25 August 2007

So Many Problems

The NYTimes front page article today:

"No country in history has emerged as a major industrial power without creating a legacy of environmental damage that can take decades and big dollops of public wealth to undo.
Choking on Growth

But just as the speed and scale of China’s rise as an economic power have no clear parallel in history, so its pollution problem has shattered all precedents. Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party. And it is not clear that China can rein in its own economic juggernaut.

Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water.

Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for the 2008 Olympics..."


I love the place, but I always thought that if I spent more than a year there, I would get cancer. Looks like this fear wasn't ungrounded.

Watching China from afar is like watching a teenager plunge through puberty, growing taller and faster and learning how to produce things on a large scale with the labor force of all of the cells in his body (if you can call it that)... except that this teenager is growing so fast that he hasn't yet learned how to move his limbs without breaking things. And in the meantime, his body is polluted with junk food, acne raging, immune system collapsing.

We watch it with a rush of desire to help (after all, we've been through it too) and a feeling of mixed repulsion and fear. I don't quite know how to put it, but everything going on there makes me feel awe, and a lot of fear.

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