China’s economic juggernaut wreaks social and environmental havoc in smaller nations

Tue, 2008-01-08 09:58Bill Miller
Bill Miller's picture

China’s economic juggernaut wreaks social and environmental havoc in smaller nations

Having sped past the U.S. as the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gases, China has become a despoiler on a scale as monumental as its economic expansion, plundering smaller nations to fuel its own rising tide of consumption.

A New York Times article just after the UN climate-change conference in Indonesia identified China as the pivotal determinant on global warming. Now, the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine has drawn a scathing portrait of a nation that not only leads the world in coal consumption, but also uses more than the next three highest-ranked nations – the U.S., Russia and India – combined, with ominous implications for the planet.

China says that as a poor nation of 1.3-billion people, it is entitled to pollute and spew greenhouse emissions to alleviate poverty. But with its middle class projected to leap from less than 100 million to 700 million by 2020, and with sales of Porsches, Ferraris and Maseratis flourishing in Beijing, that argument is rapidly losing its edge.

No sector better illustrates the vast reach and explosive impact of China’s powerhouse economy than logging, with demand for Chinese-made furniture and other wood products creating social and environmental devastation in the poor countries that supply the wood.

The resulting deforestation dramatically accelerates climate change. Felled trees not only lose their ability to absorb carbon but also release sequestered carbon. Thus, deforestation accounts for 18 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions, eclipsing the global transportation sector's 14 percent.

Amazingly, staggering deforestation in poor, non-industrial Indonesia places that country third among the world's emitters, after the China and the U.S.

Among China's leading wood importers, Thailand and Philippines have already been stripped of their natural forests, while Indonesia and Burma are projected to lose theirs within a decade. Papua New Guinea's will succumb within 16 years, and the vast forests of the Russian Far East will survive no more than two decades.

Even so, Washington, D.C.-based Forest Trends estimates China's wood imports will probably double within 10 years, with manufacturers already developing replacement sources in Africa.

South America's forests are also threatened, but for a different reason: China's growing consumption of pork and chicken is fed by soybeans grown on newly cleared Amazonian land. By one estimate, 30 percent of the jungle could eventually be transformed into soybean fields.

Until 1998, China logged its own forests. Then Chinese companies began clearcutting other nations' trees. Since most of the world's remaining natural forests are protected by law and regulation, deforestation is largely due to illicit logging, and China is the world's leading importer of illegally logged wood.

Chinese wood purchases have also helped finance armed conflicts by such notorious brigands as Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Burma's military government and Liberia's Charles Taylor. The UK watchdog Environmental Investigation Agency says, “China is the number one buyer of timber from many of the countries most affected by the scourge of illegal logging.”

The largest timber supplier to China is Russia, where half of all logging is illegal. In Siberia, where pine forests are largely protected unless damaged by fire, loggers bent on exporting to China routinely set the woods ablaze.

It would undoubtedly help to end U.S. and European purchases of products made from illegal clearcutting, as half the tropical wood that enters China is exported as finished goods. Still, some 90 percent of Chinese-manufactured wood products are consumed within China.

This is alarming, because Chinese per-capita consumption of wood products is still far below that of developed countries, and is bound to grow as the middle class expands. China's per-capita consumption of paper, for example, is now only an eighth of the U.S.’ If it reaches the American rate, suppliers will have to double the world's annual timber harvest.

As Greenpeace said in a 2006 report, “The world's forests cannot support either the level of consumption of developed countries, or the aspiration of developing countries to attain a similar level.”

Comments

When I read this kind of article, my frustration knows no bounds! We in the west have set the standard to which countries like China aspire. It’s fine for us to say we won’t commit to a new binding treaty unless China (India, etc) sign up too, but here we sit with all of the toys! Can you say “decadence”? Until we are willing to take a hit in our lifestyle for the sake of humanity, to set a new standard based on responsibility & sustainability, we have no moral authority to ask the developing world to make do.

Time for everyone to read very carefully The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I think!

Fern Mackenzie

For once I agree wholeheartedly with Fern Mackenzie!

“It’s fine for us to say we won’t commit to a new binding treaty unless China (India, etc) sign up too, but here we sit with all of the toys! Can you say “decadence”?

Yes. Why, yes I can. We short-sighted bourgios Westerners have never heeded the wise teachings of Chairman Mao – and look where it’s gotten us. Decadence, comrades! We should be ashamed, like Fern Mackenzie.

“Until we are willing to take a hit in our lifestyle for the sake of humanity, to set a new standard based on responsibility & sustainability, we have no moral authority to ask the developing world to make do.”

Well put, comrade Fern! As Chairman Mao taught, “Morality comes at the end of a gun.” So we know the next step we must take!

We Westerners must take a leadership role in encouraging China to return to it’s roots – say, right around the end of The Great Leap Forward, or the beginning of The Cultural Revolution.

We must train young cadres of “Green Guards” to criticise and berate their elders. Those who do not submit to self-criticism sessions will be re-educated.

Once the Chinese proletariat see how successful we in the West become at purging decadent bourgios elements from The Party, they will be inspired to rid themselves of morally harmful luxuries like automobiles, electricity, running water, and food.

We can only achieve this noble goal by reducing (or, as I like to call it, “right-sizing”) our standard of living to the lowest common denominator, like, say, that of Somalia. This will initially be undertaken by progressives like Fern Mackenzie, who will live in a mud hut, so as to inspire the masses. Naturally, seeing this brave example, everyone else will follow suit – completely voluntarily.

Keep up the good work, comrade Fern Mackenzie! Perhaps you will suceed, where Chairman Mao has failed? In the meantime, just try to ignore all those who laugh at you – they will be “dealt with” when the revolution comes!

From his address to the American Economic Association last Friday, Sir Nicholas Stern:

[[We underestimated the flow of emissions from developing countries, especially China,” he said, observing that emissions of greenhouse gases from China over the next 25 years will equal the total emissions from the U.S. and Europe over the last century. Emissions from developing countries and developed countries must be capped, he said, but the ethics of allocating the pain are delicate. “If you’re consuming the goods, you can’t blame the location of the factory,” he argued.]]

Picked this up from Common Tragedies:
http://commontragedies.wordpress.com/2008/01/05/stern-says-climate-change-report-underestimated-risks/

What???? I can’t confirm Stern numbers but is China really forecast to emit in the next 25 years what the US and Europe did during all of the last century, while the West, India, Russia, Japan, Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, etc., etc., continue to emit even significantly reduced amounts in the meantime??… If so, from a starting concentration now of, what, 385ppm CO2e… we are really up the proverbial river… Surely that has to be the “business as usual” forecast… Please???

On a related note, here’s an interesting new site: ww.dearchina.org invites people to write a letter to China. The letters will be translated (yes, by actual human beings) into Chinese. Who knows if they will make it across the Great Firewall, but a cool idea all the same…

The Earth has withstood huge catastrophies before, with a 90% loss of species when the dinosaurs became extinct. It is tragic that the natural world we know and love is facing collapse, but nature rebounds. Different creatures evolve, maybe not the charismatic animals we know and love, if we want to keep those we have to protect them. It’s important to reverse as much of the damage as possible so we can keep as much biodiversity on Earth as we can. Unfortunately we are facing a global species collapse of something like 50%. The Earth has about 100 million years of amicable climate left to evolve life. That’s not enough time for a new complex group of organisms to evolve. We are Earth’s last shot, so, let’s make it a good one, live in balance with nature, because we have no idea how biodiversity may benefit us in the future.

I agree with your points, but there is something about the way you phrase it that suggests that we as human beings are somehow not a part of the natural world that is facing a 50% species extinction. I don’t know whether you meant for it to come across that way, but it’s worth noting that we are very much a part of the biodiversity that is under threat. We may have a technological edge, but that might not save us from a major survival crisis. I have always believed that part of our problems stem from the assumption that we have somehow elevated our species above the natural world of “survival of the fittest” (ie, best fit to survive a certain set of conditions). If we are the last best hope for a highly evolve species on this planet, it’s time we reconnected with our evolutionary roots.

Fern Mackenzie

This is a disturbing article. Wood consumption is obviously going to happen, but it could easily be brought down by using hemp products insted of paper products. Hemp is more durable and cheeper to produce, why this world has not recognized this fact is beyond me.

“Do as I Say (Not as I Do)” –the USA

I think I’ve been ruined by Wikipedia. I read copy such as “deforestation accounts for 18 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions” and “Thailand and Philippines have already been stripped of their natural forests” and all I can think is “…..[citation needed]. Big calls, back them up.

Just as suggestion, leveraging the insights provided by Mr. Miller, it is imperative that we use our military might to reduce/ensure that Chinese per capita consumption of wood products to sixteenth of the U.S. This way, we will have an immediate 50% reduction in Chinese wood consumption!

Surely, the Chinese can get use to sharing a chair during dinner time, which is a lot better than what they had. In fact, in order to provide a complete and final solution to this problem, we could prescribe and enforce a life style for the Chinese that precludes pork, chicken, soybeans, chairs, tables, beds and houses, so that when we visit Cambodia or Brazil we can still enjoy the old forest, and we could even celebrate this occasion by building a big bonfire.

Keep it up Billy, you are doing a heck of job.

As mankind faces the most dramatic natural disaster in history we are squabbling instead of taking action. Let’s stop arguing and come up with a plan.

Our poles are melting, temperature and weather patterns are changing. Those are facts. Whose fault it is, man made or natural is almost irrelevant. The important thing is that we take action to prepare for the unavoidable consequences of climate change NOW.

Past climate changes have happened quick, the most recent having taken only about a decade. We have seen weather patterns change over the last few years, lost a bunch of ice, witnessed massive amounts of species going extinct and see a slow-down of the ocean’s conveyor which regulates temperature patterns around the globe. My gut feeling is to say that we are in the midst of climate change. Whether it’s caused by CO2, an active sun or any other cause is not the issue. The issue is… we can’t change, avert or avoid it so we have to figure out how to deal with it and survive it’s effects.

The focal point of all the issues surrounding climate change is energy. More specifically, present and future energy. The energy we currently use, which most say changes the climate, and the energy we will need in the future to supply more people and to stave off the effects of a changed climate. We need cleaner fuel now, not only because of pollution or the fact that we are running out, but because we will need much more fuel in the future.

The world economy is currently dependant upon CO2 emitting fossil fuels and we won’t just be able to throw a switch to convert to another source so we have to start now. We have to stop spending billions fighting over the remaining oil. No matter who owns it, we will use it up. As demand increases and supply dwindles it will become more expensive and economic factors will dictate that we replace it. If we’re lucky, mankind will be reasonable enough to spend more money finding new energy sources than fighting over obsolete ones. That’s a long shot but there’s always hope.

We will need more energy and there is no denying that burning oil and coal pollutes our planet. We have 2 choices if we want to survive as a species.

1. Come up with more, preferably cleaner energy.

2. Shrink our global population to a size that our current energy supply can sustain.

The first is preferable but considering our primitive human nature, the second is more probable. Let’s let common sense overpower human nature and strive towards option 1.

Think about it. There are many sources of energy, known and yet to be discovered that we can use. Wind, water, tidal, and solar are clean technologies that we have explored and can improve. We have started tinkering with ways to use the Earth’s magnetic field. There is gravity and countless types of cosmic rays that we haven’t even tried to harness yet. Nuclear has been around for decades and if it doesn’t blow up on you, it is extremely clean.

My suggestion, no, my demand is that mankind stop it’s economic and religious squabbling and start taking the action we need for our survival as a species. It will be impossible to get mankind to act as one, but someone has to start. If the US trimmed it’s government and military to a minimum, keeping enough troops and nukes to sustain sovereignty, we could save billions and use it to develop energy sources.

That scenario might even be good for the economy. Imagine all of the workers needed to make electric cars or cosmic ray powered toasters. Besides, whoever discovers a technology usually has a lead when it comes to selling it’s usage or the products it spins off.

New energy won’t solve global warming but it will help us deal with it better. Right now it’s the only option we have so let’s get on it!

Ron http://moreron.wordpress.com

http://blog.livedoor.jp/safe_food_of_asia/archives/50010839.html

The original is in Japanese but you can look at the best rivers of China.

The word “best” is ironic though.

Just think of what you maybe eating when you goto China, and how those waters? from the rivers go back to the ocean will absolutely be the worst of all.

BTW, look at the links at the bottom of the page, just below the smog images.

And below the smog images, another images that people are watering the grass. But really, they’re coloring the grass to make it green! How wonderful of the word green energy.

I live in Romania, Eastern Europe, and I have seen for the last 20 years, ever since the fall of the communism, how people are cutting the forests. They think that if they own a piece of land with trees on it, they can do whatever they please and not be held accountable. But life is not without its irony: those who cut the trees and sold the wood for almost nothing are now watching their own houses riding the landslides. There is a lesson in that, but why be so stupid and learn it on your own expense? Eloise