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The long road to the recovery of Chinas ecosystems By Jean Faullimmel, Ph.D.

Background, As a retired environmental engineer I have been coming to China more than twenty five times in the past nine years, trying to help the country as a volunteer consultant and as a university visiting professor. My first hand experiences in the chemical industry, with all environmental issues a company can be confronted with, has been very useful in my consulting work and teaching. All along it has been a pleasure to help the country to give my advice based on what my professional experiences have taught me. The pollution problems in China are enormous, and Im not sure whether there is enough environmental awareness among its leaders and the population that would help the country to move faster to solve such issues. Thirty years of economic development and emphasizing only on GDP, with little regard of the impact on the environment, has come at a great cost for the country. With a huge population and high GDP pollution has increased, whether water, air and land, and we may wonder whether the damage done to the environment and human health over these years, has really improved the quality of life or the well being of the Chinese people. Yes, people have more money, have better housing, but what have the citizens gained by living in a polluted environment that makes them ill? Environmental education I have been teaching courses on industrial environmental issues with a practical approach in a few Chinese universities, among them a famous one that depends on Beijing. Having taught there for five years, I recently was informed that the university policy regarding foreign teachers has changed. The university requirement for foreign teachers now is that they must come from famous universities and are well renowned in their field of research. In spite of the insistence of the Chinese professors who had invited me in the past, they could not convince the university Teaching Affaires Office of the necessity to have a foreign expert

who has industrial experience that complements the more theoretical courses usually given in academia. So the constructive 5-year teaching collaboration sadly ended by some regulation that is not compatible with the pollution issues the country is facing. One thing is sure it is not professors who are well known for their basic research that will solve Chinas pollution issues because they do no have the industrial first hand experiences to understand the real issues. These people live in a theoretical world too far from the reality on the ground. Basic research is important for any country but such work should be complementary with applied research and close collaboration with industry and consultants with practical experience in the field. China can pursue its ambition to have in the future Nobel Prize scientists, but it should not neglect those experts who understand the existing environmental issues. Their role is as important as the one of famous research scientists. Both are equally needed in the context of Chinas economic development. And environmental engineers must also teach in universities to make aware students of the existing reality. If China leaves out these experts, it will lose an important know-how that is needed to tackle the pollution issues. Some comments I often have received from students is that, based on my industrial experiences, they feel that I know what Im talking about, compared to those professors who lecture from books or talk about their research. My aim at teaching in Developing Countries is to plant the seed of environmental awareness. Without such awareness nothing will happen, no progress will be made because leaders as well as renowned scientists lack the practical experiences in the field. They may understand it from a theoretical viewpoint, but not from a practical one on how to approach the issues. Promoting Environmental Education in any developing country is instrumental to give planet Earth a chance to recover from the damage done to ecosystems and biodiversity. It is vital for the survival of mankind. I dont think that China is investing enough in Environmental Education. More than one university would have liked to invite me but there is no government financial support to invite environmental engineers; the country gives only financial assistance for research. Financial assistance to invite environmental engineer is a must when the country faces so much pollution issues and with more and more people falling ill because of air, water, land and food contamination. All is interrelated. Of course progress has been made, but it is not enough to stop the trend of further environmental degradation. The concept of Sustainable Development states that economic and environmental development must go hand in hand and at move on at the same rate. But if you invest too much in economic development and not enough in environmental development, contamination of the environment will not be stopped.

Pollution Prevention The environmental awakening has been slow in China. The country has already made progress, but catching up with 30 years of environmental neglect at the expense of the GDP will be long, difficult and expensive. Today China does mostly pollution control. Pollution control takes care of the waste generated at the end of the manufacturing process. The country must now switch from pollution control to pollution prevention (P2). Industry has accepted this new concept because it is cheaper and less impact on the environment. The more waste is generated, the more expensive will be the disposal of it, and the less competitive the companys products will be on the market. Pollution prevention starts at the beginning of the process by reducing waste at the source so that there will be less at the end of the process. Groundwater, lakes and river contamination is also very serious, although we dont know yet the extent of such pollution as we can see its impact only over several years since it is related to the water movement in the soil. Today it is estimated that 90% of the groundwater below big cities is contaminated, and lakes like Tai and Dianchi are good examples of the impact of poor waste management, incomplete environmental legislation and reinforcement of it. Groundwater becomes slowly contaminated due to poor wastewater treatment and agricultural runoffs containing unused fertilizers and pesticides. Groundwater is very important for drinking water, and if more of it is getting contaminated the less fresh water become available. In this context retired industrial engineers should not be left out. They are instrumental in stopping the degradation of ecosystems that started some 30 years ago. Renown scientists come to China, rush around the country to give seminars about their research, stay one or two days in a university and then move on to the next, leaving without an understanding the real environmental issues the country is facing. While the retired technical/environmental engineer can come to China for two weeks, one month or more if necessary, first to understand the situation, make a diagnostic and then make recommendations. He has the time to go in-depth of the problem and try to solve it, and even teach about it. The well-known foreign university professor does not have the time to do that.

Analytical database. Another weakness in China is the lack of a reliable and accurate analytical database of the waste that exists or is being generated on an annual basis. How can you set yearly objectives and targets on how to reduce contamination when you dont know what type of pollution you have, the amount of it and the source of it? Transparency of what exists is very important as you cannot solve the pollution and remediation issues by hiding the facts. Better collaboration between industry, government and universities is also instrumental. These bodies must come together, share information and find solutions satisfying all sides and in the interest of the country. A trusting working relationship among them is necessary. Having each working in its own corner, or being afraid of each other is not the solution to the immense environmental challenge China is facing. Only mutual understanding and teamwork can help. No side or expert knows enough. Conclusion In the context of the existing environmental situation, the government alone cannot solve the serious environmental issues. Yes, it has the power to change things, but it will require the participation of the population and environmental experts who really understand the issues and know how to approach them. It is the population that faces the pollution and become ill, and they must be heard. Their feedback is needed to make leaders aware of the situation and to do something about. This is not going against the government it is rather helping its leaders. In the United States around 1970 there existed only about four major environmental Acts. By 1990 more than forty of such Acts were enacted. This was due because the government listened to the people facing the pollution and pushed it to do something about. Together they made progress. The pollution we see today in China is only the tip of the iceberg. The unseen part will be discovered in the years to come when an accurate and thorough analytical database will emerge. As it happened the United States and Western Europe, future generations of Chinese will have to pay the cost of past environmental degradation. However, in Western Europe nature had

time to recover from the environmental damage done between 1950 and 1980 because of a low GDP and low population, but in China with a high GDP and huge population, ecosystems do not have the same chance. This means that more severe environmental legislation must be enacted and reinforced to protect Chinas ecosystems. If the pollution trend is not reversed, air quality will decrease, and poorly treated wastewater will continue to contaminate land through irrigation, lakes, groundwater, rivers, and eventually the sea and the food chain. Pollution has no border, a local pollution can become a regional pollution, then a national one and eventually a global pollution because of wind currents in the atmosphere and water currents in the oceans. We all must be concerned by such reality. JF/18/07/2013