Environmentalism in China (Viewed as Single Page)

January 28, 2010

To understand why China is often the focus of so much attention when it comes to pollution, such as carbon emissions from oil, coal, gasoline, diesel and burning wood, we should start where the industrial revolution began and that is in the West (more than two centuries ago). I will start with an “old” friend that believes environmentalists worship the environment instead of God. I do not agree.

Instead, I see environmentalism as humanity’s effort to save the world from a potential catastrophe. If anything, the Christian God would support environmentalism, since He entrusted the earth to humanity’s care. Nowhere in Genesis or the Bible does God tell man to destroy and/or pollute the earth.

In fact, He says in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Then, in Numbers 35:33, the Christian Bible says, “So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are…” and 35:34, “Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit…”

My “old” friend, that claims Global Warming is a hoax, has joined those that shout “no” loudest at the scientific theories that current trends in Global Warming are caused by carbon emissions, which “may” create what is known as greenhouse gasses that become trapped in the atmosphere.

If you want to learn more about the theory behind Global Warming, visit the Environmental Defense Fund and read the Basics of Global Warming, which my “old” friend believes is a hoax.

My “old” friend may also be described as an evangelical, born-again Christian, conservative libertarian that believes everything bad that happens is the fault of liberals. He also listens to neoconservative talk show host Dennis Prager and belongs to a chapter of the Dennis Prager fan club, which meets regularly.

If you decide to discover what Dennis Prager preaches to his fans, I suggest reading Why Liberals Fear Global Warming more Than Conservatives Do. You may quickly learn how an American radio talk-show host uses emotional language to manipulate the people that “worship” what he preaches daily.

Black Carbon causes an estimated 1.5 million deaths per year.

However, when we return to what the Christian Bible says about pollution, how guilty is the US (and American conservatives such as Dennis Prager and his fans) when it comes to what the Christian Bible says not to do?

To discover the answer, we will focus on Black Carbon and CO2 emissions as a source of pollution.

Between 1990 and 2008, according to the United Nations Statistics Division, the US produced 314.6 million metric tons of CO2, while China produced 57.23 million metric tons. One metric ton is 1,000 kg or 2,204.62 pounds, which means one million metric tons weighs one billion kg or more than two billion pounds.

Chinese Environmentalists Target Apple

In addition, in 2008, the Earth System Science Education Alliance reported, “Black soot is made up of microscopic carbon particles released during the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, coal and the burning of wood)…

“Soot, we now understand, is hazardous to our health and is suspected of contributing to global warming.”

In fact, soot has only recently been identified as a major player in the loss of ice and snow in the Polar Regions.

While the US has reduced CO2 emissions from 19.7 million metric tons in 1997 (the highest point on record) to 17.5 in 2008, China increased CO2 emissions from 2.8 million metric tons to 5.3.

In 2008, the US still produced more than three times the amount of CO2 China produced.

Facts and Details.com says, “The U.S. emits about 21% of the world’s CO2 and 6.1% of the world’s Black Soot. However, the majority of today’s black carbine emissions are from developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

“China and India together account for 25-35% of global black carbon emissions.”

Using technology to confront polluters in China

What isn’t mentioned is that the US population is less than 5% of the global total while China and India together represent 36%. From these facts, it is clear that the US still pollutes more than its share of black soot and CO2 compared to China and India.

What is China doing to solve the pollution challenge before it equals the more than two hundred years of pollution from the US and Europe?

In China, the environmental movement started in recent years from the top down and the bottom up. Evidence of this fledgling movement appears in several Western media sources.

For a more detailed history, The China Daily’s Sun Xiaohua wrote A Legal Leap Forward, which starts with an accidental environmental disaster that took place the day before China passed its first ever draft of the Environmental Protection Law of the People’s Republic of China in 1979.

The man that caused the accidental environmental disaster was sentenced to two years in jail. As we all know, passing laws are easy compared to enforcing them, and it doesn’t matter if we are in the US or China. Some environmental disasters are accidents, as in this case, and some are intentional due to greed.

In The Atlantic, Christina Larson wrote China’s Nascent Environmentalism, and said, “Since 2007, I have been reporting in China (and elsewhere in Asia), looking at the efforts of China’s environmentalists, scientists, lawyers, and others to rein in their country’s enormous (I question the use of the word ‘enormous’ when we compare more than two hundred years of CO2 and Black Soot pollution in the US to China) pollution toll and related problems.

Larson says, “China may clean up its environmental mess eventually … but it almost certainly won’t do so in the same fashion as the West.”

Green Long March in China – 2009

Then Arrol Gellner, writing for SFGate of China’s environmentalist ways, says, “At China’s current rate of progress, and despite its posturing to the contrary, industrial polluters may well be brought up to Western standards within the next decade.

“What’s more,” Gellner writes, “when China decides that it’s ready to tackle its environmental problems full force, it’ll move quickly. Unlike us fiercely independent-minded Americans, the Chinese people, for the most part, are far more amenable to sweeping change being imposed from the top down – a deep-seated cultural trait that stems, not from China’s trifling time under communism, but rather from its nearly 3,500 years under dynastic rule.”

Another example by Philip P. Pan appeared in the Houston Chronicle of an environmental grass roots movement to do away with disposable wooden chopsticks. A quote by Kang Dahu, a truck driver in China says it best. “The disposable ones are such a waste! We’re destroying what little is left of our forests to make them,” said Kang, 22, who does volunteer work with several environmental groups. “Just imagine, years from now, when my grandchildren ask me what happened to all of China’s trees, I’ll have to say, `We made them into chopsticks.’ Isn’t that pitiful?”

In addition, Zhang Zhe, 24, who works for an environmental education group supported by British zoologist Jane Goodall, says, “Chopsticks are just an example. People are beginning to ponder even ordinary things.”

To discover more of how diverse this environmental awakening is in China, the October 2011 issue of Smithsonian magazine introduces us to the Bird Whisperer, a Buddhist monk named Tashi Zangpo, who is saving one of the world’s rarest birds, the Tibetan bunting.

“Tashi, now 41,” Phil McKenna writes, “has crisscrossed the Tibetan plateau drawing 400 bird species. He is currently compiling a field guide that evokes the work of John James Audubon or Roger Tory Peterson. He wears prayer beads on one wrist and a digital watch with altimeter and compass on the other.”

However, in America, regardless of what is happening in Asia, China is often criticized in the media and by the public (after reading about it in the media) for air pollution blowing more than 6,000 miles across the Pacific to the United States.

The breathing earth

From Where Does Our Pollution Go, we learn that “Winds can carry pollution around the planet, therefore, all nations are connected by air currents,” and then from MSNBC, we discover that the U.S. exports its air pollution to Europe.

When I Googled “air pollution from China to America”, the results were more than 9.4 million hits, but when I searched “air pollution from America to Europe”, there were more than 17 million.

MSNBC’s Michael Schirber of Live Science reported in 2005, that “On Nov. 14, 2001, a low-pressure system caused a large mass of air huddled over the eastern half of the United States to rise up several miles, where it was then carried by the jet stream to Europe,” which resulted in a 33% increase in ozone levels in the Alps.

In addition, Schirber says, “European pollution has been tracked to Asia, as well as the Arctic…” He compares the wind to a conveyor belt.

In fact, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research reported in October 2009 that when it comes to global air pollution, what goes around comes around. “Air pollution from factories, traffic, and power plants in Asia wafts over the Pacific Ocean to the United States, while pollutants produced in the United States wind up in Europe.”

Then there are those in America and Europe (and elsewhere in the world) that claim CO2 is not a pollutant and is not contributing to Global Warming.

Ocean Acidification — Changing Planet — As higher amounts of carbon dioxide become absorbed by the oceans, some marine organisms are finding it is a struggle to survive

For such naysayers, in January 2008, a Stanford Report written by Louis Bergeron reported on a study conducted by a Stanford scientist that linked carbon dioxide emissions to increased deaths.

“For the first time,” Bergeron wrote, there were direct links between increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increases in human mortality…

The study detailed how for each increase of 1 degree Celsius caused by carbon dioxide, the resulting air pollution would lead annually to about a thousand additional deaths and many more cases of respiratory illness and asthma in the United States.

So, next time you hear someone criticize China for air pollution crossing the Pacific Ocean to the US, consider the amount of CO2 and Black Soot China produced in the last thirty years of industrialization compared to the UK, Europe and America’s more than two centuries.

Once you know the facts and you were given a choice to live in Europe or America, where would the air probably be cleaner/healthier?


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This post first appeared as a four part series on October 31, 2011 in Environmentalism in China – Part 1