Category Archives: environment

“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 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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“Transparency test in the Bohai Sea”

China Dialogue writes about the fallout from the Bohai Sea oil spill here. Initially it was covered up, and only admitted much later on when denials became useless:

Public concern has erupted in China over the handling of an oil slick in the Bohai Gulf, which has polluted an area six times the size of Singapore and raised fears for local economies reliant on fishing and tourism.

The progress of the incident – which originated in an oil field owned by US firm ConocoPhilips and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) – from attempted cover-up to eventual exposure, shows that, while environmental awareness is growing among citizens, China’s companies and even its authorities are still thinking and reacting in the old way. Meanwhile, multinationals are adopting local practices and reminding us that China must strive to improve its systems of environmental management.

The Bohai spill started in the Penglai 19-3 oil field in early June and was brought to the attention of environmentalists and the media via microblogs on June 21. Investigative newspaper Southern Weekend published the first mainstream article on the event on June 30 and the following day CNOOC admitted there had been an incident. Four days later, the State Oceanic Administration (SOA) held a press briefing and – a month after it had first begun – the story finally became headline news.

Material gathered together from various sources indicates that a small quantity of oil started to leak into the sea at the oil field’s Platform B on June 4. This was followed, on June 17, by a small-scale accident in the oil well at Platform C. The responsible party was the operator of the oil-field, CPOC, but the company hid these incidents from the public. It was only after the maritime environmental authorities held a press conference on July 5 – to report their finding that CPOC held primarily responsibility for the leak – that the company spoke to the media and admitted the accident had occurred.

Not only did the delayed disclosure of information by the two responsible companies reek of a cover-up, but the information released was of poor quality – and actively misleading of the public and investors. According to media reports, CNOOC insiders stated on July 3 that the leak of crude oil had been brought under control, the clean-up operation was near complete and only about 200 square metres of ocean had been affected.

The corporate failure to be open with the public demonstrated here is, of course, shocking. But the disclosure of information by the maritime environmental authorities has also fallen short. On July 13, CPOC released a statement saying that, on the days that each of the oil-field accidents occurred, the company immediately reported the facts to the authorities. However, SOA did not hold a press conference or release the findings of its investigation until July 5, a full month after the first incident.

When CPOC’s parent company ConocoPhilips was asked by the media if it would similarly cover-up an oil spill in the United States for a whole month, its answer was: “This incident happened in China”. Clearly, the foundations and mechanisms of open information in China remain weak. If we want to make information disclosure by business and government the norm, we need to strengthen the legally binding requirement to do so and broaden the scope for environmental litigation and other means of redress.

Only then can China make companies understand that, by reducing the risks of compensation payouts, transparency is essential to their own interests – and bring about more proactive disclosure.

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