China Part 2

Sam Pawlett rsp at
Fri Aug 4 01:40:42 MDT 2000

The East is Black

Each year China's roaring factories discharge some 36 billion tons of
untreated industrial waste water and raw sewage into the country's
rivers, lakes and coastal seas.  That volume of waste is equal to the
entire annual flow of the Yellow River.  Four-fifths of China's rivers
and lakes are 'seriously polluted' and their waters unfit for drinking,
their fish unfit to eat.  Rapid development has turned big tracts of
China into environmental wasteland.  In places, the Grand Canal
resembles an open sewer.  According to a report from the Agricultural
Ministry in June, rural industrialization since the 1980's-one of the
World Bank's favourite projects has polluted some to million hectares of
farmland, causing losses of crops and animals worth $2.7 billion.19

China also now faces a solid waste crisis.  Whereas up until the 1980's
China did not really have garbage dumps because nearly everything was
recycled, following the mass promotion of consumer culture with its
excess packaging, disposable containers, and so on, China's cities now
face a glut of garbage.  By 1990 more than ten thousand dumps had been
built.  More than seven billion metric tons of industrial and house-hold
waste, little of which is recycled or treated to remove toxins, fill up
some 600 square kilometres of land.  Currently, in China's ten biggest
cities, some 3,000 tons of plastic wastes are produced every day.  To
add to these problems, China's for-profit market reformers have opened
up Guangdong province to the establishment of toxic waste dumps for
for-eign capitalists whose waste is unacceptable in their own
countries.  Things have got to such a state that even the US Embassy in
China, erstwhile champion of unrestrained market-led growth, concedes
that the situation has got out of hand.  In a recent report the Embassy
said that 'This rapid growth has had a devastating effect on the
environment  Solid wastes piled outside cities have leaked toxins into
the ground water and the water in many rivers does not meet the
standards for bathing much less drinking.' China's Agriculture Ministry
reported this year that more than 100,000 people were poisoned by
pesticides and fertilizers during I992 and I993. More than 14,000 of
them died.

Yet air pollution is probably China’s worst immediate problem. China’s
industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, particulates and heavy are
growing at staggering rates.  If present trends continue, shortly 2000
China will be the world's largest producer of acid rain and the I
largest emitter of greenhouse gases.  Scientists estimate that even if (
industry grows at only 8.5 per cent per year (less than half its current
of growth) by 2025 China will produce three times as much carboride as
the US.  China's National Environmental Agency reports that air
pollution has caused a sharp increase in deaths from lung cancer,
climbed 18.5 per cent in the major cities from 1988-93.  According to a
report by the Agency in June I995, polluted air and respiratory disease
is now the leading cause of death in urban and even rural areas of
China. And mercury and lead poisoning is on the rise among children.

Pollution is also undermining growth itself.  The government estimates
that environmental losses total some $I 2 billion annually, and Smil,
perhaps the world's leading authority on China's envirornment estimates
that environmental abuse already costs the country at least,, seventh of
its GDP.  China's industrial development is only just beginning.  Can
these trends continue indefinitely?  Smil warns that " Tomorrow's China
behaving as if there were no limits to its prosperity inflict
irreparable damage to its environment, and it would be the I contributor
to potentially destabilizing global climatic change, tinuation of
China's runaway economic growth would then be able p to inevitable
economic decline-and to more human suffering the next century.'41

VI. Capitalism Against Scientific Rationality

In the heyday of Britain's industrial revolution, Karl Marx marveled the
bourgeoisie whose 'constant revolutionizing of the instruments of
production', whose 'subjection of nature's forces to man, macl
application of chemistry to industry and agriculture... created massive
and colossal productive forces than all preceding generatio together.'
Marx didn't know the half of it.  To be sure, nascent industrialists
were already wreaking havoc on the environment in his day. But their
impact was still limited and localized.  Over most of the globe the air
was still reasonably clean,and, then at least. there was still plenty of
fish in the sea. Back then, Marx could scarcely have foreseen that
today's mega-corporations, fdriven by greed and global competition,
would devastate entire ecosystems, strip the earth and seas of
irreplaceable natural resources, and even alter the very climatre of the
planet threatening the critical biological bases of life.

The impact of capital's voracious appetite can readily be seen in the
global crisis of resource exhaustion. Pro-marketeers like the Economist
editors Rohwer and Cairncross take delight in ridiculing the Malthusian
environmental catastrophists and doom sayers of the 1960's and 1970's
who prophesied that the world was about to run out of food,or oil, or
was just about to descend into planetary environmental collapse. In
fact, they,contend, the world is os far from running out of resources
that the real prices of almost every commodity have fallen in the last
twenty years-- implying that there is glut and not shortage.

But they leap to the desired conclusion a little too fast. Yes, the doom
syers were wrong to think we were going to exhaust the planets supply of
oil. And they were wrong to suppose that population growth would soon
outstrip humanity's capacity to grow sufficient food. But a more
difficult question is, will we be abe to breathe the air if we burn up
all that oil? And will we be able to drink the water if we apply enough
pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to grow all that food?

Requiem For a Fish

In fact, Rohmer and Cairncross are tendentious, if not mendacious, iin
claiming that the falling prices for most commodities shows that the
extinction of natural resources is an econut fantasy. For market
competition is right now driving many crucial economic--not to say
aesthetic-- natural resources like forests, fisheries, fresh water lakes
to the point of absolute exhaustion. To take just one example, numerous
reports have warned of the collapse of commercial fisheries the world
ofver as, in a display of the vaunted rationality of the profit system,
commercial fishers are racing to harvest the last bounties-- and in so
doing, driving many species into extinction. According to the UN Food
and Agricultural Organization (FAO), nine of the world's seventeen
fisheries are now in serious decline four are depleted and the others
are 'fully exploited' or 'overexploited'. Some heavily fished species
are approaching not only commercial but biological extinction. Fish
prices are rising not falling. But far from this reducing pressure on
remaining stocks, which we should expect on the premises  of the
fantasy- world supply and demand model Cairncross and Rohwer propound,
this is only hastening their extermination. Take the bluefin tuna. These
prize dfish market for $7000 to $10000 oer fish, and retail in thinly
sliced portions at more that $11 an ounce ($176 per pound) are among the
most expensive in teh world. But their astronomical market price has not
saved them. Instead, even as their price rises, they are being hunted to
extinction. Sad to say, there's little doubt that someone, somewhere
perhaops even one of the Guandong nouveau riche entrepeneurs Rohwer is
so enamoured of, will pay whatever price is demanded to eat that last
fish. But then, perhaps, it does not matter if some fish become extinct,
since increaasingly ocean fish are too polluted to eat. According to
tests by the Consumers Union in 1992, 44 per cent of fish and shellfish
bought from  supermarkets were too contaminated to be deemed acceptable
for human consumption.

Entire ecosystems like coral reefs, mountain areas, dry tropical rain
rests and other tropical habitats that evolved over millions of years
are now being destroyed in a biohistorical blink of an eye.  Worldwide
topical rainforests are being felled at the rate of nearly 55,000 squar
miles a year, an area roughly the size of Florida.  At that rate,
according to the Harvard ecologist Edward 0. Wilson, the world's rain
forest ill be reduced by half in thirty years, and some 10-22 per cent
of rain forest species will be doomed in the next three decades.49 And
this to say nothing of the thousands upon thousands of species of
bird,amphibians, turtles, bats, primates, cetaceans, the hundreds of
thousands of invertebrates, and the untold numbers of plant species that
hat ready been driven to extinction over the last two centuries or
so-round under the wheels of profit-driven development,
over-exploitation and pollutions We are not just losing 'a few bugs'
here and there, as the anti-environmentalists whine.  Species extinction
has accelerated  to such a rate that, according to Wilson, some 50,000
species a year, or about six every hour, are being doomed to eventual
extinction I a genuine holocaust ... That sounds alarmist.  But I invite
anyone to check through the figures. Ecologist Jared Diamond of UCLA
concludes that if current trends continue, even taking into account the
uncertainties, 'something like half the species that now exist will go
extinct or will be on the verge of going extinct in the next century'.51

Better Living Through Chemistry?

Modern capitalist development is also fast exceeding nature's capacity
to act as a 'sink' to absorb pollution.  Most toxic environments
pollution comes from the production of raw materials-the global complex
of mines, smelters, chemical plants, steel and aluminum ills, pulp
mills, and other facilities that churn out the raw material that go to
make up finished commodities from cars to clothes and buildings.
Over-cutting has already decimated forest ecosystems if Canada, Brazil,
Malaysia.  Mining and smelting have ruined whole mountains, valleys and
rivers from Arizona to Chile, from Brazil to New Guinea.  Oil extraction
has decimated land and water fron Alaska to the North Sea.
Petrochemical biocides are ruining soil fron the US to Uzbekistan.  The
ever-growing demand for raw materials is largely driven by the
extravagant levels of consumption of raw materials for the consumer
economies of the inustrial world.According to  calculations by John
Young of the World Watch Institute, the average American accounts for
the use of some 540 tons of construction materials, 18 tons of paper, 23
tons of wood,  16 tons of metals, and 32 tons of organic chemicals in
the course of a lifetime.  Yet, as Young points out, these current rates
of materials production are unsustainable, not so much because we are
likely to run out of raw materials, but because the processes used to
produce them court human and ecological catastrophes

VII.  The Chinese Attitude

China's leaders readily concede the gravity of the environmental threats
facing their country.  But they insist that pollution is a global
problem and that the main responsibility for cleaning it up should fall
on the developed countries.  At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro
the Chinese quite rightly pointed out that, two hundred years after the
industrial revolution, the world economy has greatly advanced and the
developed countries are the main beneficiaries: Today, the
industrialized North, which has 2 5 per cent of the world's population,
owns 86 per cent of the world's industry and consumes 8o per cent of
world energy.  In comparison, the South which claims 75 per cent of the
world's population, owns only I4 per cent of world industry and consumes
just 20 per cent of world energy.  Moreover, developed countries account
for roughly 8o per cent of global pollu-tion of all kinds.  On a per
capita basis, the discrepancy is even greater.  The us discharges ten
times more carbon dioxide per capita than China.  With considerable
justice, therefore, China and the South demanded that if the developed
countries wanted the developing South to adopt clean technologies, they
should provide financial assistance for technology transfer.  This is a
reasonable demand but it is important to ask whether, in the Chinese
case, it is not an excuse to carry on just as they are.

China's pollution may be comparatively light in per capita terms.  But
in absolute terms China is already the third largest contributor to
global climate changes, after the US and Russia.  By 2050, if current
trends continue, China will be the leader by far, emitting a projected
40 per cent of the world's carbon dioxide.  China also contributes
heavily to the destruc-tion of the ozone layer through its heavy use of
ozone depleting substances (ODSS) including chlorofluorocarbons.  Since
1986, demand for foam mattresses, office chairs, aerosols,
air-conditioners, refrigerators and supermarket freezer cases has
propelled Chinese consumption of ozone-depleting compounds from 3 to 18
per cent of the world total.  China wasp robably the largest global
consumer of ODSS in 1996, and its consumption will nearly double to just
under 120,000 tons by the end of the decade. 54

China has,in fact, doubled expenditures on pollution controlsince the
mid-80's. But average annual expenditure of Y83 billion (about $950
million) between 1991 and 1995 represent less than .7 per cent of
China'S GNP. China's own experts say that the country needs  to spend at
least 2 per cent of GNP just to prevent worsening water shortages and
air pollution, and 2.5 per cent and more to begin to reverse the tide of
pollution.  China's National Environmental Protection agency (NEPA) has
called for spending $23 billion by the year 2000 but that sum includes
money to be used on dams, cleaner energy  and related industries-not
just cleanup. 55 China's Ninth Five-Year Plan ( the years i996-2ooo
budgets just 56 billion yuan ($6.75 I-35 billion) per year for
environmental protection projects and air pollution control, solid waste
disposal, and noise abatement. 56 The Chinese have also received funds
from the World Bank that currently channels around $500 million per year
into environmental projects in China.  But all this does not come close
to meeting the nations needs.

In May 1996 China's State Council announced a big clean up effort  to
bring the country's river pollution under control, ordering the shutdown
down of some 5o,ooo heavily polluting rural and township factories
mainly paper mills, tanneries, electroplating and chemical works. While
environmentalists welcomed the news that the government was finally
taking action on pollution, the closures did not affect the major
polluters-large state industries.

Cash for the Clean-Up

With a trade surplus in I995 Of $20 billion, and record foreign exchange
reserves of $100 billion, China's rulers are not short of cash.  There
is plenty to squander on golf courses, fenced-off communities, villas
and Hong Kong real estate.  They have plenty to waste on military
build-up.  China's leaders recently announced that  to spend 1 billion
dollars on Russian jet fighters-with which to threaten Taiwan.  This
expenditure alone is more than the governments average annual
expenditures for pollution control in the early 1990s.  And they are
also shopping for aircraft carriers.  They also have plenty of foreign
exchange to invest overseas buying up Peruvian mines, Canadian paper
mills, French shopping malls, Australian meat processors, New Zealand
steel mills, Hong Kong banks, American properties and businesses, to say
nothing of importing whole fleets of Mercedes Benz limousines-China is
now the largest market for Mercedes Benz and will likely soon be the
largest foreign market for Rolls-Royce.

We in the wealthy industrialized countries should emphatically demand
that our governments and corporations transfer the latest clean
technology to Third World countries as quickly and cheaply as possible.
But neither we nor the Chinese should tolerate the Chinese
leaders' fraudulent claim that they do not have the cash to clean up
their mess.

Furthermore, China's leaders have militantly resisted international
efforts to persuade their country to set quotas for pollution
reduction.  As recently as April 1995, at the first follow-up to the Rio
confer-ence, the Chinese delegation to the First Conference of the
Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change in Berlin, China's
representative, Liu Daquan, insisted that 'My delegation is firmly
opposed to any attempt to impose limitations or reduction obligations on
the developing country parties at this stage'59 Li Junfeng, a senior
energy-researcher for the State Planning Commission, has put the matter
even more bluntly: 'It is just as hot in Beijing as inWashington, DC.
You try to tell the people in Beijing  that they cant buy a car or an
air-conditioner because of the global climate change issue.  If we
reduce our emission of gasses it means we must reduce our energy
consumption.  When people get rich, they want to buy an air-conditioner
or a car; that will increase energy consumption."6o

In sum, China's leaders seem to think that they-and the rest of the
developing world-have the right to develop and to pollute with the same
profligacy as the advanced industrialized nations have done-and damn the
consequences.  Of course, there is nothing to stop them from operating
on this principle.  But if they do so, and
if the industrialized countries also remain hell bent for growth
regardless of the consequences, there seems little prospect of slowing
the increase, much less reducing, emissions of carbon dioxide and other
substances without which global climatic disaster looms as a real

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