Tuesday, August 28, 2007

China on my mind

I’ve been thinking a lot about China this week, and not because of the Mattel toy recall story. On the weekend, the New York Times began a series “examining the human toll, global impact and political challenge of China’s epic pollution crisis.” The first installment, “As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes” is a major piece of journalism (with a good online component), detailing the environmental challenges China faces as its economic growth continues to explode. The numbers are staggering. Here are some excerpts:

Nearly 500 million people in China lack access to safe drinking water.

Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union.

Much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China.

The level of particulate matter is measured in micrograms per cubic meter of air. The European Union stipulates that any reading above 40 micrograms is unsafe. The United States allows 50. In 2006, Beijing’s average PM 10 level was 141.

Farmers in the north once used shovels to dig their wells. Now, many aquifers have been so depleted that some wells in Beijing and Hebei must extend more than half a mile before they reach fresh water.

China’s environmental monitors say that one-third of all river water, and vast sections of China’s great lakes, the Tai, Chao and Dianchi, have water rated Grade V, the most degraded level, rendering it unfit for industrial or agricultural use.

In 2005 alone, China added 66 gigawatts of electricity to its power grid, about as much power as Britain generates in a year. Last year, it added an additional 102 gigawatts, as much as France.

And, most damning of all, the World Bank estimates that upwards of 750,000 people a year in China are killed due to pollution-related causes.
There’s more, including fairly pessimistic opinions about what can be done to control these problems. A sobering read — and no mention of Mattel anywhere.

1 comment:

Unapologetic Winnipegger said...

And to think that China was the model of efficiency a few decades ago, much like Hugo Chavez is in vogue now.

I think there will be a day of reckoning for the corporate world's doing business on China's terms. The pendulum has swung from an attempt to impose outright capitalism on an unsuspecting Russia (whose citizenry traded valuable equity in their formidable natural resources for loaves of bread) to a willingness to do anything to seal the deal. They need Windows or a search engine? We'll give them keyword monitoring too to control poltical insurgents. They want factories? We'll build them with the full knowledge that they don't respect fundamental human rights and contract law.

While I hope that China becomes integrated into the global economy, I can't help but have the suspicion that once development hits a certain point, all of their economy will be nationalized and everyone's capital investments will be lost.

But then again, these could be the baby steps towards responsible means of production, respect for workers, etc...