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The Price Of Industrialization
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China's Battle To Control Pollution
 

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 its cities.

 

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 has.

 

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.

 

The Yangtze 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 the Earth.