Thursday, June 19, 2008

And you were worried about what was in the eggroll....

Since the school year is over, I've been surfing the internet and catching up on my reading trying to find a blogworthy topic. As you look around my house you will find numerous back issues of the New York Times. If you look in various rooms there are issues of Foreign Affairs dating back into 2006. There are about 6 boxes of books sitting in Metairie, awaiting my call. After some interesting reading I think I found a topic to write about.

As a youngster, around age 5, I would venture to say that we had a good deal more Chinese food than your average family. Or possibly, I just liked it a good deal more than most youngsters. For some reason at about that age I thought the entire world was encompassed by one country. No not Pangea , nor even these United States of America, but China. Now dear reader, you might ask, are either of your parents Chinese? The answer is not at all. The only connection I can think of is that most people think Chinese restaurants turn into Jewish Community Centers on Sunday nights.

Why do I bring this up? Well, most of you have probably heard about the earthquake in China recently. The current death toll from that tragic event is around 71,000 people. To put this in perspective, the terrorist attacks on our country killed approximately 5000 people. I realize that China has about three times as many people as the United States of America, but that number is just staggering.

If that problem were not bad enough, the environmental problems facing China are extraordinary. The country has an overwhelming problem of air pollution, water pollution and contaminated farmland. In other words China is a gigantic ecological disaster. The ramifications of these problems will unfortunately make the tragedy of the earthquake seem quite minor.

The problem is that China is trying to industrialize their whole economy. For years China has been basically an agrarian society with some factories. As I write this, I feel the need to put this in context. China has over 1.3 billion people, as compared to just over 300 million here in the U.S. Now this is not really news in itself. However, the Chinese are trying to make their economy more competitive for the 21st century. Considering that the Chinese had not fully modernized for the 20th century this is going to bring some significant changes.

Why bring this up? It is China after all. That country on the other side of the world, good for Mardi Gras throws and Moo Goo Gai Pan. Well the short version was originally stated by someone working for that Mouse in Orlando.... "It's a small world after all". The air pollution from China can drift over the Pacific and not just cause problems in Japan or South Korea, but also in Honolulu and even Los Angeles. The country of China has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world as far as air quality is concerned.

Sure their economy is expected to double by the year 2020, but at what cost? Neo-conservatives in America often point to China as a shining example of how are economy should be run. "Deregulation is a wonderful policy" or "The market will take of itself" are mottos I'm not exactly sold on. What is the cost of this mass industrialization for the Chinese? According to the State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) there are significantly higher cancer rates in China since 2005. It is estimated that 190 million Chinese are sick because of contaminated water supplies. The Yangtze and most other rivers are significantly polluted. For those of you in South Louisiana the prawn catch in one major river is down 90% in the last 15 years. Last but not least, 80% of the East China Sea, a major fishery, has been declared unsuitable for fishing. Again, what does this matter?

Well, as the U.S. relies more heavily on China for everything from peanuts to pet food we might want to make certain that the items we are importing are properly regulated. Some people think deregulation is the cure to all of the ills that might befall an economy. Those individuals can look at the state of society little more than a century ago, or they can just take a look at China. China had 51,000 public protests caused by environmental conditions in the year 2005. If we are going to continue importing goods from China, we need to fully fund our own Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the last 12 months we have had scares regarding pet food recalls and toys for toddlers. Both of these products originated in China. Maybe the EPA, and appropriate regulation are not such bad things.

*For this blog I read an article in the Foreign Affairs September/October 2007 titled China's Coming Environmental Crash by Elizabeth Economy.

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