In a recent column, Nick describes the links between China’s brutal environmental tolls and its economic boom. While the government is working to curb pollution, dirty air and tainted water persist. Readers responded by sharing stories about brown air, smog clouds and bronchial issues, as well as suggesting that the situation calls for international cooperation. In the Chinese media, environmental news of the moment includes the ban (”限塑令”) prohibiting shops from giving out free plastic shopping bags that went into effect on June 1. Reactions have been warm, with one report from Xinhua news agency finding that most people are feeling confident about environmental protection (”大部分市民表现出的态度让人对 ‘环保’ 充满信心”).
Some readers who have visited China wrote about their pollution experiences. On recent trips, Judy Opsahl “rarely saw the sun,” munsongs, saw “no birds, no green,” Dr. John Koroloff said that based on statistics, Chinese are in effect “growing cancers faster than their economy.” Dale Lewis compared his stay in China to “the end of the world”:
I lived in China 1992-93. During winter the windstorms from the Gobi drove clouds of yellow dust into Xian where they merged with the black fog from everyone burning coal to stay warm and heat their wok and kettle. Going out in the streets exceeded any imagination I ever had of what the end of the world would be. Often I couldn’t see more than a few steps in front of me. When I blew my nose what came out was black, as were the Q-tips from cleaning my ears. Routinely government officials knocked on my classroom door and ordered all the students out. Later I would learn they were taken to the hospital to get injections to immunize against hepatitis. Food workers in night markets and fruit and vegetable sellers in the streets had limited access to running water. Even when there was access–as from my kitchen sink–the water frequently was contaminated by human waste, solid waste. In the less developed parts of China pollution is the way life is. When I returned to the US, my primary care physician was startled when a routine blood panel disclosed I was immune to Hepatitis A, B, and C. (So that’s why I became so ill!) Keep reporting about China. Not everyone realizes that Guanzhou, Shanghai, and the Beijing Olympics are not the China where most people live. Resources devoted to skyscrapers, airports, hotels, superhighways, and shopping malls mean Chinese children drink the toxic rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. And the schools that collapsed from the earthquake? The parents are right. An apartment house went up next to mine, and every day I watched what went on from my kitchen window. Truckloads of illiterate peasants rounded up in the countryside were dumped out at the building site to do the construction.
David R wondered about the effect of China’s pollution on the West Coast:
Reading this column, and living in San Francisco, where there has been a marked increase in Autistic children, I have to find myself wondering if pollution floating across the ocean has something to do with it. Maybe instead of mercury in vaccines, we should be looking for mercury in the air coming across the Pacific.
yanglu sounded miffed about China getting blamed:
“just as Californians can find Chinese-made shoes in their stores, they can now find Chinese-made haze in their skies.”
Can you show us with statistics and scientific attitude what percentage of haze in Californian skies is Chinese-made, and what percentage of haze in Shanghai is American-made?? It is easy to make accusations. Yes, just blame China on everything you are unhappy with, including your polluted air!
China bans disposable plastic shopping bags this June, what the US has done to show us you as the richest country are more responsibe to our mother earth, thus affords you the position to direct us on what we should do??
Several readers, including M. L., Crystal and Howard Xue viewed the Chinese government as taking action on pollution. Haoru Chen said it will take time for things to improve. BR added that the Chinese mindset isn’t green yet:
Great Column Nick! I’m especially interested in the environmental situation in China as I have been living there for the last couple of years. Despite the fact that there is growing resentment against heavy industry and the government for creating (or allowing) massive amounts of pollution, the Chinese mindset is not what we would “green” yet. I still see behavior here that baffles me at times. Simple things such as recycling and even throwing rubbish into a bin are ignored. How bad do things have to get for people to change their behavior? My theory is that things here have to get worse before they get better. Damage to the environment hasn’t really hit a critical level yet. When the thick haze of smog blots out the sun and even kindergarten kids are running around with a smoker’s cough, maybe they’ll take drastic measures. Until then, we’ll all keep dreaming of buying a new car.