By James Donahue
News reports of clouds
of toxic smog drifting across the Pacific Ocean over the United States from China,
and stories about the heavy grey smog making life unbearable in the great cities of Beijing
and Hong Kong, have left Americans thinking that China
is not concerned about its role as a world polluter.
But unlike the United States, which exceeds the world in the amount of toxic
gasses, chemical spills and waste dumped carelessly into the soil, water and air, Chinese leadership is keenly aware of its
pollution problem and is taking steps to do something about it.
China has created a government
office much like the United States Environmental Protection Agency that is called the State Environmental Protection Administration.
This office even maintains a website, which can be found in English at http://www.zhb.gov.cn/english/. Articles can be found on this site dealing with China’s
ongoing battle against the pollution created by the nation’s shift into a market economy and the industrialization of
Among China’s worst problem is its extreme population growth,
and the poverty-stricken masses who for centuries have dumped the discharge from personal and village sewage systems into
the streams, rivers and lakes without requiring a treatment process.
Now with “advancement”
into the industrial age, with workers finally earning enough to hang up their bikes and purchase automobiles, the exhaust
from millions of cars is now choking the cities in which they run. Mass transit vehicles that operate on diesel engines also
add to this mix, as do coal-fired electric generating plants. Factories that are now producing concrete, paper and plastics
are belching toxic chemicals through their many stacks into the skies. China
is facing the same problems that America
The Chinese leadership
has been quick to understand how this pollution is affecting human health, the quality of its air and water, and the quality
of its crops and even the overall economy of a growing nation.
The State Environmental
Protection Administration (SEPA) was created in 1998 to disseminate national environmental policy and regulations, collect
data and provide technological advice on environmental issues. Since China is a Communist country, its leadership has the
power to impose these rules with an iron fist, which gives it tougher controls over the ways its factories and its communities
deal with pollution than democratic America.
China was quick to realize
that its major problem involved overpopulation. The leadership attempted to do something about this as early as 1979 by announcing
a strict policy of allowing only one baby per household. But the law soon created problems in a culture where male children
were preferred, so it is suspected that female babies were aborted or killed. This created an eventual imbalance in the male
and female population. But the Chinese were on the right track although it deals with a massive population of over 1.3 billion
people even today.
The Chinese policy of
issuing birth quotas requiring women to obtain “birth coupons” before they even conceived was highly criticized
in the Christian west, but they had the right idea. If the world had joined in the attempt to control population growth that
early we would not be in the crisis we face today.
The pollution problem
for China also is turning out to be an
extremely difficult one to solve. With smog-stricken Beijing
selected as the site for the 2008 World Winter Olympics, there has been a major effort by the government to clean that city’s
air but the results so far have been a failure. A voluntary effort by more than 250,000 volunteers to leave their cars home
and find other ways to get to work on World Environment Day June 5 produced no significant decrease in the smog over the city.
And traffic appeared as grid-locked as ever. There presently are 2.6 million vehicles using the streets of that city.
River, the third largest in the world, was recently found to be “cancerous” with pollution and in
a dying state. There are 186 cities along that river’s banks that depend on the river for drinking water. Industrial
waste, sewage, agricultural pollution and shipping discharges are being dumped in the river. It absorbs more than 40 percent
of China’s waste water, and 80 percent
of that is untreated.
While China is making a concerted effort to tackle its problems
of pollution, it has been an uphill battle because of the extreme poverty that exists. The government cannot force people
to install sewage, waste and air treatment facilities that they cannot afford. The mere size of the country and the speed
at which industrial development is occurring has only created new problems before old ones can be resolved.
In 2002 China enacted the Cleaner Production Promotion Law that established
demonstration programs for pollution remediation in ten major cities, and designated certain river valleys as priority areas.
The government also has
promoted mass tree-planting programs and sponsored other efforts to make people aware of the need to protect and preserve