I was in mystical Yangshuo, China not long ago (post to follow in a day or two) and was deeply troubled by the unfettered growth in the region. Toilets emptied directly into the clear water of the Li River and I imagined it would soon be like the dark Pearl River in industrial Guangzhou. Last year 5 of my students were diagnosed with a variety of cancers; none of them is older than 22.
Close to Guangzhou is Dongguan. It is, like Shenzhen, a very new city populated by migrants from the North of China looking for greener, albeit toxic, pastures:
I was never so glad to get back to Guangzhou as the day after I visited Dongguan, China. And Guangzhou’s sky has an aversion itself to letting the sun shine. Dongguan is a huge city with natural and man-made amenities inversely proportional to the pollution. Even the countryside smells like the back-end of a bus.
Dongguan is South China’s industrial magnet for rural workers and a paradise of cheap labor and easily manageable supply chains at the bottom of the Pearl River Delta. The thousands of factories in the region have been like petroleum on a brush fire of cancer and disease.
Further North and East, near Shanghai, is Wuli Village. Wuli, like Dongguan, is one of the many towns in China now being labeled “Cancer Villages,” and residents are paying heavy human taxes for China’s industrial productivity. The factories dump acrid chemicals into the air and ground water and make enough money to simply add the costs of toxic dumping fines to their overhead.
I have not been to Wuli, but I can only imagine that with a chemical industrial park, with more than 20 factories in operation, the air must have a dark shape and palpable form. If it is as hard to breathe in Wuli as it is in Dongguan, it is would be better to bring a soup spoon, or a Sherpa with an oxygen tank, on your first visit. And the notion that several hundred million more rural Chinese are expected to migrate to the business and industrial centers in the next two decades is cause for alarm.
China took some “interesting” measures last year to curb pollution that will affect the average citizen: Chopsticks made of wood actually require the destruction of 70.6 million cubic feet of timber each year. So, the government is going to monetarily tax their use. Plastic chopsticks, which can be washed and reused, will be exempted.
Gas guzzlers like SUVs and even large engined motorcycles will be taxed as well along with golf balls, golf clubs and wooden floors.
I wondered about the golf ball thing and just guessed that the someone in government had seen me play. My old Pro buddy Paul Surniak used to call my reaching for a fresh ball in my back pocket, BEFORE the first one had landed (usually in someone’s yard or the woods), the “Hodge maneuver.”
The taxes really seem aimed at the new middle and upper class. It is hard to imagine that a country of over a billion people, that bought only 3 million or so new cars last year, is going to feel much impact from such taxation. It could hardly make a dent in the pollution put out by thousands of factories in the Pearl River Delta. And I think the clear cutting of forests, that causes widespread flooding and horrendous deaths from drowing and mudslides, will not abate much if folks have to pay a few yuan more for eating utensils. Nor do I think that cancer deaths, which increased by at least 50% in recent years, will plummet when people make the switch to plastic.
Local environmental activists–yes, they have them here as dangerous as that job might be–blame the government and industry for being joined at the hip to further the economy at the expense of the environment and the average Chinese citizen. I cannot imagine why.
Sadly, it is the growing burden on the health care system and loss of worker production hours, that will finally probably bring about change as it did during America’s heydays of industrial lawlessness.
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