Category Archives: environment

“Taking It to the Street in China”

This NYT piece was the best one I saw about the Qidong protests, which rocked a town near Shanghai last week:

On Saturday, thousands of angry residents of Qidong, a seaport town near Shanghai, decided they weren’t going to take it anymore. They took to the streets to protest the government’s plan to dump wastewater from a paper mill into their harbor, as my colleague Jane Perlez reported. They ransacked municipal offices, overturned cars and fought with the police. Striking photos of the unrest are here.

City officials quickly announced the waste-discharge plan would be canceled. Score one, maybe, for people power.

Although there are tens of thousands of civic protests every year in China, most are small-scale, ineffectual and officially smothered. But high profile demonstrations over environmental issues are occurring with more regularity, size, violence and political oomph — in Dalian (a petrochemical plant), in Zuotan (land grabs) and earlier this month in Shifang (a heavy-metals smelter). Deadly floods and a feeble government response in Beijing last week also led to a huge outcry online.

Elizabeth C. Economy, a senior fellow and director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that all over China now “citizens are making their voices heard on the Internet and their actions felt on the streets.”

In a piece on the council’s Asia Unbound blog, she said that Li Yuanchao, one of China’s most powerful leaders and a presumptive candidate for the Standing Committee of the Politburo, recently lectured Communist Party officials that they should “understand and comply with the will of the people.”

His message is one that has been often delivered by party bosses, “apparently to little effect,” Ms. Economy said.

As one microblogger said of the bloody Shifang protests this month: “The government has repeatedly squandered the people’s patience. It is time for us to be independent.” As we reported on Rendezvous at the time, the police warned that anyone using the Internet, cellphones or text messages to spread news about the protest would be “severely punished.”

A university student from Beijing, Yueran Zhang, says in a thoughtful essay published Sunday on Tea Leaf Nation that public skepticism and online rumor-swapping have become the new normal in China whenever government officials are confronted with crises.

Government response to a recent deadly shopping mall fire, for example, “exacerbated netizen rumors and doubts,” Mr. Zhang says. Government officers shunted journalists away from hospital interviews with the injured, and lawyers needed official permission before giving interviews.

“Those measures led to the inevitable online speculation,” Mr. Zhang says, “that government was concealing a terrible truth.”

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Filed under activism, censorship, environment, protests

“China’s Young and Restless Could Test Legal System”

Stanley Lubman looks at what we learned from Shifang in this WSJ piece:

The Shifang protests are notable because of their size, their success in derailing a major project for environmental reasons and also because they reportedly involved the participation of a significant number of students. The protests may augur both a growing public anger over environmental degradation and a rise of political activism among China’s younger generation – trends that could lead in turn to an increase in legal challenges to the arbitrary behavior of local governments.

Writing in the Journal of Contemporary China, Benjamin van Rooij offers a good summary of the numerous obstacles to effective enforcement of environmental standards in China. Among them: A lack of information about procedures and costs associated with environmental litigation; the unwillingness of courts to accept cases in deference to the wishes of local governments; unresponsiveness from administrative institutions such as petitions offices and environmental protection bureaus; and the willingness of police to use force in repressing demonstrations.

Despite, or perhaps because of, difficulties in litigation, citizen outcries against projects deemed hostile to the environment appear to be on the rise. The newly visible participation of members of China’s young generation in the Shifang events may signal the rise of a new politically savvy generation. As recent story by Financial Times notes, the Shifang protest “has revealed a potentially important shift in the country’s politics: youth were at the forefront of the three-day demonstration, exposing a new vein of activism in a generation seen by many as apathetic.”

Contrary to popular perception inside China, the Financial Times argues that members the so-called post-‘90 generation are more politically active than their predecessors. They tend to be highly educated, and they also face less social mobility than in the two preceding generations. They also have grown up with more access to information, which has heightened their political awareness.

But as prominent Chinese environmental activist Ma Jun noted in a recent interview with business magazine Caixin, protests alone will not lead to long-term resolution of the country’s environmental problems. What’s needed, he says, is “ to liberalize environmental litigation and allow activists to speak in public. Right now, this channel is essentially shut off….the solutions to environmental problems must be legalized.”

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Filed under activism, environment, pollution, protests

“A Violent New Tremor in China’s Heartland”

IHT’s Rendezvous Blog on the Shifang protests:

“It is the 4th of July — 236 years ago, America achieved independence and 236 years later, the Shifang people are fighting for their own rights and confronting the government,” said an unidentified microblogger who was quoted by Reuters on Wednesday.

“The government has repeatedly squandered the people’s patience. It is time for us to be independent.”

The police warned that anyone using the Internet, cellphones or text messages to spread news about the protest would be “severely” punished. But there was a flood of photos and microblog posts, plus some video, and a widely circulated piece from Han Han, perhaps China’s most famous blogger.

As my colleague Keith Bradsher reported, the Shifang protest was the most-searched subject Tuesday on Sina Weibo, “despite what appeared to be the deleting of postings by censors.”

A Weibo microblogger named Lychee, who said her foot had been cut to the bone in the melee, wrote, “We simply hope that our hometown is free from pollution. That’s all. Is that too much to ask?!”

Shifang and its surrounding towns were heavily damaged in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed some 70,000 people. Since then, the central government has invested heavily to rebuild the Shifang area, the official news agency Xinhua has reported, although anger over shoddy school construction in the province led to sharp confrontations between the parents of dead schoolchildren and government officials.

Many mourning ceremonies turned into protests, until the government began to forcefully stifle the demonstrations.

In the long term, however, the elite could be in trouble if Chinese citizens come to believe they can mobilize effectively around environmental concerns — or any other collective complaint like food safety, official corruption, land grabs, housing prices, forced abortions, a growing wealth gap, Internet censorship, you name it.

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“Han Han: The Liberation of Shifang”

CDT has a translation from a post by Han Han on the subject of Shifang, a city in Sichuan which has been rocked by protests after the government initially ignored concerns about a new industrial complex:

I think back to my hometown, the village of Tinglin, in Shanghai’s chemical industries district of Jinshan. I saw how a place of clear waters, quaint houses and clean air became what it is today. In ten years–it only took ten years–the river looked like dye and air smelled like poison. When the government wanted to develop pollution-heavy industries, it told the villagers that the GDP needed to grow. It needed more tax revenue to make everyone happy. Ten years later, quality of life hasn’t gotten any better, but now we’re breathing bad air. The river is a horrible sight, changing colors seven times a week. You can tell which day of the week it is just by looking at the river. The people of Tinglin have chosen to endure all this because the environmental department’s reports show that everything is up to standard. Of course, if you have no limits, anything is standard. But have you seen water so bad that even crawfish can’t live in it?

And so I want to tell the Shifang government that this is not an earthquake, this is not an emergency. People’s requests for improving their environment must be respected. You leaders change every few years. You take on environmental destruction with nice-looking certificates of achievement. If you do well you get promoted, if you don’t you get jail. The best of you emigrate, the worst of you are shot. But none of you actually live in the pollution. Only ordinary people live there. Even though you already stopped the plan to mine molybdenum copper, I think the pent-up public anger this project released comes from a deep-rooted animus that’s about more than molybdenum copper. The proposed plant started it, but now it has become a mass incident. I hope that the people’s resistance can proceed in a rational, smart and safe way. You should seek negotiation. Don’t suppress the movement, don’t give people an excuse to mob, riot, steal, break and loot.

I also want to tell the Shifang government that your decision to disperse the crowd was too sudden and excessive. I can understand that as a local government, you have no experience dealing with this kind of mass incident. Once you see the government offices surrounded by people, and the sign that was over the door broken on the ground, of course you feel annoyed. You look down at the people and then up at the calendar, oh gosh, it’s the Organization’s birthday.* The whole situation feels bad, and it’s happening on the wrong day, and something terrible will happen, and you might lose your position, and so you conclude that you must disperse the crowd before anything else. These people are not even celebrating the Birthday, so fine, you bust it up, they’re not giving you any face. I can imagine the order from the policy-makers: “Settle this as soon as possible.” Then the ones carrying out orders think, “As soon as possible… disperse… got it… dial 0101…” And so there’s no room left for the most basic exchange of words. Could it be that you’re treating the people’s anger at environmental destruction like an epidemic, to be stamped out in one day? No need for talk, just throw the tear gas? Having gone through Wenchuan, don’t you know that the more emotions build up, the bigger the explosion? When people release their anger, even if it’s over the top or started by someone from the outside, can’t you take it on good faith? You’d rather pepper spray them? So this is how the police connect with the people, by crying pepper spray tears with them?

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TibetWatch: April 19th

By my count it has been more than two weeks since the last self-immolation in Tibet itself, but two immolations in Dzamthang yesterday have broken the lull (via RFA):

Two Tibetan cousins set themselves ablaze Thursday in protest over Chinese rule in a Tibetan-populated area of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, according to exile sources.

“Local Tibetans and monks tried to douse the flames and took the two to their homes, but their chances of survival are slim,” he said, identifying the two as Choephak Kyab and Sonam. “There was a gathering among Tibetans later. Police and other security forces arrived and then communications were cut off.”

The self-immolations on Thursday brought to 35 the number of Tibetans who had burned themselves since February 2009 to back demands for an end to Chinese rule and for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. Twenty-five have died of severe burns.

Aside from Sichuan, the burnings also triggered street protests in the other Tibetan-populated provinces of Qinghai and Gansu as Tibetans questioned Chinese policies which they say are discriminatory and have robbed them of their rights.

The Dalai Lama last week blamed Beijing’s “totalitarian” and “unrealistic” policies for the wave of self-immolations, saying the time has come for the Chinese authorities to take a serious approach to resolving the Tibetan problem.

Also, RFA and TCHRD are reporting that a school in Kardze has been closed for being just a little bit too Tibetan:

Chinese authorities in Sichuan province have closed a school linked to the promotion and teaching of the Tibetan language, detaining two of the school’s teachers and warning Tibetans living in the area not to attempt to reopen the facility, according to an exile source.

The school, which was established in 1987 in the Rongpo Tsa township with approval from Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) county authorities, was closed on April 2, a monk living in South India said, citing contacts in the region.

“The school’s efforts toward preserving Tibetan language and culture had annoyed the local authorities,” the source said, adding that two of the school’s teachers—Nyendak, 51, and Yama Tsering, 36—had been detained by the police.

Though language protests in Tibetan areas have been treated in the past as local issues resulting from a “misunderstanding” of government policy, “it is only a matter of time, really, before these issues will be treated in a much more serious way,” Barnett said.

“We’re in a climate now where that’s actually extremely likely, that almost everything will be treated as a political challenge [caused by] outside instigation.”

Finally for today, the Tibetan Plateau Blog has a lengthy post describing a concrete instance of something Tibetans have alleged for years- that nomad resettlement campaigns, ostensibly put in place to protect the environment, are actually being done to clear the way for mining companies:

The establishment of protected nature reserves is a time-tested method of asserting state authority over territories and peoples that were previously subject to weak control. Whether it is in the name of protecting tigers in India, forests in Central America or headwaters in Tibet, the creation of protected parks come with coercive laws that limit the rights of people who live in and around the designated area.

Often the discourse on protected parks portrays them as benign environmental projects. However, on the dark side, protected parks and nature reserves frequently introduce mechanisms for social control and facilitate resource development and eco-tourism plans. It is little wonder that between 1980 and 2003, China has established 70 nature reserve parks in the Tibet Autonomous Region.

They go on to examine a park system in place in Tibet, where the exact areas that were originally sealed off for grassland revitalization have now been given to gold-mining companies.

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Filed under environment, ethnic conflict, nomads, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

“Why is Batang County Experiencing so Many Power Cuts?”

High Peaks Pure Earth is still plugging along with the Woeser translations, now reaching the point where she and husband Wang Lixiong reach Batang in Kham:

When I was travelling through Kham last Summer, I went to Batang with a special purpose. On our way from Lithang to Batang we drove on muddy roads, passing through vast grasslands, my friend who was driving said that the the conditions were even worse than on the Xinjiang-Tibet highway, which is referring to the road linking Kargilik (Xinjiang) and the northern Tibetan town of Ngari. But even on this muddy road, we still saw Han Chinese tourists on self-drive tours with their off-road vehicles being decorated with the Chinese flag. 106 years ago, Zhao Erfeng who led military troops into the area to suppress Batang also passed by this area. I realised that the police car was still following us.

As it is the case in many places in Tibet, wherever we find mountains, there is mining, wherever there is water, we find hydroelectric power plants, and wherever there are mountains and water, as for example in Batang, we find mining and hydroelectric power plants. When we arrived at the Batang county town it was already getting dark but the whole city was without electricity, only a few shops and hotels used generators for lighting. It was summer, the nicest season, why was there no electricity? After we had found a hotel to stay, we asked some locals about this and came to know that they were currently building a hydroelectric power plant inside Batang. For this reason, all electricity supply was used at the construction site and, as a result, since the beginning of 2010, there have been many power cuts in the city, causing much inconvenience to its inhabitants. Subsequently, many retired cadres went to the regional government to express their dissatisfaction, saying that people wanted to watch TV in the evening, upon which the power cuts happened largely during the day and electricity came back between 7 and 11 in the evening.

But of course, retired cadres weren’t the only people who were dissatisfied. Whenever I mentioned this problem to local Batang people, I was immediately infected by their deep anxiety. Power cuts, even for several years, are not that bad but what is really terrible are the consequences of the excessive building of hydroelectric power plants. For example, in summer 2010, Drugchu County experienced severe landslides, which were not only related to the heavy rainstorms but actually more to the destruction of the environment. Excessive deforestation, excessive excavation of mountains, violent breaking up of rivers by hydroelectric power plants of different sizes, all this has in the name of “development” represented an extreme plundering of natural resources, resulting in Drugchu County to perish miserably; and this will also lead to other similar places being confronted with the same danger. Whenever I mentioned Drugchu County, Batang people were in a state of lingering fear.

As always, a good read.

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“Tibetan Villagers Clash With Police”

Yet more bad news from Tibet, this time from Amdo:

Chinese police have shot and killed a Tibetan man accused of stealing tents from a controversial construction site, triggering clashes between villagers and security forces in China’s northwestern Gansu province, local sources said Tuesday.

The clashes took place on Monday, a day after the shooting in Labrang county resulted in Tibetan protesters overrunning a police station, the sources said.

Additional security forces were called in and used tear gas to contain the protests, with many Tibetans injured and detained, according to the sources.

“On the night of Jan. 8, a group of Chinese police and security officials came to Nanba township in Labrang Achog in Labrang [in Chinese, Xiahe] county in Gansu, and shot Gurgo Tseten,” a local Tibetan said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Tseten had been visiting the family of another man, Gonpo Kyab, who was detained and taken away by police, the source said.

Chinese police suspected the two men of taking two tents that had been pitched at a site where the Chinese authorities are planning to build an airstrip despite protests by local Tibetans who claim the area is sacred, the man said.

“The Chinese authorities were planning to build an airstrip on the side of Amnye Gong Ngo mountain,” revered by Tibetans as a sacred site, the source said.

“Local Tibetans objected and resisted the project … residents of the Achog area also launched a strong protest.”

Following the shooting, Tibetans ransacked the police station in nearby Achog Ngago township, damaging windows and doors, the source said.

“All the local police fled to the county center. Then special forces arrived in the area in 22 vehicles on the morning of Jan. 9.”

After an initial clash in which police fired tear gas, “many Tibetans were taken into custody, and many were injured,” the source said, adding that some police were also injured and that two or three vehicles were burned.

“Now, more armed police have arrived and are surrounding Ngago township,” he said.

Before Gurgo Tseten was shot, area residents were already angered by the death in police custody of a young Tibetan who was detained while traveling by motorbike to Labrang, the source said.

“When there was a scuffle, the police beat him and held him in custody while his injuries went untreated. As a result, he succumbed to his injuries and died.”

For now, the Chinese security forces surrounding the town are only watching and have not made a further assault, he said.

“However, the Tibetans fear that they may be waiting for some order from above to crack down.”

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“Tibet’s resource curse”

ChinaDialogue has a big article about what resource extraction is doing to Tibet- while reading, keep in mind that little or none of the profits ever make their way to the people who have lived on the land for generations:

Chinese geologists exploring Tibet in the 1960s criss-crossed the plateau, searching for the mineral wealth they assumed must be abundant, but had not yet discovered. In remote alpine deserts, the geological expeditions came upon lakes which were slowly drying-up due to long-term climate shifts. High on the empty Chang Tang plain in western Tibet, they found lakes already dry, their beds a shimmering salt pan.

Testing the various salts, the geologists discovered a scientific curiosity. One lake in particular, Drangyer Tsaka (Zabuye), held an extraordinary concentration of lithium salts; measurements of 660 parts per million (ppm) of lithium were recorded. Only in the Atacama Desert of the Andes had such levels of lithium been discovered.

In the Tsaidam Basin of northern Tibet, geologists found not only salt lakes, but also oil, asbestos, lead, zinc; and in Tso Ngonpo (Qinghai Lake) they found minerals that could be used for developing submarine-based nuclear missiles.

So valuable were the lakes in the Tsaidam Basin that a railway was built more than three decades ago, enabling tanker wagons to haul millions of tonnes of oil to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province. The availability of so many minerals in one basin, as well as gas fields discovered and exploited later, provided the raw materials for a major industrial base. Golmud, formerly a camel-train stop on the long haul between Lanzhou and Lhasa, became an industrial city, with petrochemical plants that produced plastics, fuel, fertilisers and explosives. The salts of the many salt lakes were essential inputs.

Around the turn of this century, China began to separate the mixed salts of Tsaidam Basin lake beds on a large-scale. Separating naturally crystallised sodium, potassium, magnesium and lithium salts requires heavy-duty toxic solvents (such as isobutanol and chloroform), known to cause cancer. Since the Qinghai authorities were keen to industrialise their province – known for its poverty, remoteness and cold climate – land-use controls and environmental regulations were not a priority. From the provincial capital Xining, spreading out to the famous Kumbum Monastery, industrial plants took up land, pouring effluents into nearby streams. Potash and magnesium plants were built and expanded in Gormo, Xining and along the connecting railway line.

Obtaining lithium, magnesium and potassium from salt lakes remains a dirty business. Environmental regulations are ignored, particularly in western china, where mineral extraction pollutes the air, soil and water. The sexy green electric car of the future may not be as green as people hope. Not only does li-ion battery manufacture consume a lot of energy, but given the solvent extraction methods used, there is a major risk that lithium will leak into water supplies.

But the environmental impacts of mineral extraction will intensify in the Tibetan Plateau, in arid areas where pollutants accumulate in basins with no external drainage. Both the Tsaidam Basin and Drangyer Tsaka lithium salt lakes cannot naturally dispose of toxins generated by solvent extraction, and so waste products stay where they are dumped, or evaporate into the thin air and intense heat of a Tibetan summer. No longer will lithium extraction be confined to Gansu, as in the past.

The first large-scale lithium extraction factory in the Tsaidam basin is due to begin operation soon according to Metal Bulletin, and even Drangyer Tsaka is now scheduled to produce thousands of tonnes of lithium annually. It may not be long before your latest handheld passport to mobile connectivity is powered by Tibetan lithium.

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Filed under environment, mining, pollution, Tibet

“Holding Our Breath”

Getting on Twitter today I was immediately struck by dozens of posts by Beijingers, who have endured astonishing levels of air pollution recently. Apparently it’s gotten so bad that the uncensored air quality feed provided by the American Embassy can no longer detect it- it’s off the charts. Absurdity, Allegory and China has a great post about this:

I have my curtains drawn and my office door shut and an IQAir filter cranking away. But that’s still not enough to keep the filth of Beijing air out. Periodically I look out the window, but then quickly draw the curtains again. I just don’t want to look at what is happening outside. It’s disgusting. This past Friday it snowed, perhaps the most depressing snow I’ve ever seen. I thought, “If there were enough of it, would you let your child play in that?” I remember those early life moments of scooping up a handful of snow, eating it, rolling in it, coming home frozen wet and red. That wouldn’t happen in this place. @bokane expressed it best: “Signs you’ve been in Beijing too long: you look out the window onto a snowy morning and just assume that it’s ash of some kind.”

On November 22 I went to the Terminal 3 of the Beijing Capital Airport to meet a friend who was to stay with us for a week. At 11:00 AM when she arrived the air was ‘Very Unhealthy.’ According to the air quality readings tweeted nearly every hour by the U.S. Embassy – much to the chagrin and protests of the Chinese government – the PM2.5 reading was 273. (PM2.5 is the invisible particulate matter that works its way into your lungs and does the most damage, a standard international measurement that the Chinese have, though they refuse to make their readings public. As we left the airport I told her that the smog would probably clear over the next few hours since the wind was predicted to rise. And rise it did, taking all the nastiness south that day. By 15:00 it was a ‘Good’ 39 and the wind was ripping.

The days between then and now have not been all that different: a few ‘Good’ and ‘Moderate’ periods, though mostly ‘Unhealthy’ and above. The exception has been the period we are in at the moment. As I write the PM 2.5 readings have been pegged in the ‘Hazardous’ zone since yesterday (Sunday) afternoon, 12-04-2011; 16:00; PM2.5; 406.0; 438; Hazardous, more than 19 hours ago. A few hours after the air quality entered the ‘Hazardous’ zone it reached the unmeasurable range (what some have unofficially deemed “Crazy Bad”) @ 12-04-2011; 19:00; PM2.5; 522.0; 500; Beyond Index , which is somewhat akin to WWI trench warfare air. How far ‘Beyond Index’ was it? There’s no way of knowing that, though if the CN.gov folks do, they aren’t about to tell anyone. In fact I’m surprised they haven’t sniped the measurement machine on top of the U.S. Embassy, yet. They hate it.

But this isn’t about us, China. This is about the Chinese. The majority of people who are affected by this insane level of pollution are your parents and grandparents. But it will all catch up to you later.

My city is bad enough, I can’t imagine living in Beijing.

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Filed under censorship, environment, pollution, public health

“Under Public Pressure, Beijing Opens up Air Quality Monitoring Center”

They’ve gotten blasted for years for claiming that the air is fine and dandy while the skies look like a mixture of Mordor and Geidi Prime. Now the WSJ reports that the authorities in Beijing are giving in:

Beijing authorities have opened their air quality monitoring center to the public following a wave of online demands for them to measure pollution more accurately by adopting standards used by the U.S. Embassy, according to state media reports.

Beijing authorities have come under mounting public pressure to improve their air quality measurements since 2008, when the U.S. Embassy began using Twitter to publish contradictory readings from its own monitor which measures smaller air particles that experts say cause most damage to the lungs.

Beijing officials admit that they currently only measure larger air particles, and say they plan to adopt the more sensitive standard in the future, but they dispute the accuracy of the Embassy’s readings and say a series of particularly smoggy days at the end of last month were caused mainly by fog, rather than pollution.

My city isn’t exactly a bastion of fresh air… but pictures from Beijing blow away the worst days I’ve ever seen here.

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“Heavy metals pollute a tenth of China’s farmland”

Via Reuters, some news that shouldn’t much surprise anyone:

About one tenth of China’s farmland is polluted by lead, zinc and other heavy metals to “striking” levels exceeding official limits, a government expert said according to reports on Monday.

Wan Bentai, the chief engineer for China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, said a survey of soil pollutants this year found heavy metal from smelter chimneys, water run-off and tailings meant “in total about 10 percent of farmland has striking problems of heavy metal levels exceeding (government) limits,” the Southern Metropolitan Daily reported.

The Chinese government estimates the country has 1.22 million square kilometers of farmland, and says protecting that land is a priority. But many rural areas support smelters and foundries that spill pollution into soil and water supplies.

China’s environment ministry has called for urgent measures to tackle heavy metal poisoning. But Beijing has often failed to match vows to tackle polluters with the resources and will to enforce such demands, and local officials often put growth, revenue and jobs ahead of environmental standards.

And why would Beijing actually try to tackle this one? They’re eating safe food delivered from organic farms, this isn’t really even an issue for them.

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“Beer company threatens Tibetan antelope”

Argh:

A promotion for the world’s best-selling beer encroaches on the protected breeding ground of the Tibetan antelope, according to Chinese conservationists who are campaigning against the commercial exploitation of one of the planet’s most unique nature reserves.

Snow Beer is offering its customers an expedition to Kekexili, a remote region high on the Tibetan Plateau that is supposed to be off-limits to everyone except scientists with permission from the national government.

Kekexili – also known as Hoh Xil – is one of the least populated areas on earth. It has been a national reserve since 1995, but for many years after it was the site of a murderous conflict between poachers and the Wild Yak Brigade, a patrol of vigilantes committed to protecting endangered species.

Chief among them was the chiru, or Tibetan antelope, which was almost hunted to extinction due to the demand of wealthy foreign consumers for its fine shahtoosh wool. A gritty 2004 film about their plight and the killing of the brigade’s leader prompted the government to strengthen protection. Chiru numbers have since started to recover and the animal was made a mascot for the Beijing Olympics.

Conservationists say the brewery’s proposed tour would be a setback.

“This is China’s most precious nature reserve. There are explicit prohibitions against crossings,” said Wu Zhu, the conservationist heading the campaign against the promotion tour.

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“In China, what you eat tells who you are”

Remember the story about Greenpeace China testing in supermarkets and finding enormous problems with tainted vegetables? The Chicago Tribune has the other side of the story:

At a glance, it is clear this is no run-of-the-mill farm: A 6-foot spiked fence hems the meticulously planted vegetables and security guards control a cantilevered gate that glides open only to select cars.

“It is for officials only. They produce organic vegetables, peppers, onions, beans, cauliflowers, but they don’t sell to the public,” said Li Xiuqin, 68, a lifelong Shunyi village resident who lives directly across the street from the farm but has never been inside. “Ordinary people can’t go in there.”

Until May, a sign inside the gate identified the property as the Beijing Customs Administration Vegetable Base and Country Club. The placard was removed after a Chinese reporter sneaked inside and published a story about the farm producing organic food so clean the cucumbers could be eaten directly from the vine.

Elsewhere in the world, this might be something to boast about. Not in China. Organic gardening here is a hush-hush affair in which the cleanest, safest products are largely channeled to the rich and politically connected.

Many of the nation’s best food companies don’t promote or advertise. They don’t want the public to know that their limited supply is sent to Communist Party officials, dining halls reserved for top athletes, foreign diplomats, and others in the elite classes.

“The officials don’t really care what the common people eat because they and their family are getting a special supply of food,” said Gao Zhiyong, who worked for a state-run food company and wrote a book on the subject.

In the western foothills, the exclusive Jushan farm first developed to supply Mao’s private kitchen still operates under the auspices of the state-run Capital Agribusiness Group, providing food for national meetings. A state-owned company, the Beijing 2nd Commercial Bureau, says on its website that it “supplies national banquets and meetings, which have become the cradle of safe food in Beijing.”

The State Council, China’s highest administrative body, has its own supplier of delicacies, down to salted duck eggs.

“We have supplied them for almost 20 years,” said a spokesman at the offices of Weishanhu Lotus Foods, in Shandong province. “Our product cannot be bought in an ordinary supermarket as our volume of production is very little.”

When people ask if the government will clean up the food supply… well, why would they? They’re getting safe food already, and no one is in a position to hold them accountable. It’s like asking if the government will move against corruption. It’s their bread and butter, what could possibly drive them to move against it?

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“Tibet’s mining menace”

China Dialogue has a post on mining in Tibet- hardly a shock that massive environmental damage is being predicted as mining steps up on the Plateau:

China has long known of the mineral wealth of the Tibetan Plateau but until now it has been easier and cheaper to buy minerals overseas. Tibet has been too remote, too cold, the air too thin and the infrastructure absent. Small-scale extraction of surface gold from riverbeds has been frequent, and environmentally destructive, with much use of dredges, cyanide and mercury that kill aquatic life and poison streams; but large scale exploitation is new. Publicly, small-scale mining is now banned, but in practice it persists, especially in districts where there are no longer Tibetans on their lands to protect it, having been removed in the name of watershed protection.

Now a new era is under way. The state has paid for the necessary infrastructure of roads, railways, power stations and urban facilities. State geological exploration teams have spent decades mapping known deposits, preparing sites for full-scale extraction. Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) chairman Pema Choling, reporting on the achievements of 2010, said: “With the focus on opening up to the country’s hinterland region, we have actively merged with the Chengdu-Chongqing economic sphere.”

The biggest copper and gold deposits in Tibet, from west to east, are in Shetongmon, Gyama and Yulong districts, where central planners say there will be many mines, ore crushers, chemical concentrators and smelters. Large-scale industrial mining has arrived. These mines contain silver, lead and zinc as well as copper and gold, although the lead and zinc will go to waste. And all these mines are situated in the watersheds of Asia’s major rivers that support hundreds of millions of people downstream.

Shetongmon mine was the first major project to attract publicity, partly because of its sensitive location so close to the Yarlung Zangbo and Shigatse city, the historic seat of the Panchen Lamas; and partly because it was for some time owned by Canadian investors. By the time the railway to nearby Shigatse is completed in 2014, the mine will be operational.

Its proximity to a major river raises serious environmental concerns, since the steep site will have to securely hold at least 75 out of every 100 tonnes of rock mined and crushed to powder to extract a concentrate that can be sent by rail to a distant smelter. According to recent research by Tibetan scientists, there is already a natural heavy-metal load in the river; any leakage from the hillside dam waste tailings could be disastrous. Not only would downstream India and Bangladesh be affected; if the planned water diversion of Tibetan rivers to the Yellow River includes capturing the Yarlung Zangbo, downstream China’s water purity would be threatened too.

Gyama mine, controlled by Vancouver-based China Gold, is already operational and, located just upstream of Lhasa, poses a threat to the purity of the water in Tibet’s most sacred city. Like most of Tibet, the area is seismically unstable, vulnerable to earthquakes. A study of water quality below the Gyama mine carried out in 2010 revealed that “elevated concentrations of heavy metals in the surface water and streambed at the upper/middle part of the valley pose a considerably high risk to the local environment…and to downstream water users. Environmental changes such as global warming or increased mining activity may increase the mobility of these pools of heavy metals.”

Local Tibetans have protested and sent a petition to Chinese authorities demanding the closure of the mine. The mining operation has reportedly dried up spring waters, poisoned drinking water, killed 1,000 domestic animals and destroyed flora and fauna in the region. Despite this, in August 2011, China Gold announced that it had boosted the resources of the mine by over 400% and will proceed with a major expansion of the project.

Note that Tibetans themselves have little or no stake in these operations, instead merely benefiting from them in terms of polluted air and poisonous water.

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“China’s coal rush leaves three million living on the edge”

From Malcolm Moore at the Telegraph, a story about one of the costs of reliance on coal:

In the dust-blown mountains of China’s coal belt, locals have lived for years with choking clouds of soot and the continual roar of mines that never sleep, digging for 24 hours a day. Now they face being buried alive as China tries to extract every last nugget of coal from beneath them.

Shanxi Huang Jia Po is a village on the edge. For centuries, 500 farmers have lived here, carving stepped fields into the side of their mountain and planting corn, marrows and aubergines in the fertile yellow soil that covers Shanxi province.

But the children of the farmers will have to live somewhere else, because it is only a matter of time before the village falls into the honeycomb of mining tunnels below. Standing in his courtyard, Lu Linhu points to a 30ft deep hole that has opened up in the cement outside his front door. Behind him, wide cracks have appeared in the walls and ceiling of his bedroom. The 38-year-old Mr Lu, like many other villagers, has used gaudy posters to cover the holes and ease his state of mind.

“We cannot really sleep properly any more,” he said. “At night, we can feel the shaking of the ground when they use dynamite in the mine. And when it rains, the water comes flooding in through the cracks.

The local government reported earlier this year that excessive mining had made an area of 8,000 square miles, roughly the size of Wales, unstable and dangerous. But in the trade-off between the millions of peasants who live here and China’s booming economy, there was likely to be only one winner. At Liulin, 94 families have already had to abandon their homes and move down the mountain after their farmland sheared away beneath them. Soon, they will have to abandon their new homes as well.

Li Lianji, the former head of coal industry research at Shanxi’s Academy of Science, said: “The problem is that Shanxi has soft soil.

“It is difficult to calculate exactly how many areas have been hollowed out, but wherever there is a coal mine, the villagers nearby will definitely have been affected. The only solution is to fill up the mines after digging, but that doubles the cost. And at the moment, as we build the economy, China cannot afford for coal to double in price.”

And here comes my skepticism again- in this country, with all this manpower, they can’t find a way to fill the mines without doubling the price? ‘Coal mine owner’ has the same ring ‘oil baron’ does in America- I feel like they could figure out some way to mitigate some of this, if they were so inclined.

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“The New Epicenter of China’s Discontent”

From Foreign Policy, a good article about the recent Dalian protest. It begins:

This northeastern port city, with its gleaming skyscrapers, seaside yacht club, and Cartier and Armani boutiques on People’s Road, might seem about the least likely site for one of China’s largest protests in years. Dalian is, after all, the host of regional World Economic Forum meetings, where Davos Man comes to China; a center of electronics manufacturing; and a popular holiday destination. Since the mid-1990s, it has been widely considered among the country’s cleanest and most livable cities, a peaceful place where tourists come to watch dolphin shows at “Sun Asia Ocean World” and where wealthy older couples come to retire by the sea. This is, in other words, not obviously a city on the brink.

But on Sunday, Aug. 14, Dalian erupted. An estimated 12,000 people packed the manicured grass of People’s Square opposite Dalian’s city hall and lined many surrounding streets. They had come to demand that a chemical plant perched on the coast be shuttered and relocated, immediately. The local government and international media sat bolt upright — the former issuing promises to move the factory; the latter, surprised praise. In Dalian, it’s called the “8-14 event.”

Why did this happen? Why now, and why Dalian?

Anger over pollution is not new in China. As many as 90,000 “mass incidents” in China were sparked by environmental concerns last year, according to researchers at China’s Nankai University. Yet unlike many factories targeted by farmers who’ve watched crops fail or seen relatives fall ill, the Fujia-Dalian chemical plant, which began operations in 2009, was not linked to egregious past health hazards. Rather, the fear was for the future.

I do wonder why the government is allowing these protests. Sure, pollution is an easy one, and Dalian isn’t the kind of city to set off a revolution. But in allowing these protests to set a precedent- to give people the idea that 12,000 citizens can occupy People’s Square and boss the government around- the Communist Party is definitely sending a message contrary to the normal “everyone shut up, or else” approach they’re basing their survival on.

Like I said, pollution seems easy. Tell people that the environment is an acceptable reason for a march, and nothing else. But what about when that line begins to blur? If the plant is operated by the government, or if politicians are connected to a specific plant… Power is wound up too tightly in this country for that to not happen.

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“Tibetan Mine Protesters Detained”

RFA reports on more new protests in Tibet, these also centered on the environment:

Chinese authorities have taken into custody two men identified as the “ringleaders” of Tibetan protests against mining in China’s Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), according to Tibetan sources.

The detentions follow a wave of roundups of other protesters who have sought to block mine operations in the TAR’s Chamdo prefecture during the last three months, sources said.

Protests in Dzogang began in May, when local Tibetans learned that “around 200” Chinese laborers had been deployed to work at mines in “several locations” in the county, according to another source.

“Dzogang county authorities, in order to quash the protest, warned the local people that any demonstrations against the mining would be construed as politically motivated, and urged them to refrain from such actions,” the man said.

Police beat Tibetans in Dzogang county’s Bethong township when they appealed for a halt to mine operations, another source said, adding that county officials said the land on which the mines were located had already been sold to a Chinese company.

“The local people were told that the land belongs to local and county government, and that the people have no say in how the land is used,” he said.

On June 30, nine unidentified Tibetans were detained for protesting Chinese mining on a sacred mountain near the villages of Topa and Sapa in Bethong township, the same source said.

“A convoy of official cars and four military trucks descended on the villages and detained nine local people at around 9:30 p.m.,” the source said. “The detentions were in connection with earlier protests against the mining.”

Chinese military personnel were then deployed at four mining sites, and the movements of local villagers were restricted, the source added.

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“Bold online appeals address persistent lead poisoning in Qinghai water supply”

Following the appeal from Kumbum Monastery to protect the environment in Qinghai, the International Campaign for Tibet has followed up with more information about pollution in the area:

A video uploaded to a Chinese video sharing site 56.com shows turbid and discolored water being pumped out of a spigot by a monk at Kumbum monastery, birthplace of the religious teacher Tsongkhapa, and one of the six great Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monasteries. Close to Qinghai’s capital city of Xining, Kumbum is an increasingly popular destination for Chinese pilgrims and tourists.

In a posting dated July 17, the anonymous blogger said that the Xining authorities had organized relevant departments to test 919 children around the Ganhetan Industrial District, and the results showed that “almost 1000 children and youths had excessive levels of lead in their blood”. The same blog reports that a journalist came to area and investigated several villages for lead poisoning. As far as can be established, this research has not been published in the state media.

On July 23, the blogger wrote: “In recent years the environment at Kumbum Monastery has become awful. The local government and businesses have colluded to build a great many polluting enterprises five kilometers from Kumbum Monastery, and so every time the wind blows or it rains, smoke, dust and foul-smelling air settles down on the roofs and courtyards, and the temples’ golden tiles and wall murals are already corroding.”

The lead-poisoning is a long-standing issue, and local people say that entrenched corruption has prevented the matter being resolved, and means that students and others have no alternative but to move away from the area. An anonymous villager posted the following message in Chinese on the Huangzhong County government website, dated May 19, 2010: “I’m a villager from Podong Village in Ganhetan Town, and for the past several weeks we’ve been unable to drink the running water; and we’ve heard that the water contains the chemical composition of lead. It is hoped that the County Chairman and relevant County Government officials can run a few tests and give we the villagers in Ganhetan Town a rational explanation!”

The anonymous blogger who posted the appeal from Kumbum also wrote in a separate blog that more than 30,000 farmers had been moved off their land in the area, in order to facilitate the expansion of Ganhetan Industrial District, and in their place more enterprises are to be built that had been moved from the Chinese interior because of serious pollution. Many monks from Kumbum have also been affected, as their families’ land has been taken. The blogger concludes that the authorities should be concerned, because: “Kumbum Monastery is not only the birthplace of Tsongkhapa, it is also a state-level culturally protected work unit as well as a scenic tourist area well known domestically and abroad.”

The same issues are likely to be widespread across Tibetan areas. There is a new smelter producing 100,000 tons of lead a year at Golmud (Chinese: Ge’ermu) in Qinghai, and West Mining and Yugang Gold are due to start a 100,000-tons per year lead joint venture, according to Metal Bulletin News Alert Service (August 3, 2009). The latter 270 million yuan ($40 million) project will also be capable of producing sulphuric acid, a by-product.

Environmental protection is one rare instance where minority grievances can easily resonate with Han citizens, making it slightly harder for the government to bury the issue. Still, presumably Ganhetan industrial park is making more money and contributing more to the State than a comparatively minor tourist attraction/monastery, so they’ll need to gather a lot of force if they want to get the governments attention on this one.

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“Contamination of Drinking Water Caused by Mining”

High Peaks has a translation of an open letter from Kumbum Monastery to the provincial government, asking them to intervene with mining companies in the area and safeguard the environment:

But in recent years, the Ganhetan Industrial Park has been constructed in the vicinity of Kumbum Monastery, attracting the Western Regions Mining and Smelting Works, the Qinghai Salt Lake Chemical Engineering Co. Ltd., the Western Steel Mining Co. Ltd., and the Qinghai Shunxiang Mining Industries Co. Ltd. to carry out large scale mining and extraction around Kumbum Monastery’s holy Lhamo Mountain and Mendan Gorge, causing serious damage to the lie of the land, to the shapes of the mountains and to the water courses, polluting water sources, and destroying the plant cover. In 2006, more than a hundred local children fell ill and suffered from lead poisoning, a matter which to this day has still not been properly addressed.

High-polluting and wanton extractive business practices have brought bitterness and disaster for the local people. Local villagers have obstructed the mining on many occasions, demanding that the sacred mountain not be mined and requesting Kumbum Monastery to act as an official protector. The monastery management committee submitted a report on the situation to the higher authorities, but there was no response. As of this year, the situation has become more serious, especially during the months of May to July, when eight villages had serious contamination in their water pipes with the water becoming muddy and foul smelling. Monks and local people became nauseous, their bodies became listless and they felt dazed and some even had to be hospitalised from drinking the water.

On June 22, representatives of the monks took the contaminated water to Rushar County authorities and protested about the destruction of the sacred mountain by these companies and about pollution to the water sources leading to hardship with drinking the water. The County committee ordered the County environmental protection office to take samples of the water for tests and said they would inform the monks of the results by the end of the month. In the meantime their advice was not to drink the polluted water.

Lacking in the requirements of a scientific outlook on development and violating the provisions for sustainable development, the enterprises, by their actions, are turning a blind eye to the environmental costs of making money, which is seriously hurting the religious feelings of the monks and the ordinary people. This is not good for the progress of unity of the nationalities, not good for stability and harmony in Tibetan areas, not good for the local people’s livelihoods and economic development, and not good for the strategy of sustainable development.

Because the water sources have been seriously polluted and the holy mountain has been seriously damaged, there is strong discontent among Kumbum Monastery’s monks and its surrounding religious believers. The relevant departments are urgently called upon to pay close attention, and the Party and government are urged to severely sanction three enterprises, and please move out the high-polluting enterprises in Ganhetan Industrial Park around Kumbum Monastery, including the Xinzhuang Cement Factory, returning blue skies and clear waters to Kumbum Monastery. Please issue measures for the protection of Kumbum Monastery’s eight-petal lotus mountains and natural heritage, correctly carry out duties for the protection of important state-level cultural heritage, protect nationality cultural heritage, and protect holy Buddhist sites, and resolutely put a stop to the heinous practices of reckless digging and wanton excavation.

I doubt they’ll get an answer they like. Whenever Beijing removes nomads in the name of “environmental protection,” mining companies inevitably move in and strip mine the area soon thereafter. It’s pretty clear what drives Beijing’s agenda, and it isn’t protecting the environment or preventing ethnic unrest.

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“Contaminated river in China sparks panic buying of water”

More bad news for Ngaba prefecture, already the scene of an ongoing battle between Beijing and Kirti Monastery:

Residue from a manganese plant has flooded a river in a city in the southwestern province of Sichuan, contaminating the main source of drinking water and sparking panic-buying of bottled water, state media said on Wednesday.

Residue from the Xichuan Minjiang Electrolytic Manganese Plant in Aba prefecture — a heavily ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province next to the Tibet Autonomous Region — was washed into the Fujiang river by heavy rain last Thursday.

The river is the source of drinking water for the city of Mianyang, according to a notice posted on the city government’s official website.

“The government is asking the public not to panic and not to focus on panic buying of bottled water,” the government said.

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