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China tires of life beneath the smog

  • Author:naky
  • Source:www.diecastingpartsupplier.com
  • Release on:2015-08-11
In one of the more poignant scenes from Under the Dome — a documentary about China’s environmental catastrophe that has descended on the national consciousness like a thick smog — a six-year-old girl living in the coal mining province of Shanxi is asked if she has ever seen the stars. The child of China’s economic miracle says she has not. Chai Jing, who made the documentary, describes how she often keeps her own daughter at home “like a prisoner” to protect her from the noxious particles swirling outside.

“One morning I saw my daughter banging on the window,” she says. “The day will come when she asks me, ‘Why do you keep me here?’” The answer to that question, as Chinese people are ever more aware, is that there has been a high price to pay for the country’s admittedly startling economic development. The Lancet estimated that air pollution contributed to the premature deaths of 1.2m people in 2010, 40 per cent of the global total.

Air pollution is not the half of it. Soil is poisoned, rivers are choked with effluence (or diseased animal carcases), fauna and flora are disappearing. The World Bank has estimated that, in 2009, the cost of air pollution alone in terms of disease, premature death and lost income was 3.3 per cent of gross domestic product. If you took the figure literally, China’s “real” growth rate this year would fall below 4 per cent.

If there is one good thing about air pollution it is that you can see it and smell it. Chinese people who want a sense of the shortcomings of their country’s economic model only have to breathe in. After years in which many Chinese dismissed concerns about air quality or counted smog as an inevitable side effect of development, the issue is now central to middle class concerns.

The reception to Ms Chai’s film has been nothing short of breathtaking (excuse the pun). In a few days, it has been downloaded hundreds of millions of times. Chen Jining, the environment minister, compared it with Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, an attack on the chemical industry that is credited with sparking the modern environmental movement in the US.

The subject of environmental degradation — so long as it does not attack the Communist party itself — has become acceptable, even respectable. At last year’s National People’s Congress, the 2015 edition of which kicks off in Beijing today, Premier Li Keqiang declared a “war on pollution”. Smog, he said, was “nature’s red-light warning against?.?.?.?inefficient and blind development”. Last November President Xi Jinping said that he expected carbon emissions to peak in 2030, [MEANING? AT A PARTICULAR LEVEL? OR JUST TO STOP THEM RISING?]a reversal of a long-held position that China’s development could not be sacrificed.

Can China reverse its descent into the environmental abyss and still grow at a reasonable rate? In theory, this ought to be possible since the country produces far more pollution per unit of output than its rich counterparts. On paper, its environmental standards are reasonable. In practice they are dire. Many polluters are allowed to despoil the environment undeterred. All it would take is for the government to crack down with half the vehemence with which Mr Xi is now pursuing corruption.