There's a Sunday Review article in the New York Times that's a sobering reminder that one person's 'progress' can be another's disaster. One of the great stories of the late 20th century has been the rise of China as an industrialized nation and major trading partner in the global economy. It has literally happened within the lifetimes of many Chinese citizens.
But, what has been gained has come at a terrible price. Sheng Keyi has been making periodic visits to her old home town, and over the years the changes have mounted.
The Lanxi [river] is lined with factories, from mineral processing plants to cement and chemical manufacturers. For years, industrial and agricultural waste has been dumped into the water untreated. I have learned that the grim situation along our river is far from uncommon in China.This is what happens when those who deny the very idea of the public good, who promote the idea that the unfettered pursuit of private gain will regulate itself, are allowed free rein. That it is happening in a country once synonymous with communes and collectivism is beyond irony.
The nation has more than 200 “cancer villages,” small towns like mine blanketed with factories where cancer rates have risen far above the national average. (Some researchers say there are more than 400 such villages.) Last year the Ministry of Environmental Protection acknowledged the problem of “cancer villages” for the first time, but this is of little comfort to my parents’ neighbors and millions like them around the country.
More than 50 percent of China’s rivers have disappeared altogether, and few of the surviving waterways are not completely polluted. Some 280 million Chinese people drink unsafe water, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Nearly half of the country’s rivers and lakes carry water that is unfit even for human contact.
The pollution of Chinese soil and the destruction of potable water sources in China is actually limiting China's ability to feed itself. Tom Philpott at Mother Jones asks Are We Becoming China's Factory Farm?
It's now cheaper to produce pork in the US than in China. You read that right: Our meat industry churns out hogs for about $0.57 per pound, according to the US Department of Agriculture, versus $0.68 per pound in China's new, factory-scale hog farms. The main difference is feed costs. US pig producers spend about 25 percent less on feed than their Chinese counterparts, the USDA found, because the "United States has more abundant land, water, and grain resources."Note the emphasis on resources in the U.S. Compare and contrast:
Much of China's arable land is polluted. Fully 40 percent has been degraded by erosion, salinization, or acidification—and nearly 20 percent is tainted by industrial effluent, sewage, excessive farm chemicals, or mining runoff. The pollution makes soil less productive, and dangerous elements like cadmium have turned up in rice crops.Granted, few if any communist countries were ever known as environmental paradises, but the very inefficiencies of badly-directed state enterprises at least slowed the pace at which natural resources were exploited. The super-positioning of capitalist market forces on top of the old power structures seems to have resulted in a synergy of the most toxic aspects of both. As Sheng Keyi observes:
Chinese rivers have been vanishing since the 1990s as demand from farms and factories has helped suck them dry. Of the ones that remain, 75 percent are severely polluted, and more than a third of those are so toxic they can't be used to irrigate farms, according to a 2008 report by the Chinese government. According to the World Bank, China's average annual water resources are less than 2,200 cubic meters per capita. The United States, by contrast, boasts almost 9,400 cubic meters of water per person.
I know the illness does not just affect my village and my river. The entire country is sick, and cancer has spread to every organ of this nation. In our society, profit and G.D.P. count more than anything else. A glittering facade is the new face of China. Behind it, well-off people emigrate, people in power send their families to countries with clean water, while they themselves consume quality food and clean water through the networks that serve the privileged. Yet many ordinary people still refuse to wake up, as if they were busy digging at the soil beneath their own feet while standing on a precipice.The Republican obsession with deregulation and obeisance to corporate profits is in part driven by a desire to obtain the same reckless disregard for the environment that is enjoyed by business interests in China. When they call job-killing regulations are actually life-saving, a distinction they do their best to obscure. If corporations are citizens, and are entitled to free speech in the form of money, and the freedom to impose their religion on their employees, it would seem only fair to be able to bring them up on charges of manslaughter and reckless endangerment - and subject them to prison time.
Read the whole thing. Sheng Keyi's words need to be heard.