Opinion

China’s Disastrous Pollution Problem Is A Lesson For All

V.T. Polywoda via Flickr CC

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Beijing’s 21 million residents live in a toxic fog of particulate matter, ozone, sulphur dioxide, mercury, cadmium, lead and other contaminants, mainly caused by factories and coal burning. Schools and workplaces regularly shut down when pollution exceeds hazardous levels. People have exchanged paper and cotton masks for more elaborate, filtered respirators. Cancer has become the leading cause of death in the city and throughout the country.

Chinese authorities, often reluctant to admit to the extent of any problem, can no longer deny the catastrophic consequences of rampant industrial activity and inadequate regulations. According to Bloomberg News, Beijing’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says that, although life expectancy doubled from 1949 to 2011, “the average 18-year-old Beijinger today should prepare to spend as much as 40 percent of those remaining, long years in less than full health, suffering from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis, among other ailments.”

China’s government also estimates that air pollution prematurely kills from 350,000 to 500,000 residents every year.* Water and soil pollution are also severe throughout China.

The documentary film Under the Dome, by Chinese journalist Chai Jing, shows the extent of the air problem. The film was viewed by more than 150 million Chinese in its first few days, apparently with government approval. Later it was censored, showing how conflicted authorities are over the problem and its possible solutions. The pollution problem also demonstrates the ongoing global conflict between economic priorities and human and environmental health.

Rather than seeing China’s situation as a warning, many people in Canada and the U.S. — including in government — refuse to believe we could end up in a similar situation here. And so U.S. politicians fight to block pollution-control regulations and even to remove the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, or shut it down altogether! In Canada, politicians and pundits argue that environmental protection is too costly and that the economy takes precedence.

Oiling The Machinery Of Climate Change Denial And Transit Opposition

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians.

Water Is Life; We Can’t Afford To Waste It

This is a guest post by David Suzuki. 

How long can you go without water? You could probably survive a few weeks without water for cooking. If you stopped washing, the threat to your life might only come from people who can’t stand the smell. But most people won’t live for more than three days without water to drink. It makes sense: our bodies are about 65 per cent water.

Who Says a Better World is Impossible?

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

Cars, air travel, space exploration, television, nuclear power, high-speed computers, telephones, organ transplants, prosthetic body parts… At various times these were all deemed impossible. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many technological feats that were once unimaginable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed people would carry supercomputers in their pockets — your smart phone is more powerful than all the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon in 1969 combined!

Despite a long history of the impossible becoming possible, often very quickly, we hear the “can’t be done” refrain repeated over and over — especially in the only debate over global warming that matters: What can we do about it? Climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry apologists often argue that replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy is beyond our reach. The claim is both facile and false.

Facile because the issue is complicated. It’s not simply a matter of substituting one for the other. To begin, conservation and efficiency are key. We must find ways to reduce the amount of energy we use — not a huge challenge considering how much people waste, especially in the developed world. False because rapid advances in clean energy and grid technologies continue to get us closer to necessary reductions in our use of polluting fossil fuels.

Let’s Not Sacrifice Freedom Out Of Fear

burnaby mountain, zack embree, C-51, RCMP, David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

A scientist, or any knowledgeable person, will tell you climate change is a serious threat for Canada and the world. But the RCMP has a different take. A secret report by the national police force, obtained by Greenpeace, both minimizes the threat of global warming and conjures a spectre of threats posed by people who rightly call for sanity in dealing with problems caused by burning fossil fuels.

Canada is Trading Away its Environmental Rights

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

In 1997, Canada restricted import and transfer of the gasoline additive MMT because it was a suspected neurotoxin that had already been banned in Europe. Ethyl Corp., the U.S. multinational that supplied the chemical, sued the government for $350 million under the North American Free Trade Agreement and won! Canada was forced to repeal the ban, apologize to the company and pay an out-of-court settlement of US$13 million.

The free trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico was never designed to raise labour and environmental standards to the highest level. In fact, NAFTA and other trade agreements Canada has signed — including the recent Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China — often take labour standards to the lowest denominator while increasing environmental risk. The agreements are more about facilitating corporate flexibility and profit than creating good working conditions and protecting the air, water, land and diverse ecosystems that keep us alive and healthy.

Oil Prices Drop As Global Warming Rises

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

With oil prices plunging from more than $100 a barrel last summer to below $50 now, the consequences of a petro-fuelled economy are hitting home — especially in Alberta, where experts forecast a recession.

The province’s projected budget surplus has turned into a $500-million deficit on top of a $12-billion debt, with predicted revenue losses of $11 billion or more over the next three or four years if prices stay low or continue to drop as expected. Alberta’s government is talking about service reductions, public-sector wage and job cuts and even increased or new taxes on individuals. TD Bank says Canada as a whole can expect deficits over the next few years unless Ottawa takes money from its contingency fund.

Digging Out of Canada’s Mining Dilemma

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

It sometimes seems people in the mining and fossil fuel industries — along with their government promoters — don’t believe in the future. What else could explain the mad rush to extract and use up the Earth’s resources as quickly and wastefully as possible?

Global mining production, including fossil fuels, has almost doubled since 1984, from just over nine-billion tonnes to almost 17-billion in 2012, with the greatest increases over the past 10 years.

Swapping Red Tape for Caution Tape: Why B.C. Can Expect More Mount Polleys

mount polley mine tailings pond breach in BC

As we pull up to the mouth of the Hazeltine Creek, where billions of litres of mining waste from the Imperial Metals Mount Polley mine spilled into Quesnel Lake on August 4th, I’m thinking to myself what numerous locals have recently said to me: this shouldn’t have happened.

All of the warning signs were present that the waste pit for the mine was overburdened: employees raised the alarm, government citations were issued, engineering reports contained warnings.

It shouldn’t have happened, and yet it did.

Addressing Global Warming is an Economic Necessity

David Suzuki

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

Those who don’t outright deny the existence of human-caused global warming often argue we can’t or shouldn’t do anything about it because it would be too costly. Take Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who recently said, “No matter what they say, no country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

But in failing to act on global warming, many leaders are putting jobs and economic prosperity at risk, according to recent studies. It’s suicidal, both economically and literally, to focus on the fossil fuel industry’s limited, short-term economic benefits at the expense of long-term prosperity, human health and the natural systems, plants and animals that make our well-being and survival possible. Those who refuse to take climate change seriously are subjecting us to enormous economic risks and foregoing the numerous benefits that solutions would bring.

The World Bank — hardly a radical organization — is behind one study. While still viewing the problem and solutions through the lens of outmoded economic thinking, its report demolishes arguments made by the likes of Stephen Harper.

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