Thursday, February 28, 2013

Another Taste of Pollution in China

There are several notable recent stories about China's pollution. I don't think this is a topic that can grow old. In so many respects, pollution presents a major challenge for China. And some of its impact will be felt throughout the world. You might not be in Beijing, Shijiazhuang, or Changsha to taste the air, but here is a taste of the news:

1. Often the focus is on air pollution, but air is not the only issue. For example, soil pollution is an area of concern. How bad is soil pollution in China? Well, it's hard to say since as Tania Branigan reported in The Guardian:
China's leading environmental watchdog has refused to disclose the results of a major national soil pollution study on grounds of state secrecy, according to a lawyer who requested the report's disclosure...

Beijing-based lawyer Dong Zhengwei told the state-run Global Times newspaper that he had requested the findings of the five-year, 1bn yuan (£100m) study because he believed soil pollution could be a serious safety threat.

But the ministry of environmental protection told him it would only release some details because the full report was a state secret, he said...

"The environmental ministry has been releasing real-time information about air pollution even though the air in Beijing was so bad last month. In contrast, soil pollution is a 'state secret'. Does this suggest that the land is contaminated much worse than the air?"
Read the article here for more details about estimates of soil pollution in China and signs of growing public concern about pollution.

2. One man in China had a creative idea for how to draw attention to the pollution in a nearby creek: he challenged local officials to swim it. As Tom Phillips reported in The Telegraph, the man received more attention than he bargained for:
Mr Chen, a farmer who has spent the last decade fighting pollution, posted his challenge on the internet, hoping it would trigger government action.

Instead, his daughter says he was severely beaten by a gang of baton-wielding men at around 6am last Sunday.

"My father was alone at home," said 32-year-old Chen Xiufang. "Some 40 people turned up in plain clothes, some holding batons. The only thing they said was: "[You] used the internet, you always use the internet!"

"The whole thing lasted four or five hours until the police arrived. My father got hit in the head by six or seven people, with their fists. He is now feeling dizzy and sleeping all the time," she added, claiming the attack had been orchestrated by local officials.
Read more about Mr. Chen's plight here.

3. Fortunately, some government officials are responding to the concerns about pollution. In fact, officials came up with what I think is safe to call a "unexpected proposal": banning outdoor barbecues. As Minnie Chan and Li Jing reported in the South China Morning Post, at least some Chinese citizens are skeptical of the plan:
"Does anyone believe the smog will be easily controlled after a barbecue ban?" one internet user commended. "We are not fools like some leaders."

"What is [the Ministry of Environmental Protection] going to consider next?" another user asked. "Will they ban cooking, too? My family still uses a wood-burning stove."

Other online comments suggested that the ministry was targeting average citizens because it could not come up with pollution-reduction measures that were acceptable to the industries most responsible for pollution.
Read more about the barbecue ban proposal here.

4. Articles about "massive nitrogen pollution" in China, Beijing's air pollution yet again reaching levels "beyond index", and other variations on the pollution theme are out there as well.

And I expect more will be coming.

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