Environmental Horror Perhaps China’s Biggest Export

The recent spate of sad and nasty ecological news coming out of China—nearly 3,000 dead pigs and 1,000 dead ducks found floating in a river that provides Shanghai with its drinking water—takes me back to my first visit to the country.

The West has done a very good job of exporting by example its own energy-sucking lifestyle, which is now deemed desirable by the burgeoning middle class in China.

The first time I was in western China, exploring a tributary of the Yangtze River, we got badly lost and ended up on a winding road leading through landscapes I’m sure the Chinese government that had given us the permit never intended for us to see.

All around forests were clear-cut, paper plants were built on rivers above towns, children with deformities were visible in outsized numbers on the streets, and the air was so hazy at midday that many people wore medical masks, even indoors. That was in 1996. Nearly three decades later, things have only gotten worse as China’s human population, energy needs and consumerism have all escalated.

dead pig china

In his new book, The Devouring Dragon, How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World, authorCraig Simons expands on the problem, suggesting that the ills of China are not just bad for the Chinese, but one of its biggest exports is now environmental calamity.

The country’s boom times, he contends, are impacting everything from dirty air and water around the globe to fast-climbing temperatures and fast-disappearing wildlife.

China, of course, is not to blame for the fact that the planet is screeching to an inevitable environmental meltdown. The U.S. and Europe have long led that charge thanks to healthy economies and the ability to earn and spend at will. The West has done a very good job of exporting by example its own energy-sucking lifestyle, which is now deemed desirable by burgeoning middle classes in China—and India, Russia, Brazil too.

But pollution created by the world’s biggest nation, 1.3 billion headed quickly to 1.5 billion, is accelerating global environmental problems on a scale not seen before. (Don’t forget those dead, floating pigs.)

 Simons’ China experience began as a Peace Corps volunteer the same year I first visited, in 1996. He has reported from there since. A few of the most egregious examples of China’s pollution exports and imports:
dead ducks china

– In 2011, China burned more than four billion tons of coal, almost half the world’s total and four times what was burned in the U.S. the same year. By comparison, in 1976, it was only burning 550 million tons.

– The illegal wildlife trade, from elephant tusks to tiger skin pelts and shark fins, is dominated by China’s demand. We are used to stories of excessive wedding parties where every table has a pot of shark fin soup on the table or miniature cityscapes carved from elephant ivory, but as Simons points out, some of the proudest  Buddhists in Tibet still wear tiger skin robes as a sign of success.

– China’s fat pocketbook and voracious energy needs are having an impact far from home wherever fossil fuels are dug out of the earth. The nation has funded natural gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan, has put $35 billion into railroads “to transport copper and coal out of Africa and into the power plants of China,” and is currently building half of all the nuclear reactors under construction globally. China’s energy and food needs are so big the country is buying up existing power plants from Tanzania to Saudi Arabia and farmland across Russia, Australia and Argentina.

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Chinese workers revolt over 2-minute toilet breaks

Chinese Revolt Bathroom breaks Shanghai Shinmei Electric Company


About 1,000 workers at Shanghai Shinmei Electric Company held the 10 Japanese nationals and eight Chinese managers inside the factory in Shanghai starting Friday morning until 11.50 p.m. Saturday, said a statement from the parent company, Shinmei Electric Co., released Monday. It said the managers were released uninjured after 300 police officers were called to the factory.— Hundreds of Chinese factory workers angry about strictly timed bathroom breaks and fines for starting work late held their Japanese and Chinese managers hostage for a day and a half before police broke up the strike.

A security guard at the Shanghai plant said Tuesday that workers had gone on strike to protest the company’s issuing of new work rules, including time limits on bathroom breaks and fines for being late.

“The workers demanded the scrapping of the ridiculously strict requirements stipulating that workers only have two minutes to go to the toilet and workers will be fined 50 yuan ($8) if they are late once and fired if they are late twice,” said the security guard, surnamed Feng. “The managers were later freed when police intervened and when they agreed to reconsider the rules.”

The plant makes electromagnetic coils and other electronic products. It was closed Tuesday, said a man who answered at the plant but refused to identify himself. He said no workers were on strike and staff would return to work on Wednesday.

Strikes have become commonplace in China, as factories operating in highly competitive markets try to get more productivity from their labor force and workers connected by mobile phones and the Internet become more aware of their rights.

Shinmei Electric’s statement didn’t say specifically what the workers were protesting, but said management reforms and labor policies were believed to be a cause. It said talks were under way with workers at the plant and that police were questioning staff.

A man who refused to give his name from the press office of the Shanghai police bureau said he had no information about the incident and referred calls to the Shanghai government press office, where calls rang unanswered.


Come On, China, Buy Our Stuff!

A Gap Inc. store in Shanghai, China.

A Gap Inc. store in Shanghai, China.

By NYT ADAM DAVIDSON    Published: January 25, 2012

The first time I visited China, in 2005, an American businessman living there told me that the country was so huge and was changing so fast that everything you heard about it was true, and so was the opposite. That still seems to be the case. China is the fastest-growing consumer market in the world, and American companies have made billions there. At the same time, Chinese consumers aren’t spending nearly as much as American companies had hoped. China has simultaneously become the greatest boon and the biggest disappointment.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2000, the United States forged its current economic relationship with China by permanently granting it most-favored-nation trade status and, eventually, helping the country enter the World Trade Organization. The unspoken deal, though, went something like this: China could make a lot of cheap goods, which would benefit U.S. consumers, even if it cost the country countless low-end manufacturing jobs. And rather than, say, fight for an extra bit of market share in Chicago, American multinationals could offset any losses because of competition by entering a country with more than a billion people — including the fastest-growing middle class in history — just about to buy their first refrigerators, TVs and cars. It was as if the United States added a magical 51st state, one that was bigger and grew faster than all the others. We would all be better off.

More than a decade later, many are waiting for the payoff. Certainly, lots of American companies have made money, but many actual workers have paid a real price. What went wrong? In part, American businesses assumed that a wealthier China would look like, well, America, says Paul French, a longtime Shanghai-based analyst with Access Asia-Mintel. He notes that Chinese consumers have spent far less than expected, and the money they do spend is less likely to be spent on American goods. Read more of this post

Made in the USA… and China: Why the new paradigm will be to manufacture in both China and America. And Southern U.S. states will win big on jobs.

If I had told you in the summer of 2009 that America’s long-suffering manufacturing industries would lead the lackluster recovery from the Great Recession, you probably would have wondered what I was reading—or smoking.

I would have been correct, however. As a June 1 report from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) noted, May 2011 marked the 22nd consecutive month in which U.S. manufacturing expanded. Exports have driven much of the growth. Last year, for example, U.S. exports increased more than 20 percent, according to the Census Bureau, and some 85 percent of those exports were manufactured goods.

It comes as no surprise that manufacturing employment also is on the rise, with related jobs increasing last year for the first time since 1997.

The good news about U.S. manufacturing is no fluke. For reasons I will explain below, the manufacturing renaissance should continue for years to come. Read more of this post

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