CHINA’S DEPUTY ENVIRONMENT MINISTER : PARASITES HEAD FOR CANADA——–(PART 2 of “WHEN A BILLION CHINESE JUMP”)
“When A Billion Chinese Jump” contains numerous revelations, many of which are relevant to the immigration issue. Here are three :
(1) The first, the following statement from China’s Deputy Minister of the Environment, Pan Yue, will shock many because it has been said so publicly by such a secretive government :
“Coal mine owners…indiscriminately extract coal and dig up the land, creating pollution. As a result, they become extremely wealthy. Once they have polluted…, they do not stay there. Instead, they move to Beijing, where they buy luxury villas and push up house prices. They have also pushed up property prices in all the coastal regions of North China. If these areas then become polluted, they will then move to the U.S., Canada, or Australia and cause inflation there too. They take all the benefits of polluting industries, but pay nothing toward the cleanup costs.” (P.183)
The big question Canada should be asking is this : If the Chinese government is admitting such nationally embarrassing information to all the world, how are these people entering Canada? The answer is that they are probably coming here as (1) Skilled Workers, (2) Entrepreneurs, or (3) Investors. Canada is supposed to check the background of its immigrants to determine the origin of their finances and to detect evidence of criminal or other suspicious behaviour. But Canada’s intake is so high that it is beyond Canada’s capacity to handle. For example, of the immigrants admitted, Canada fully assesses only 17% on the basis of their employment and language skills. Background checks are also probably minimal. On top of all of this, Canada continues to ignore important advice that was given in the 1990’s. Federal audits that were done then concluded that two of the categories these people are using to enter Canada (Entrepreneurs and Investors) were “riddled with fraud” and should have been terminated.
In addition, as some people have noted, a significant number of recent very wealthy Chinese immigrants are re-creating the chaos and cesspools they are fleeing from, by driving up Canadian house prices, flipping houses, and overpopulating the areas they move into. The costs of the damage these people have already done in China are relatively easy to calculate. The immediate costs of inflated house prices to Canadian house buyers and of the gridlock in Canada’s cities are easy to see. The future costs of climate change melting China’s 46,000 glaciers (two-thirds of which are predicted to disappear by 2050) , the flooding of many areas in and out of China and the creation of millions of environmental refugees are harder to determine, but probably astronomical. Watts does not say much about these costs. But it would make sense for Canada to treat environmental criminal immigrant applications in the same way as criminal immigrant applications. Both should be rejected.
(2) The second will surprise many and remind them of Canadian federal-provincial disputes over matters such as education, resources, and even immigration, a topic which most provinces have a very weak grasp of. Most Canadians probably think that a one party state like China should be able to be as heavy-handed with environmental abusers as it was with dramatically reducing the growth of its population, However, China’s central government is “alarmingly shaky”, according to Watts and Chinese experts.
China’s President and Premier are constantly lobbying for support among representatives from China’s provinces. Even after the central government passes environmental laws, it has to deal with provincial governments which are full of “Mini-Maos” who think their way is best. These provinces face pressure, on the one hand, from Chinese looking for jobs and, on the other, from businesses searching for places that will enable their factories to operate with the lowest environmental standards possible. Most sinister is that the Mini-Maos and other officials are subject to bribery. The result is that many of China’s national environmental laws are ignored by the provinces.
Despite all of this, Watts has hope. His sub-title, “How China Will Save Mankind—–or Destroy It” is a long-considered conclusion to his years of research and travel throughout China. Watts believes China’s sheer numbers and its choices will not just affect but probably determine the future of humanity. Currently, China is the world’s worst polluter. If it chooses to continue the path it is on, its enormous population will accelerate environmental destruction and ensuing climate change. However, if it chooses to use the technological advances it alone has made and becomes an eco-country, its massive influence could save the planet.
(3) The third revelation applies to all countries which still cannot understand that Nature has imposed limits on the size of their populations. All through his book, Watts refers to areas with enormous numbers of people and overwhelming poverty. The conclusion a reader makes is that China’s lesson to the rest of humanity is that high populations are of no benefit to countries, should be avoided, and are a major obstacle to humanity co-habiting with Nature.
Because China has such a high population (at least 1.2 billion people) and is industrializing, it has far exceeded its ability to support its own people. It now has extremely limited wriggle room in dealing with its environmental problems. Watts does say that China was living within its resource means until Mao’s time. However, it is probable that it had far too many people even 100 years ago when it had a population of 400 million and was exporting people to other countries to relieve its poverty. Carrying capacity experts could settle this matter.
In addition, although Watts notes that China has a large amount of land supposedly reserved for agriculture, he repeatedly describes how vast amounts of China’s farmland have been converted to cities and industrial sites.
Watts’ book is a fine piece of work. If it is to be faulted for anything, it is that an environmental book like his should have dealt with a few other important environmental facts. A key one for China and everywhere else is that the total amount of land surface that a country or continent possesses has little to do with its ability to support its inhabitants. If total land surface really were the determining factor, then there would be huge numbers of people in Antarctica. But there are only a handful there and only a few in the northern hemisphere’s coldest regions. Climate and the amount of arable, food-producing land are much more important determining factors than a country’s total land surface. Distributing wealth more fairly in China or other countries would solve some problems, but it is far from the only thing to do.
As Canada’s Science Council said in 1976, it makes no sense to say that Canada or other countries with large land masses can take huge numbers of people. It also makes no sense to say at this time, when the world’s population is reaching 7 billion, that a country with a relatively low population should add more people. The arable land a country has should first be used to support its own people. As the Science Council said, if Canada wants to do some good outside its borders, it would be far better to use its arable land to grow food and sell that surplus food to other countries. Allowing people from China, India and other vastly overpopulated countries, which have been environmental disasters for years, to come to Canada and build houses on Canada’s arable land is senseless. All countries have to exercise responsibility to control their populations and to respect their carrying capacity. Allowing vastly overpopulated countries to dump their excess population on Canada makes these countries think they never have to get their environmental houses in order.
“When A Billion Chinese Jump” has much more to say. Summaries of Chapters 10 to 16 of are available below.
The following are summaries of Chapters 10 to 16 in “When A Billion Chinese Jump” :
In Chapter 10, Watts travels to Shanxi Province, one of three (along with Shaanxi and Inner Mongolia) which form the Black Belt where more than 5.2 million miners work. He notes that China gets 69.5% of its energy from coal. Between 2003 and 2008, more than 2 new coal-fired plants were built in China each week. There are two big problems with this situation. Experts predict that China’s own coal supply will be completely used up by the end of this century. Burning coal produces sulphur dioxide and soot to form acid rain that falls on 30% of the country’s landmass, causing, according to the World Bank, about $7 billion of damage annually. Barely 1% of the people in cities breathe air considered healthy. China has had a long history of dealing with coal. China’s rulers used coal to smelt iron and make weapons as early as 475 BC. But a dwindling resource and the damage done by it are great incentives to lessen the effects of using coal and to find alternative energy sources. The air is worst in northern China. Watts sees the UK and China as two bookends on the polluting industrial era. China could learn from the UK. For example, as early as 1661, London had problems with coal pollution similar to those of cities in China. The situation worsened in the 1800’s. Some steps were taken to clean the air. But it was only after the great smog killed 12,000 people in 1956 that the UK cleaned up its air. China does not have several hundred years. It has made some technological progress, but not enough to keep pace with the increasing damage.
Chapter 11 : Watts looks at the international implications of major environmental changes in the past. He confines most of his comments to future Asian conflict over resources. According to environment historian Mark Elvin, the Mongol inhabitants of the current country of Mongolia migrated south when climate change dried up their pasture lands. In doing so, they drove the farming Han Chinese off their agricultural land. Today, to counter the effect of inadequate precipitation and growing desertification in several areas, China has been seeding clouds. To help the dry north, it is continuing its South-to-North Water Diversion Project. In order to show how enormous this project is, Watts compares it to diverting water in the U.S. from the Mississippi to the Colorado!! According to Wang Tao, the director of the Cold and Arid Regions Environmental and Engineering Research Institute and one of the chief strategists in China’s battle against the desert, human activity is a major cause of desertification which is affecting 170 million Chinese. This is an enormous threat to the country’s food security. If the drought intensifies, Wang fears harvests could decline by 20% and dry Gansu province could resemble the most devastated parts of Africa.
Chapter 12 : Watts looks at how China’s minorities have fared as China has jumped into industrialization. The fate of the Tibetans is well-known. Early in his book, Watts looks at Tibet. Later, he examines Xinjiang province in western China, home to Muslim Uighurs. In the 1950’s, China decided to dilute that ethnic population by sending in large numbers of Han Chinese. To make a living, the Han grew cash crops with the help of irrigation. Demands for water caused many of the rivers to dry up. By the early 2000’s, Xinjiang was an environmental mess. Xinjiang has one of the world’s biggest deserts, but it also has high mountains and is sometimes described as the world’s Third Pole because it has the third largest body of ice on Earth. China has 46,000 glaciers, 2/3 of which are expected to melt in the first half of this century. Female glaciologist Zhang Enzi concluded that the area’s farmers were using 96% of Xinjiang’s water and thus over-using it. She said Xinjiang should grow only enough food for itself. But instead of adopting water conservation measures, she recommended that the water saved from agriculture be used by industry to extract coal. Xinjiang has 40% of China’s reserves. Zhang thinks that the coal should be turned into liquid or gas and pumped east. Although China claims it has developed coal liquefaction technology far superior to that in the West, other policy makers think it is a mistake to pursue this high-polluting technology and that China should be looking for a substitute for the hydrocarbon economy.
Chapter 13 : Watts introduces Professor Li Can, the head of China’s Clean Energy Research Lab, who says that China has a substitute. He tells Watts that if China were to cover one third of its Gansu and Xinjiang province desert area with photovoltaic cells, it could produce all of its energy needs. He says China is aiming to meet 15% of its energy from alternate sources by 2020. China will continue to depend on coal, but coal’s importance should decline. China’s problem is that its energy needs are growing faster than its efforts to protect its environment. China looks at North Korea as an example of an economy which collapsed when its energy supply ended. Before the 1990’s, North Korea was performing well economically. But when the Soviet Union stopped selling North Korea cheap oil, it suffered greatly. Watts concludes that China is on a path to Economy lite, rather than to any serious change.
Chapter 14 : Watts goes to Shandong Agricultural University which has partnered with Monsanto to develop genetically modified crops such as cotton. By 2015, about 50% of China ‘s produce will come from GM crops.
Watts meets Zhang Qiwen, Mother Poplar, a genetics professor responsible for more changes in the Chinese landscape than the emperors and engineers behind the Great Wall, the Three Gorges Dam or the Sky Train to Tibet. She produced a GM poplar tree which every year grows 3 meters in height and 4 centimeters in diameter. Watts also meets Professor Jiang Gaoming, the manure messiah, who is very critical of Genetic Modification, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. He says that China produces three times more excrement than solid waste and wants to have China use that excrement as part of a Green Revolution. In arguing his case, he says that the main threat to China’s coastal waters is not from heavy metals but from featherlight algae which are being nourished by excrement. The algae have created enormous dead zones off China’s coast.
Chapter 15 : Watts interviews Ma Zhong, Dean of the Environment Department at the People’s University, and a dedicated, successful activist for the conservation movement. Ma had used a major incident in which benzene was spilled into the Songhua River to gather support for protecting China’s environment. Authorities kept the spill secret for a while, but when the truth was revealed, its effect was similar to that of publicity about Minamata in Japan and the publication of Silent spring in the US. The conservationist movement suddenly got almost all it wanted. Conservationists told Watts that the media, the courts and the electorate are still too weak to hold polluters to account. Pan Yue, the environment ministry’s most visible driving force, has been sidelined. China’s future is not a question of democracy or dictatorship, but of demographics and culture. A major change in attitude must occur. As long as there are more people demanding more food, and bigger buildings, the pressure to clear more wetlands and forest will grow.
In Chapter 16, Watts talks about the conflict between China’s majority Han population and the Mongols. Few Han acknowledge the enormous influence of Mongols on Chinese history. Much of the current territory, wealth and status are owed to Genghis Khan and his successors. His name has become a byword for brutality, but he was also a scholar, poet and philosopher. Khan tried to conserve his own environment. He introduced laws to protect the grasslands of Mongolia. Hunting was permitted only in winter. burning or excavating the grasslands was punishable by death. The Mongols were said to conserve wildlife better than human life. Inner Mongolia was much different than Mongolia. Inner had been transformed by the Han. The transfer of heavy, dirty industry from the west to Japan/Taiwan/Hong Kong and then to eastern China and finally to inland China was completed in Inner Mongolia. It has the highest per capita carbon emissions in China.
What happened in Xinjiang has also happened in Inner Mongolia. China tried to convert desert into irrigated farmland, but the project was a disaster. In 2002, the State Council warned that 90 % of China’s usable natural grassland had suffered some level of degradation. The cause was excessive economic exploitation of areas ill-fitted to agriculture and industry. The Grass roots recognized this and took a different approach. They see it as a cultural problem. The Han do not understand the steppes. Chen Jiqun, a Han artist, wrote an illustrated book that encouraged the 300,000 nomads to assert their legal rights over the land. Wang Canfa, China’s most successful environment lawyer : China has more conservation and anti-pollution laws than ever, but the environment was still deteriorating because China is not ruled by law, but by personal connections. (P.300) The gov’t has reacted by squelching efforts by environmental groups, harrassing and beating them or imprisoning them. Pop singers have helped spread the gospel.
Wolf Totem, a best-selling novel about Han pioneers in Mongolian grasslands tried to show the ecological ignorance and political timidity of the Han culture. It sold more than 2 million copies, was translated into 21 languages, and won more than 12 awards, including the Man Asian prize, the regional equivalent of the Booker. Yet is filled with self-loathing. Jiang paints a picture of a destructive and insecure race that has neither the liberties of the West nor the natural wisdom of the Mongolian nomads. It is based on his own experiences as a Red guard in Inner Mongolia in 1967.The portrait of the Mongols is similar to that of the noble savage in Romantic literature in the 18th and 19th centuries when Europe—like China now— was industrializing. Yet the future of Inner Mongolia was being shaped by ever bigger industrial projects. (P.307) The city of Ordos is industrializing faster than Huaxi and urbanizing almost as quickly as Chongqing. Below its surface lies the biggest gas field in china and on its outskirts is an open-cast coal mine that dwarfs anything in Shanxi.
Experiments : (1) huge wind farm and (2) the world’s largest solar plant and (3) the proposed site of an algae plant that would soak up carbon and convert it into biofuel or feed for animals. Ordos is the new capital of carbon. However, coal liquefaction which the coal will be used for is historically associated with desperation. It was developed in Nazi Germany and enhanced in apartheid South Africa. Japan, the US and several other nations worked on the process after the oil crisis of the 1970’s, but most were abandoned due to environmental and cost concerns. For each ton of diesel at Ordos, 6 1/2 tons of water had to be pumped from an aquifer more than 70 km away and more than 3 tons of carbon dioxide were released into the air. Coal liquefaction is an insurance measure against future oil shortages. If China could produce 50 million ton of liquefied coal, it could solve its energy problems. (P.310) But it could completely undermine efforts to put the country on a cleaner growth track. The site of Khan’s home is a shadow of its former self. Farmers now grow potatoes on it for Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. Environmental historians believe individuals or civilizations bring about their own annihilation by losing touch with their roots, overconsuming or failing to recognize ecological limits.
AFTERWORD : PEAKING MAN
The planet’s problems were not made in china, but they are sliding past the point of no return here. A billion people in the rich nations of Europe, the US, Japan and South Korea have taken the world to the brink with unsustainable consumption. China may take us over the brink. China is now doing something unprecedented in the world’s history : to re-engineer an economy before it has finished industrializing. The mini-Maos in regional gov’ts do not take kindly to any measure that curtails their expansion. They are the reason the gov’t, despite its authoritarian reputation, is less able to rein in polluters than dissidents. (P.324) The gov’t wants everyone in China to have a Shanghai consuming lifestyle. The energy use of the average person in Shanghai has surpassed that in Tokyo, New York or London and is now 50% higher than the global norm. The story of China is changing. It is still partly the heart-warming tale of a poor nation catching up with the West. But is also the story of wealthy individuals and megacities gobbling up resources and producing waste at a rate that is unsustainable as almost anyone and anywhere overseas. (P.325) Proper pricing of resources would ease the problem. Better values have to be adopted. China’s environmental and philosophical history has to be more deeply mined. Mankind has climbed to a peak in China, but our position is precarious and the view from the summit is appalling. Here more than anywhere, the world has been unbalanced by superlatives, by billionfold multiplication, by earth-changing jumps. Here, more than anywhere, the current path of human progress looks certain to lead to destruction. Here, more than anywhere, we need to look forward and step back