environment


China - pollutionHow the world’s priorities have changed over China: not so long ago the US Congress was earnestly debating China’s human-rights record. Today all anyone cares about is that China’s economic wheels keep turning, so it goes on filling its shelves with our goods. Far from worrying about China’s repressive regime, foreign politicians are mainly concerned that it keep a lid on the discontent caused by widespread official corruption. That’s why the outside world got a graphic glimpse of the rioting recently in Hunan last week. The crackdown on the 20,000 or so demonstrators was incredibly vicious, yet remarkably, a BBC TV reporter was allowed to film it. You can be sure that was no accident. Hu Jintao‘s regime is the most media savvy in China’s history: it wanted to show the world that, fine words about justice aside, it has the situation well under control, even if it means sending in a couple of thousand baton-wielding troops and declaring martial law.

It’s a pity China wasn’t as tough on curbing the terrible price exacted by the steep economic growth. Once sleepy rural towns are now boxed in by factories and power plants belch acrid smoke. Even with a face mask it’s hard to breathe when you go outside. The sky is black – cars always drive with their headlights on; the soil is chemically contaminated (vegetables that grow there are covered with ugly black patches); and people are getting sick from skin infections, breathing disorders and cancers. Drinking water is the biggest worry: 90% of China’s water is now seriously polluted.

Europeans also make things worse by sending China all their supermarket packaging and plastic bags. Britain alone dumps around two million tonnes of waste in China every year. What can’t be recycled is melted down in acid baths, or burned, creating noxious fumes and appalling health problems for the locals.

China - pollution streetHowever, China’s main problem is that most of its growth is fuelled by coal. Within a few months, its emission of greenhouse gases will exceed that of America: in 25 years, if left unchecked, it will be twice that of all developed nations put together. Yet China’s leaders remain reluctant to take any steps to stem it, fearing that to curb growth would be to invite social unrest which is crazy since pollution itself is now a prime cause of public anger. Two years ago, there was rioting when four million people had their water cut off following a chemical spill in the Songhua River. Other such accidents, albeit on a lesser scale, occur every other day, and it’s local politicians and businessmen, putting careers and profits before environmental safety, who are blamed for them.

Chinas leaders used to blame the West for global warming, pointing out China has contributed less than 8% of CO2 emissions since 1850. But now they’ve signalled that they’re ready to engage in international negotiations on global warming. Beijing might well commit itself to binding caps on emissions (thereby robbing the US of its key excuse for not doing likewise). Better still, it aims to raise energy efficiency by 20% in four years – mainly by greater reliance on renewable sources and cut-backs in iron and steel production. This is ambitious as these targets far exceed those set by Western countries. Still, there’s an encouraging precedent. In the Sixties, Tokyo and Osaka were as polluted as China’s cities are now, but thanks to tough policies, Japan is now more energy-efficient than any other country. Let’s hope, for the world’s sake, that its neighbour can pull off the same trick.

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“Approximately 80 % of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation, so let’s not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards from man-made sources.”

Reagan, Ronald
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GoreFanatics have a habit of undermining their own cause: just look at animal liberationists, and how their gruesome antics diverted attention from worthwhile campaigns aimed at factory farming. A lunatic fringe now threatens to sabotage the global warming debate in the same way.

In the US, the think-tank that accused Al Gore of hypocrisy over his personal electricity consumption has been inundated with abusive emails and death threats – to the quiet satisfaction of conservatives who like to portray all green campaigners as extremists.

But the same sort of low-level intimidation is also present in Britain, where protesters have sent hate mail to newspaper travel editors and chained the doors of travel agents. Such tactics will only alienate the public and set back the cause.

The campaign to curb climate change is a hard enough sell already, since it requires people to make major changes to their lifestyle in return for vague, intangible benefits.

I’m all for environmental activism but the last thing we need is eco-extremists trumping Gore’s inconvenient truth with a convenient excuse for doing nothing.

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My fellow Americans, people all over the world, we need to solve the climate crisis, it’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act, that’s a renewable resource, let’s renew it. Academy Award acceptance speech, February 27, 2007.

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Cheap flight madness!In a century from now people will reflect and realise that the cheap flights we now enjoy were economic madness. The newspapers have been raving recently about the favourable exchange rate and the delights of Christmas shopping in New York thereby ignoring the warnings about global warming and air travel. It’s still the fastest growing mode of transport, with the Government predicting the annual number of passengers using British airports will double to 400 million in 14 years. We know this is unsustainable, but we can’t resist cashing in on cheap flights. Perhaps we should look to Tony Blair for guidance. He atoned for the sin of flying to Florida for his winter break by paying £89.82 into a carbon offset scheme. He is in good company. Paying an offset firm to fund the cutting of carbon dioxide elsewhere – by planting trees, for example – has become an increasingly popular way for jet-setters to relieve their environmental guilt. Huge numbers of Britons have offset one or more flights last year despite recent research suggesting that planting trees in northern climes may trap heat and thereby increase global warming.

However, the idea that we can plant our way out of climate change is stupid. Consider the huge number of trees required to offset the UK’s carbon emissions, any beneficial impact on the climate would take decades to materialise. Other offsetting schemes, such as buying energy-efficient light bulbs and stoves for the developing world, may be better. But when considering this logically you realise that there is an underlying problem with the concept itself – rather than seeking ingenious ways to offset pollution, we should be trying to produce less of it in the first place!

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It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.

Quayle, Dan

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Yummy pork sausages - 83% fatWe all know that drinking alcohol is both big and clever but it does sometime provoke a wee bit of violence, which doesn’t matter as long as you can fight, but it ultimately leads to weight problems. Think darts player. Fat people can’t catch a break these days in a society that prizes thinness above all. We make the obese the butt of our jokes, berate them for running up health care costs and treat them like modern-day lepers. And we’re even blaming them for global warming. A new study estimates that America‘s cars burn a billion gallons of extra petrol a year, just to lug around the extra pounds of their lardy bodies. Another study estimates that commercial planes burn another 350 million gallons of fuel for the same reason. People will apparently seize on any ammunition, however tenuous, to scapegoat the fat and get them to change their dissolute ways. Subjecting the obese to a non-stop diet of criticism is not just cruel – it’s also counter-productive. A researcher recently asked 3,000 fat people how they responded to stigmatisation and discrimination. Almost everyone said they ate more. Perhaps they should jog more, mind you look at what happened to Jim Fixx.

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