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Economic Miracle Environmental Disaster

Economic Miracle Environmental Disaster

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Published by Viennalooi

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Published by: Viennalooi on Mar 23, 2010
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03/22/2010

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CHINA’S ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER
33
by
ELIZABETH C. ECONOMY
 photographs by
STEPHEN VOSS
DECADES OF EXTRAORDINARY GROWTH
have catapultedChina to the top of the world’s economic charts,earn-ing the admiration of much of the rest of the world.Indeed,China’s continued economic rise has beenone of the fewcertainties of the twenty-first century.Increasingly,however,the China story is not one of economic miracle but of environmental disaster.
Worries over air quality at the Beijing Olympics,tainted productsand China’s rapidly growing contribution to global climate changehave focused international attention on the environmental down-side of China’sgrowth.At home,the Chinese people watchas environmental degradation and pollution transform their 
JIA JIALE’S
grandmotherapplieslotion totreat rashes thatappeared whenshe moved toSunying, inChina’s HuaiRiver Basin.
EconomicMiracle,EnvironmentalDisaster
The Degradation of theHuai River Basin
 
34
MAN VS. EARTH
landscape,and in the process endanger their health and futurelivelihoods.No one is exempt from the environmental conse-quences of China’s brand of unfettered economic development,but as Stephen Voss’pictures so heartbreakingly illuminate,China’spoorest are particularly vulnerable.In China’s cities,merely walking out the front door results inan immediate assault on the senses.The Chinese people complainmost often about noise pollution.A cacophony of constructionbooms and car horns is a permanent fixture of life.The sky is oftenblanketed in a thick gray haze of pollutants.The culprits are theever-present coal-fired power plants and giant heavy-industrycomplexes that fuel the country’s growth,and more and more thenoxious emissions of automobiles.The Chinese are in the midst of an American-style love affair with private cars.The country isadding 14,000 newcarsto its roads every day and is in the processof laying 52,000 miles of new roadways—10,000 more miles thanthe entireUS interstate highway system.By 2030,China isexpected to surpass the United States as the country with the mostcarson its roads.More broadly,Chinese consumption patterns are also followingthose of the West,despite the warnings of prominent Chinese cul-tural and environmental leaders.The country’smoneyed citydwellers desire air conditioners,refrigerators and second homes.Popular leisureactivities for the wealthy include carbon-intensiveactivities such as yachting,golfing and car clubs.In the process,urban residents consume 350 percent more energy than ruralChinese,and more than 70 percent of this energy comes from dirty-burning coal.Every seven to ten days,another coal-fired power plant,big enough to serveall the households in Dallas or SanDiego,opens somewhere in China.The environmental toll is enor-mous.China has five of the world’s ten most polluted cities,and onan average day in China’s major cities,75 percent of the residents arebreathing unclean air.The end result:750,000 Chinese die prema-turely every year from air pollution–related respiratory diseases.For all their wealth,China’s cities have yet to conquer thechallenge of clean water.Among all of China’s 660-odd cities,onlyone small city of 200,000,Lianyuan in Hunan Province,can claim
Top:
DEBRIS AT THE BASE
ofapipe that releases blackwater from the state-ownedLianhua MSG factory. Localvillagers protested whenmany became sick withstomach and intestinalailments. In 2004, Lianhua(“Lotus Flower”) providedclean tap water to the village,but the company continuedto pollute the river.
Bottom:
ATRASH DUMP
in Shenqiu Countyclogsstreams and pollutesthe groundwater.
Following pages:
WASTEWATER FLOWS
fromapipe at the state-ownedLianhua MSG factory. Lianhuais the largest producer ofMSG in China and one ofthe largest polluters in theHuai River Basin.

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