The Chinese public and their growing awareness to pollution

6 May

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Protests and outcries from the Chinese population are now daily occurrences across China.  Common reasons for protest include pollution and governmental as well as regional corruption, which quite often go hand in hand. The huge increase in protests reflects a growing awareness amongst the Chinese people; with social media and micro-bloggers fuelling the people’s growing disdain for acts which are seen as having a negative environmental impact. Such acts range from tens of thousands of pig carcasses floating down the Huangpu river that leads from Shanghai to rural settlements dubbed ‘cancer villages’ due to horrifying industrial mis-management, leading to an explosion of the disease and the decimation of the local wildlife and environment. Almost all outbursts of dissent from Chinese citizens are met with little or no acknowledgement from Chinese officials yet thanks to increased social media use by an ever more technologically competent Chinese youth generation, foreign news agencies are able to report on the damage the Chinese industrial industry is inflicting on its own people and landscape. Most recently, a protest in Chengdu City against the proposed building of a new petrochemical plant and its ensuing coverage by Chinese social media users and foreign press outlets, has given the most insightful glimpse of the Chinese government’s response to open showings of opposition to environmental political issues. The expanding middle class’ outspoken views have the potential to wield key influence within the Government hierarchy as the many Chinese nouveau-riche buoy the economy in the light of an influx of capitalist market freedoms. 

Several series of violent protests have had successes against the government, but the rareness of instances where the government listens to the voice of its people are still much too few to suggest any substantial inclination that the government will successfully address the problem of pollution.  However, the government’s stubborn resilience to even acknowledge the extent of the crisis it faces will not stand up for much longer, especially as Deutsche Bank analysts predict China’s pollution levels are expected to rise some 70% by 2025. The country’s reliance on coal, coupled with rapid industrial growth and a surging demand for auto vehicles is pushing the country toward environmental catastrophe.   

The inability of the Chinese elite to be transparent with information concerning environmental practices and disastrous incidents will only be met by greater social unrest amongst a people who desire greater freedoms and freedoms of expression. It is certain, that had environmental agencies such as the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) disclosed more information and addressed problems that should have been of huge concern to the agency, a great many number of conflicts between the long suffering Chinese people, industrial companies and the government could have been resolved. 

We are now positioned some thirty years after China’s initial industrial explosion, how the country manages its next thirty years of ‘substantial growth’ is crucial to how and to what extent pollution will affect the country and its people. Pollution is seemingly a matter of political opposition to the communist leadership, a challenge to their claim of legitimacy as self-appointed rulers of the most populous nation on Earth. There are instances of local action by regional and city officials, Beijing’s  $16 million commitment to reduce its omnipresent toxic smog being one, but a clear strategy on the issue by the countries governing elite remains absent. As state-owned enterprises pump out a sizeable proportion of China’s increasing pollution, an example-setting declaration of action by the government on its own contribution to pollution as well as more immersive regulation of private companies needs to be implemented or China risks unfathomable environmental disaster.



2 Responses to “The Chinese public and their growing awareness to pollution”

  1. np2g11 May 8, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    It is particularly interesting that in the report about climate change by the Australian Climate Commission China is praised for its efforts of becoming the “world’s renewable energy powerhouse”. China in fact has invested important sums of money (US$65.1 billion) in clean energy and aims to reduce its carbon intensity by 17% before 2015. The paradox is that whilst on the hand China is investing in clean energy, it is increasing its coal production. It seem then that, having recognised the need to invest in sustainable energy, China is on the right track and it is not surprising that the process of reducing coal production will take its time.

  2. sb2g10 May 9, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    An ex-comunist party official, Chen Jiping, was quoted as saying that were almost 50,000 protests in China last year, and that land disputes have been overtaken by pollution as the main source of unrest. Saying this China is clamping down on serious protesters and is handing out far more severe sentences. An example of this can be seen from last July where 16 people invoved in an environmental protest were given jail sentences of over a year. However China’s has recently announced some new eco-friendly iniaitives, which may be a sign that the authorities are finally responding to the huge number of protests.


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