of three anecdotes about China and the environment.
The first was from the Lonely Planet’s China guide, wherein one of the contributors said he was an avid jogger who moved to Beijing. Upon discovering the poor air quality, he decided it was better for his health to stop jogging.
The second was the funny and sad story of the fate of songbirds in Beijing. Apparently, Chairman Mao hated them. So he commanded all the citizens of the city to go outside and bang on pots and pans. The birds, scared by the racket, flew around and around until they dropped dead out of the sky from exhaustion. Subsequently, the insect population soared without the birds to keep them in check.
A reasonable person might have concluded that they should bring back the birds and restore equilibrium, but not Mao. He then decreed that since insects were breeding in the grass and vegetation in the capitol, that everyone should turn out and uproot all the plants and soak the trees down with DDT (a practice which continues to this day, in fact). Then, with no ground-level vegetation around, the city began to experience vexing dust storms.
The Chinese Communist Party efficiently proclaimed it a consequence of being downwind from the massive Soviet industrial complexes in Siberia.
The third anecdote involves the Three Gorges Dam. When the it looked like the CCP would put the plans into action, scientists and experts from around the world unanimously proclaimed it a Bad Idea. It would wipe out endangered species. It would erase one of the two greatest cultural and scenic features of China: the Three Gorges are somewhat analogous to the Grand Canyon and have inspired Chinese poets and artists for thousands of years. It would prove ineffective in generating power over the long run due to the rapid silting up of the reservoir. It would dislocate millions of people pushed out by the rising waters. It would create a potential disaster for the people living downstream (including Shanghai, one of the most densely populated cities in the world), because the dam itself was built across several faults.
But the CCP went ahead, because nature and man must be subsumed beneath the needs of the proletariat. Now it turns out, once the reservoir is filling, that all those concerns were true. For instance, the increased weight of water in the reservoir above the fault lines has accelerated the number of temblors. Also, with restricted water flow, regions downstream are experiencing drought (an unexpected consequence). And with the reduced water flow, pollution has become more concentrated and caused public health problems. And the last unexpected consequence is that the increased water levels in the reservoir have triggered all kinds of landslides.
In short, China’s approach to the environment is nothing short of a disaster. And unhappily for them, the effects of the disaster are immediately felt and born by the rank-and-file Chinese, given the high population density. Yet because of the totalitarian presence of the CCP and its totalizing ideology and propaganda, the country and its people are unable to efficiently evaluate proposals and effectively respond to problems.
It’s sad, because the Chinese are an incredibly inventive and resourceful group. They’ve given so much to the world. One wonders what they could achieve in a free and open society. But alas, they have, at least for the time being, chosen to handicap themselves with a system that turns all their genius to idiocy.
The rest of us should observe, and take notes for our own societies.