China Crisis

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OK, so I didn't come up with that title myself: It's the title of an article in today's Independent UK, about China's environmental problems. (And for those of you who don't remember or don't care to remember, China Crisis is also the name of an 80s British pop band who achieved modest success with a single called "Arizona Sky," which, now that I read the lyrics, is kind of lame, but I always liked the lines praising the vast, brilliant blue sky of Arizona.)

Anyway, this article makes some truly dire predictions, which I have no problem believing are very, very likely. For instance:

deforestation is only one of the threats to the planet posed by an economy of 1.3 billion people that has now overtaken the United States as the world's leading consumer of four out of the five basic food, energy and industrial commodities - grain, meat, oil, coal and steel. China now lags behind the US only in consumption of oil - and it is rapidly catching up.

Because of their increasing reliance on coal-fired power stations to provide their energy, the Chinese are firmly on course to overtake the Americans as the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, and thus become the biggest contributors to global warming and the destabilisation of the climate. If they remain uncontrolled, the growth of China's carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years will dwarf any cuts in CO2 that the rest of the world can make.

The article then discusses population growth in China and other parts of Asia, and quotes an expert who offers this opinion:

The bottom line of this analysis is that we're going to have to develop a new economic model. Instead of a fossil-fuel based, automobile-centred, throw-away economy we will have to have a renewable-energy based, diversified transport system, and comprehensive reuse and recycle economies. If we want civilisation to survive, we will have to have that. Otherwise civilisation will collapse.

I lived in Shanghai for several months in 1991. It was the most polluted place I had ever been, though Kaohsiung, a filthy port city in southern Taiwan, ran a close second. I can only imagine how much worse it it is now, with more cars and more people and even more people who can actually afford to heat their homes in the winter. (It was also very poor.) And supposedly Shanghai isn't nearly as bad as Beijing, which becomes particularly polluted each winter.

In Taiwan, we had actual washing machines (though they were little and strange and hard on clothes and had to be monitored, with all these steps where you turned the water on and turned it off and set the cycle to spin or agitate or whatever) but in Shanghai, we just put our clothes in the bathtub and stomped on them to get them clean. Then we'd hang them on the balcony to dry. I never got used to wearing clothes that smelled like car exhaust even before I put them on. I never got used to the horrible black stuff that came from my nose whenever I blew it. I never got used to how filthy my face was at the end of the day. I never got used to the dismal sky or the smell. And it's worse now, apparently--much worse.

This morning it is quite cold in my house. I am all bundled up in thermal underwear, socks, slippers and an extra heavy bathrobe, because I refuse to turn on my heat until it's really truly WINTER, not just AUTUMN, and even then I never set the thermostat above 65 because I am A) cheap and B) anxious to reduce the amount of fossil fuel I use. I paid my gas company almost $1200 last year; I'm not looking forward to the coming year, with heating costs that will be even higher because of the various hurricanes.

I admit my hands get quite cold no matter how many layers are on the rest of me, and I guess I will deal with that by acquiring some of those gloves that have no fingertips, so you can still do things like type. But overall I don't mind this business of coping with the cold by wearing lots and lots of clothes. That was what my Chinese roommates always said to me when I complained about being cold on my mission: "Chwan dwo yifu!" or "put on more clothes! " That was about all you could do in Taiwan, because most homes did not have heat since it was only needed two or three months out of the year--that and close the windows when it was 40 degrees outside, which a couple of my roommates refused to do. (They had this idea that freshly polluted cold air wafting through our apartment was healthier than warm air that had been in our apartment for a while.)

But piling on layers of padded clothing (there is evidence that the Chinese invented quilting--quilted clothing is remarkably efficient in preserving body heat) seems to be going out of fashion in Asia, where the growing population aspires to use as much gas and oil as we do. I wish, that instead of prompting us to eat all our food by admonishing us to think of starving peasants in China, adults had admonished us to use less whatever so that there would be more whatever left over for others in the world: use less fuel, less timber, less water, less food so there will be more fuel, more timber, more water, more food for everyone else. I wish we'd really truly been taught to share.

p.s. Just for the heck of it, here's an article on Mao.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on October 19, 2005 9:26 AM.

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