Wednesday, March 20, 2013

China's top six environmental problems

China's air pollution isn't just a problem that is causing trouble with its neighbors, it's a major domestic health issue. It's also only one of six environmental problems the country faces, according to LiveScience.

China's Top 6 Environmental Concerns
China's environmental crises seem to arise on a scale as sweeping and epic as the vast nation itself:

Thousands of dead, bloated pigs floating down the river that supplies Shanghai with its drinking water. Air pollution in Beijing so impenetrable the U.S. Embassy's air quality measuring station can only call it "beyond index." Industrial towns where rates of cancer are so high they're known as "cancer villages."

Compounding these problems is the Chinese government's stony silence about anything that might imperil the country's economic development — including environmental regulation.

But China's increasingly restive population of 1.3 billion people is now starting to demand government action to combat the deadly plagues of pollution and disease that are stalking the 21st century's economic powerhouse.
Follow over the jump for the full listing of all six issues along with recent stories illustrating each one.

Air pollution

CNN: Pollution: China's 'airpocalypse'

China sees it's worst pollution in a decade as thick smog sets in on Beijing heightening health concerns.
This might be a good candidate to show to my environmental science class.

Water pollution

LinkTV: Move Over, Smog: China's Water Pollution Off the Charts (LinkAsia: 3/1/13)

A side effect of rapid industrialization and few regulations, China's rivers are often treated as little more than sewers. But as LinkAsia contributor Mark Dreyer reports, an online campaign to clean up the country's water is gathering steam.
LinkTV: Pigs on the River Shanghai: Public Outcry Over Corpses (LinkAsia: 3/15/13)

Shanghai's Huangpu River, one of the city's main water sources, was filled to the brim this past week with the rotting corpses of almost 3,000 pigs. LinkAsia's Jing Gao reports that this triggered a massive public outcry on China's social networks about the poor state of the country's environmental and food safety regulations.

Washington Post: China’s disposable chopstick addiction is destroying its forests
Posted by Caitlin Dewey
March 14, 2013
China uses 20 million trees each year to feed the country’s disposable chopstick habit, Bo Guangxin, the head of a major forestry group, told Chinese parliamentarians on Friday according to Chinese state media. At 4,000 chopsticks per tree, that’s roughly 80 billion chopsticks per year — far more than the 57 billion estimated by the country’s national forest bureau.

While this is hardly the first time that the chopstick issue has come up in China, the new numbers make the problem look particularly urgent. The country’s last forest survey, published in 2009, documented rampant deforestation and forest quality far below the global average. Greenpeace has even dedicated a campaign to the chopstick problem, blaming it for the destruction of 1.18 million square meters of forest every year.
I've already told my students about this one.

Loss of Biodiversity

Scientific American: Giant Pandas at Risk from New Chinese Forestry Policies
By John R. Platt
February 13, 2013
China's efforts to conserve and grow its populations of endangered giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are at odds with its own changing forestry policies, which could damage or destroy up to 15 percent of the pandas' habitat, according to conservationists writing in the February 1 issue of Science.

At the heart of the matter is a long-brewing reform of China's collective forest tenure system, which since the 1950s has put control of plantations and second-growth forests under local governments known as village collectives. As explained in a 2009 report from the World Forest Institute... the state owns all forests in China but villages can allocate the right to use small plots within collective forests to individuals and households, who harvest them for timber, firewood, food and medicine, all of which are vital to rural livelihoods.

Unfortunately, the collective forest system is no longer in synch with China's growing economy. The need for timber and paper has soared and state-owned forests (which are not under collective control) cannot keep up. For more than a decade China has been moving more of its logging operations into plantations instead of natural forests and importing more and more wood from other countries. About 50 percent of all lumber shipped worldwide is now destined for the Chinese market.
Cancer villages

NTDTV: China's "Cancer Villages" Acknowledged by Government Report

On Wednesday (Feb 20) China's Ministry of Environmental Protection released a report acknowledging what it calls "cancer villages." Places where pollution is creating above average cancer rates among locals. While the term is not new, its use in official reports is.

This map was first posted by investigative journalist, Deng Fei, in 2010. It plots the location of 100 or so cancer villages. Since then, more recent reports estimate there are closer to 400 of these toxic towns.

Over the past three decades, the mortality rate from cancer shot up 80%. It's now China's biggest killer disease. Stomach cancer rates for rural Chinese are twice that of the world average. Liver cancer is three times the global average.
Population growth

China Reforms: The End of the One Child Policy? (LinkAsia: 3/8/13)

China's annual National People's Congress just completed its first week, and there are signs that this Congress is going to be different from the boring meetings of recent years. LinkAsia speaks with David Bandurski of Hong Kong University about the new faces in the Chinese government, and the spirit of reform in the air this year.
There is talk about China relaxing the One Child Policy to improve economic growth, which will increase population growth. According to this earlier report from NTDTV, that's not going to happen: China Won't Change One-Child Policy

But hopes that current Chinese leaders would issue at least some degree of reform were crushed earlier today. Wang Xia, Minister in charge of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, announced that the one-child policy is here to stay.

According to this statement, Wang reiterated that "The policy should be a long-term one and its primary goal is to keep a low birth-rate."

Modern China has been shaped by the one-child policy. According to the official Chinese think-tank, the China Development Research Foundation, the policy has been responsible for an ageing population, gender imbalances, a growing shortage of migrant workers, and ultra-low fertility rates. Human rights and women rights groups have decried it for a string of forced abortions and sterilizations throughout the country.
The Chinese regime started the one-child policy in 1980. In October 2011, state-run People's Daily stated the one-child policy had "prevented" 400 million births.
I might just show this last one to my environmental science classes as well.

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