products imported to the United States are free from pollution." - what is the equivalent figure for US exports I wonder.
This is a good description of the situation in Bejing - no wonder the Chinese are making such effort for the Olympics. Athletes and the equivalent of a packet a fags a day do not go well together.
Like other cities in China, Beijing has a daily weather report and a daily pollution report. On the increasingly crowded freeways, drivers can see only so far ahead; each car leaves a wake in the smog. The dank air creeps inside buildings, into cars, into hotel rooms, leaving you nowhere to escape the distinct smell and the feeling of a weight always on your chest. The sun looks like a flashlight wrapped in cotton gauze, and the sky remains beige no matter the time of day. Most days, the city has no discernible skyline. Most nights, no moonlight or starlight pierces the darkness.
Now lets get to the ECONOMICS. Ultimately this is what is of primary concern for the average Chinese citizen and politican/official. My bold.
More important, environmental problems now threaten the sustainability of China’s economic expansion. Already the costs of environmental cleanup, property damage, and lost productivity are staggering. China’s State Council, the nation’s highest administrative body, reported that pollution cost the country more than $200 billion in 2005, almost 10 percent of the country’s GDP. Industry releases 2,000 tons of airborne mercury each year, which settles into the soil, contaminating 12 million tons of grain each year and threatening food safety, including China’s $31 billion agricultural export market. (Time reported that only 6 percent of Chinese agricultural products imported to the United States are free from pollution.) The future portends to be more alarming still. Water scarcities could shut down paper mills and petrochemical plants. Air pollution in Hong Kong could force a mass exodus of talent (already hedge fund managers are fleeing the smog for Singapore). The country’s deputy environmental director, Pan Yue, has warned, “China’s economic miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace.”
Even more troubling, the effects of pollution—poisoned water and contaminated fields—are provoking riots in the countryside. Or, as China’s environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, has observed, the environment has become an issue that “triggers social contradictions.” In 2005, the government reported 51,000 pollution “disputes,” many of them violent. More villages each year form local militias to guard water rights. This makes Communist Party leaders deeply uneasy. After all, for millennia China’s history has been defined by dynasties rising and falling, the ruling powers frequently toppled by angry peasants whose welfare was neglected. As Minxin Pei, the director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explained, “The government is willing to tolerate anything but social instability.”
The trouble, and as we have covered numerous times in this blog under the corruption tag, is that it matters not how strict the country's environmental regulations, they are simply not enforced. This article gives us a hint as to why.
The central government no longer maintains a permanent presence in the provincial capitals, so there is no energetic national oversight of what happens in a place like Lanzhou. Local environmental bureaus are supervised and financed not by Beijing but by provincial authorities whose officials would be unable to afford their chauffeur-driven cars without payoffs from potential polluters. As a result, China has numerous national laws that sound wonderful on paper but can’t be enforced. David Lampton, head of the China studies department at Johns Hopkins University’s School for Advanced International Studies, has popularized the term “implementation bias” to describe this phenomenon. He defines it as “the situation in which every central initiative will be distorted in favor of the organization or locality responsible for implementation.”
This breakdown in governance is so pronounced that, in defiance of Beijing’s ambitious targets, the country’s environment is getting worse, not better. Official reports likely understate the problem, but those numbers are troubling enough. Beijing vowed in 2002 to reduce sulfur emissions by 10 percent in three years, yet they climbed by nearly 30 percent. More than 4,000 rogue mines leach mercury into the soil. An estimated one in five power plants operate illegally—enough to fully power the United Kingdom. Last year, Mao Rupai, chair of the congressional environmental committee, estimated that in some far-flung provinces as few as 30 percent of environmental regulations are upheld.
H/T: Conservation Finance