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China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

China Needs “Environmental Infrastructure”

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Small (relatively) cities in China need to know more about the effects of pollution on their health.

Small (relatively) cities in China need to know more about the effects of pollution on their health.

Greenlaw’s Alex Wang just posted a short piece reiterating calls for more open channels of information on toxic emissions here in China.  There have been recent reports of serious lead poisoning in Shaanxi province, leading to bouts of “unrest.”  I don’t like that term.  Unrest.  But I do like what Wang had to say,

“In this economic downturn, China has been investing heavily in infrastructure – rail, highways and the like – to make China more economically competitive going forward.  Think of open environmental information as necessary environmental protection infrastructure, without which the entire environmental protection system breaks down.  Let’s hope for the same sort of aggressive push for information infrastructure in the coming months and years.”

Open information is essential.  But it’s not enough.  There need to be members of each society who can help explain consequences in a way local people can relate.  The China Daily article mentions a mother telling her daughter she can not possibly have lead poisoning because she is 18.  They were only offering the free testing for children up to 14.

It reminds me of a story.  A few years back, traveling through the countryside of Cambodia, I was appalled to see people living in their own refuse.  Front yards were cluttered with bags and bottles, rotting food and torn cloth.  Passing some homes, you could smell the heaps of trash from 100 yards away.

I asked my Cambodian friend,  “Why do people pile trash in their own front yard?  Aren’t they repulsed?”

“No, they don’t even think about it,” he replied.  “Remember, only recently did these people begin gettting access to plastics.  Before that, almost all of their trash would biodegrade and sometimes even be useful as compost.  They do not know that this plastic will be here forever.  No one has taught them.”

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