Showing posts with label china. Show all posts
Showing posts with label china. Show all posts

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Despite Persecution, Guardian of Lake Tai Spotlights China’s Polluters


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Freed & Fighting for China’s Environment

Freed & Fighting for China’s Environment

The environmental activist Wu Lihong was jailed for speaking out about pollution in China’s Lake Tai. Freed in 2010, he is still speaking out about China’s challenges to protect its waterways.
 Video by Jonah M. Kessel on Publish Date November 23, 2014. 
ZHOUTIE, China — By autumn, the stench of Lake Tai and the freakish green glow of its waters usually fade with the ebbing of the summer heat, but this year is different. Standing on a concrete embankment overlooking a fetid, floating array of plastic bottles, foam takeout containers, flip-flops and the occasional dead fish, Wu Lihong, the lake’s unofficial guardian, shook his head in disgust.
“If you jumped into this water, you’d shed a layer of skin,” he said one recent afternoon. “The government claims they are cleaning up the lake, but as you can see, it’s just not true.”
Seven years after a toxic algae bloom forced millions of people who depended on the lake to find alternative sources of drinking water, Lake Tai, which straddles two provinces in the Yangtze River delta, remains a pungent symbol of China’s inability to tackle some of its most serious environmental problems.
Since the 2007 crisis, which drew widespread domestic news media coverage and prompted a special meeting of the cabinet, the government has spent billions of dollars cleaning up the lake, the country’s third-largest freshwater body. But environmentalists say it has little to show for the money. Hundreds of chemical plants, textile mills and ceramics workshops continue to dump their noxious effluent into the waterways that feed into Lake Tai.
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50 Miles
Yangtze River
CHINA
JIANGSU
Zhoutie
YIXING
Lake Tai
Shanghai
ANHUI 
ZHEJIANG
“Some progress has been made, but we haven’t yet reached a turning point,” said Ma Jun, one of the country’s leading environmentalists. “For many factories, the cost of violating the rules is lower than the cost of compliance.”
Also unchanged is the persecution of Mr. Wu, 46, a scrappy, self-taught environmentalist who spent three years in jail on what he said were trumped-up fraud charges — punishment, he said, for his dogged campaign against the factory owners and their local government allies, whom he blames for despoiling the lake.
Since emerging from prison in 2010, Mr. Wu has continued his advocacy work, prompting a predictable response from the authorities. He is subjected to periods of confinement at his home in Zhoutie, a village on Lake Tai. His cellphone is monitored by the police and he is barred from traveling beyond Yixing, the township in eastern Jiangsu Province that includes Zhoutie.
Plainclothes police officers often accompany him on shopping excursions, and surveillance cameras line the narrow road to his home. Vengeful officials, he said, have even stymied his efforts to find a job by warning away would-be employers. “If it wasn’t for the garden in front of my house, I’d probably starve,” said Mr. Wu, a short, pudgy-faced man who often sounds like he is shouting, even when indoors.
Reached by phone, an employee of the Zhoutie public security bureau denied that it curtailed Mr. Wu’s freedom.
The experiences of both Lake Tai and Mr. Wu speak volumes about the Chinese government’s often contradictory approach to environmental protection. Confronted by public anger over contaminated air, water and soil, the ruling Communist Party has sought to shutter obsolete steel mills, restrict the number of license plates available to big-city drivers, and recalibrate the economic-growth-at-all-costs criteria used to evaluate local officials. This year, Prime Minister Li Keqiang “declared war” on pollution in a speech to the national legislature.
But some local officials oppose policies they fear could close factories and eliminate jobs. They also prefer to deal with environmental problems their own way, if at all, which is why Mr. Wu ran into trouble with officials in Jiangsu, a relatively wealthy slice of coastal China that has prospered from its fecund, well-watered landscape but even more from industrial development, which has fouled the region’s rivers and canals.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, when he began noticing a sickly rainbow hue in the once-pristine creeks near his home, Mr. Wu began a campaign to name and shame polluting factories in Zhoutie. He collected water samples in plastic bottles, wrote letters to high-ranking environmental officials and invited television reporters to film how factories secretly discharged their wastewater at night.
In 2001, after local officials drained and dredged a canal that had been polluted by a dye plant in advance of an inspection tour from Beijing, Mr. Wu exposed their ruse — which included dumping carp into the canal and dispatching villagers with fishing rods to complete the Potemkin image of ecological recovery. In the years that followed, he became something of a media celebrity; in 2005, the National People’s Congress named him an “Environmental Warrior.”
Back in Yixing, which earns 80 percent of its tax revenue from local industry, officials were furious. In 2007, as he was preparing a lawsuit against the environmental bureau, Mr. Wu was arrested and charged with trying to blackmail a company in exchange for withholding accusations of wrongdoing. During his interrogation, Mr. Wu said, he was whipped with willow branches, burned with cigarettes and kept in solitary confinement with little to eat. “The abuse was more than I could take, so of course I signed the confession they had drawn up,” he later said.
Elizabeth Economy, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future,” said environmental activists in China must walk a fine line, knowing when it is safe to push and when it is best to keep quiet. “Wu is a maverick, prone to say exactly what he thinks without considering the political consequences,” she said. “That is not the type of political participation that Beijing desires, even if he is right.”
That summer, shortly before he was put on trial, the industrial effluent flowing into Lake Tai from the 2,000 factories in the region reached a tipping point, prompting the algae bloom that forced officials in the nearby city of Wuxi to cut off water to two million residents.
Under the glare of a national spotlight, Jiangsu officials said they would spend more than $14 billion to clean up the lake and vowed to address the problem of toxic algae blooms within five years.
But the money, government researchers acknowledge, has had a negligible impact. According to the Lake Tai Basin Authority, 90 percent of water samples taken from the lake this summer were considered so toxic that contact with human skin was ill-advised. Wuxi, in the meantime, has found an alternative source for its drinking water.
In a recent interview with Xinhua Daily, Zhang Limin, deputy director of the Lake Tai Water Pollution Prevention Office, said the flood of contaminants had begun to level off, although it is still more than three times as much as the lake can absorb without killing most aquatic life.
Flushing the lake with water from the Yangtze River has improved water quality somewhat, though critics say it simply pushes pollution further downstream. These days, many polluters have built pipelines to centralized waste-treatment plants that are incapable of handling the flow. Others simply pipe waste directly into waterways through underground conduits that allow them to avoid detection.
But environmentalists say there is reason for hope. In April, the central government revised the nation’s environmental law for the first time since 1989, imposing steep fines on polluters and requiring companies to disclose pollution data. The regulations, which take effect in January, will also allow environmental groups to file public interest lawsuits against factories that break the law.
Mr. Ma, the environmentalist, said the new measures include important tools for cleaning up Lake Tai and other ailing bodies of water, but the key would be enforcement. “All it takes is the mayor or the head of a county saying, ‘You can’t touch this factory. It’s too important to the local economy,’ ” he said.
Mr. Wu said he was less hopeful, noting how little has changed in recent years despite intense pressure from Beijing and the billions of dollars spent. “A lot of that money ends up lining the pockets of local officials,” he said.
His outspokenness has taken a toll on his family, who have also been subjected to frequent harassment. Last year his daughter, Wu Yunlei, went to the United States on a tourist visa and promptly requested political asylum. “When I was younger, I didn’t understand what my father was doing and I was often angry about the trouble it caused us, but now I’ve come to appreciate it,” she said in an email.


Once content to focus on the environment, Mr. Wu now believes that healing his beloved lake requires more sweeping change. “If with all their wealth, the Communist Party can’t clean up this lake, it tells you the problem is much bigger,” he said. “I’ve come to realize the root of the problem is the system itself.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/world/despite-persecution-guardian-of-lake-tai-spotlights-chinas-polluters.html?ref=topics

Friday, September 23, 2011

In China, what you eat tells who you are

In a nation reeling from tainted-food scandals, organic products are mostly reserved for the rich and political elite. Chinese government officials have exclusive suppliers, who do not advertise.


Organic vegetables grow behind a 6-foot fence at the Beijing Customs Administration Vegetable Base and Country Club. “Ordinary people can’t go in there,” a neighbor says. (Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times / September 17, 2011)


Reporting from Beijing— At a glance, it is clear this is no run-of-the-mill farm: A 6-foot spiked fence hems the meticulously planted vegetables and security guards control a cantilevered gate that glides open only to select cars.



"It is for officials only. They produce organic vegetables, peppers, onions, beans, cauliflowers, but they don't sell to the public," said Li Xiuqin, 68, a lifelong Shunyi village resident who lives directly across the street from the farm but has never been inside. "Ordinary people can't go in there."



Until May, a sign inside the gate identified the property as the Beijing Customs Administration Vegetable Base and Country Club. The placard was removed after a Chinese reporter sneaked inside and published a story about the farm producing organic food so clean the cucumbers could be eaten directly from the vine.



Elsewhere in the world, this might be something to boast about. Not in China. Organic gardening here is a hush-hush affair in which the cleanest, safest products are largely channeled to the rich and politically connected.



Many of the nation's best food companies don't promote or advertise. They don't want the public to know that their limited supply is sent to Communist Party officials, dining halls reserved for top athletes, foreign diplomats, and others in the elite classes. The general public, meanwhile, dines on foods that are increasingly tainted or less than healthful — meats laced with steroids, fish from ponds spiked with hormones to increase growth, milk containing dangerous additives such as melamine, which allows watered-down milk to pass protein-content tests.



"The officials don't really care what the common people eat because they and their family are getting a special supply of food," said Gao Zhiyong, who worked for a state-run food company and wrote a book on the subject.



In China, the tegong, or special supply, is a holdover from the early years of Communist rule, when danwei, work units of state-owned enterprises, raised their own food and allocated it based on rank. "The leaders wanted to make sure they had enough to eat and that nobody poisoned their food," said Gao.



In the 1950s, Soviet advisors helped the Chinese set up a food procurement department under the security apparatus to supply and inspect food for the leadership, according to a biography of Mao Tse-tung written by his personal physician. Lower levels of officialdom were divided into 25 gradations of rank that determined the quantity and quality of rations.



In modern-day China, it is the degradation of the environment and a limited supply of healthful food that is fueling the parallel food system for the elite.



"We flash forward 50 years and we see the only elements of China society getting food that is reliable, safe and free of contaminants are those cadres who have access to the special food supply," said Phelim Kine of the Hong Kong office of Human Rights Watch.



In the capital, special supply farms are located near the airport, home to wealthier expatriates and many international schools, and to the northwest, beyond the miasma of pollution emanating from the overcrowded, traffic-choked central city.



In the western foothills, the exclusive Jushan farm first developed to supply Mao's private kitchen still operates under the auspices of the state-run Capital Agribusiness Group, providing food for national meetings. A state-owned company, the Beijing 2nd Commercial Bureau, says on its website that it "supplies national banquets and meetings, which have become the cradle of safe food in Beijing."



The State Council, China's highest administrative body, has its own supplier of delicacies, down to salted duck eggs.



"We have supplied them for almost 20 years," said a spokesman at the offices of Weishanhu Lotus Foods, in Shandong province. "Our product cannot be bought in an ordinary supermarket as our volume of production is very little."



Organic farmers say they face pressure to sell their limited output to official channels.



"The local government would like us to give more products to officials and work units, but we think it is important that individuals can enjoy our product," said Wang Zhanli, whose organic dairy in Yanqing, just beyond the most frequented tourist sections of the Great Wall, received certification in 2006.



At his Green Yard dairy, the technology is imported from Holland. The cows graze on grass free of pesticides and are milked in a sterile barn by women in white caps who look more like laboratory aides than milkmaids.



On their organic diet, the cows produce about half the volume of conventional dairy cows, meaning that the supply is never enough, especially since the 2008 scandal in which tainted milk left six Chinese babies dead and sickened 300,000 people. Managers at the dairy say about two-thirds of their product goes to officials, state-owned enterprises, embassies and international schools. A limited quantity is sold at diplomatic compunds and a few select health food stores at prices nearly triple that for regular milk.



"We're not Switzerland. Our population is way too big for everybody to eat organic food," said Hou Xuejun, general manager of the Green Yard dairy.



Friday, March 14, 2008

Virginia, no, not the eWaste!!

Virginia next to enact e-scrap legislation?

The Old Dominion State appears ready to become the next U.S. state to implement a manufacturer-responsibility system for the recovery of used electronics. One measure already has been signed by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, while another waits in the wings. Having passed both chambers, House Bill 344 requires computer manufacturers to implement a program solely for the recovery of desktop and laptop computers, computer monitors and other computer-related display devices. The state-approved program may consist of several different recovery options, including:

A mail-back system, where consumers could go online, print a prepaid shipping label and ship the product free of charge

A physically staffed collection site

The use of collection events. Manufacturers also could recover used and moribund electronics by creating a joint management group that consisted of other producers, processors, re-use organizations, non-profit corporations or retailers, just to name a few. The most notable provision of HB 344, though, is that it forbids the state from imposing any advanced recovery or annual registration fees upon either the consumer or the manufacturer. The measure, however, does allow the state to issue penalties against manufacturers in violation of the act, including $10,000 as of the second violation and $25,000 for each subsequent violation. The program would take effect July 1, 2009.

Already receiving Governor Kaine's signature, HB 343 will prohibit the disposal of CRTs in a waste-to-energy or solid waste disposal facility, provided the locality has implemented a recycling program capable of handling CRT waste. The act takes effect July 1, 2008.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Where does eWaste go?

Where does e-waste end up?

Truck overloaded with hazardous computer waste on the way to scrapping yards. Enlarge Image
Many old electronic goods gather dust in storage waiting to be reused, recycled or thrown away. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that as much as three quarters of the computers sold in the US are stockpiled in garages and closets. When thrown away, they end up in landfills or incinerators or, more recently, are exported to Asia.

Landfill: According to the US EPA, more than 4.6 million tonnes of e-waste ended up in US landfills in 2000. Toxic chemicals in electronics products can leach into the land over time or are released into the atmosphere, impacting nearby communities and the environment. In many European countries, regulations have been introduced to prevent electronic waste being dumped in landfills due to its hazardous content.

However, the practice still continues in many countries. In Hong Kong for example, it is estimated that 10-20 percent of discarded computers go to landfill. Incineration: This releases heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury into the air and ashes. Mercury released into the atmosphere can bioaccumulate in the food chain, particularly in fish - the major route of exposure for the general public. If the products contain PVC plastic, highly toxic dioxins and furans are also released. Brominated flame retardants generate brominated dioxins and furans when e-waste is burned.

Reuse: A good way to increase a product's lifespan. Many old products are exported to developing countries. Although the benefits of reusing electronics in this way are clear, the practice is causing serious problems because the old products are dumped after a short period of use in areas that are unlikely to have hazardous waste facilities.Recycle: Although recycling can be a good way to reuse the raw materials in a product, the hazardous chemicals in e-waste mean that electronics can harm workers in the recycling yards, as well as their neighbouring communities and environment.In developed countries, electronics recycling takes place in purpose-built recycling plants under controlled conditions.

In many EU states for example, plastics from e-waste are not recycled to avoid brominated furans and dioxins being released into the atmosphere. In developing countries however, there are no such controls. Recycling is done by hand in scrap yards, often by children.Export: E-waste is routinely exported by developed countries to developing ones, often in violation of the international law. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found as much as 47 percent of waste destined for export, including e-waste, was illegal. In the UK alone, at least 23,000 metric tonnes of undeclared or 'grey' market electronic waste was illegally shipped in 2003 to the Far East, India, Africa and China. In the US, it is estimated that 50-80 percent of the waste collected for recycling is being exported in this way.

This practice is legal because the US has not ratified the Basel Convention. Mainland China tried to prevent this trade by banning the import of e-waste in 2000. However, we have discovered that the laws are not working; e-waste is still arriving in Guiya of Guangdong Province, the main centre of e-waste scrapping in China. We have also found a growing e-waste trade problem in India. 25,000 workers are employed at scrap yards in Delhi alone, where 10-20000 tonnes of e-waste is handled each year, 25 percent of this being computers.

Other e-waste scrap yards have been found in Meerut, Ferozabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai.© UNEP How did the trade evolve?In the 1990s, governments in the EU, Japan and some US states set up e-waste 'recycling' systems. But many countries did not have the capacity to deal with the sheer quantity of e-waste they generated or with its hazardous nature. Therefore, they began exporting the problem to developing countries where laws to protect workers and the environment are inadequate or not enforced.

It is also cheaper to 'recycle' waste in developing countries; the cost of glass-to-glass recycling of computer monitors in the US is ten times more than in China.

Demand in Asia for electronic waste began to grow when scrap yards found they could extract valuable substances such as copper, iron, silicon, nickel and gold, during the recycling process. A mobile phone, for example, is 19 percent copper and eight percent iron.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Assault and Battery

Chinese workers pay for our cadmium-battery habit

Posted by Tom Philpott at 8:01 AM on 16 Jan 2008

Read more about: China United States toxics business consumerism climate greenhouse-gas emissions environmental justice


In the last 20 years, the United States has essentially dismantled its industrial base, moving production of consumer goods south to Mexico and east to Asia.

This has not only dramatically lowered the cost of goods, fueling a consumer boom; it has also helped make our economy less energy-intensive, and lowered our exposure to industrial waste.
But net gains for the environment and worker health have been imaginary. We've merely shifted the burdens of industrial production onto other lands and other people -- most recently, China.

Don't be a Cad.

I think this is the most important political-ecological story of our time -- made even more urgent by the specter of climate change (since for the climate, greenhouse-gas emissions from Huizhou, China, are just as damaging as those from Pittsburgh, Penn.). And I don't know of any other publication covering it with more rigor than the Wall Street Journal.

It has been running great articles on how U.S. demand for cheap goods is triggering a surge in consumption of Chinese coal. And on Tuesday, it ran a great piece on how U.S. industry responded to the well-documented hazards of cadmium-battery manufacturing by simply moving production to China, creating a nightmare for workers there.

Here is the Journal:

Once widely manufactured in the West, [cadmium] batteries are now largely made in China, where the industry is sickening workers and poisoning the soil and water.
Europe has banned most cadmium batteries. Not so the U.S., where they're "still widely used in toys, power tools, cordless phones and other gadgets." The article is worth reading in its entirety.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

China's internet users

By ANICK JESDANUN,

NEW YORK - The Chinese government said Friday its Internet population has soared to 210 million people, putting it on track to surpass the U.S. online community this year to become the world's largest.

The official China Internet Network Information Center, also known as CNNIC, said the online population grew 53 percent, from 137 million reported at the same time last year. According to the government's Xinhua News Agency, China is only 5 million behind the United States online, a figure consistent with some American estimates.

China still lags the United States in many respects, however.

Xinhua placed China's online penetration rate at 16 percent — the point Americans were at in the mid-1990s. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 75 percent of American adults are now online; penetration is even higher when teens are included. (China's stats cover Chinese 6 and older.)

"We're two countries at very different points along the adoption curve," said John Horrigan, Pew's associate director. "China is approximately 15 years behind."
Several other differences between the two markets mean Internet penetration has different meaning in China and the United States.

First, cybercafes serve as the main entry to the Internet for many Chinese unable to afford a computer at home. One-third of Chinese Internet users surf through cybercafes, according to Xinhua, while Pew found that 93 percent of U.S. Internet users have access at home.
Also, China is notorious for censorship. Although the government promotes Internet use for education and business, it tries to block the public from seeing material it deems pornographic or critical of communist rule, including new rules promulgated this month covering online videos.
And China's government imprisons people who mail, post online, or access politically sensitive content from within China. Reporters Without Borders says 50 Chinese "cyberdissidents" are currently in prison.

Nonetheless, China's online growth is significant.
"Users do a lot to shape the Internet and not only by directly posting content but (by) their behavior," Horrigan said. "It tells other people what the demand is. As you get more Chinese, that increases demand for Internet content in Mandarin and other Chinese languages."
Horrigan also said many Chinese users are accessing the Internet through mobile devices, offering China "a distinct opportunity to shape the Internet" with usage everywhere.

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