Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I’ve Found the “Perfect” EPA!

You remember those primary debates, right?  Every single candidate wanted to fundamentally curtail the Environmental Protection Agency.  And didn’t Herman Cain want to get rid of it entirely? 
The themes were consistent: stop issuing job-killing regulations; give environmental authority “back” to the states; put an end to radical environmentalism, etc.  The perfect EPA in these debates was smaller, pro-business, and state-controlled.
Well, the Clothesline is over here in China, and we’ve stumbled onto the model for the perfect EPA!  It’s called the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) of the People’s Republic of China.  It’s small – only 1/6th the staff of the EPA.  It’s job-conscious – all those factories making shoes, jeans and toys for the whole world hum along without much interference.  And it’s locally managed – provincial and city officials get to decide how or whether to enforce the rules.
So if we want to see how the EPA should be run, we need look no further than China’s MEP.
While we’re at it, I’d suggest we look at a few other Chinese facts on the ground:
  • 700 million Chinese drink water contaminated by human and animal waste; 
  • 20 of the world's 30 most polluted cities are Chinese
  • 75% of water flowing through Chinese cities is unsuitablefor human contact or fishing; 
  • 23 of China’s 40 largest lakes are “eutrophic” – with algae-green bacteria blooms sucking the life out of the water;
  • With surface water contaminated, China now relies on its groundwater, resulting in a 50-meter drop in water tables, and counting; 
  • An estimated 40 million Chinese migrant workers have fled their homes and villages due to environmental degradation and pollution;
  • Every year, Chinese environmental-damage expenses equal 8-12% of its GDP
  • Acid rain from coal-burning now affects 33% of Chinese territory, and the number grows with each new power plant; 
  • Every year, an area the size of New Jersey gets added to China’s growing deserts
  • AND, if all that’s not enough, one Chinese baby is born with birth defects every 30 seconds due to pollution. 
Now, you’re going to get the idea that I don’t like this place.  Not at all.  The Chinese people seem to be remarkably industrious and resourceful.  They exhibit a profound commitment to family and community.  And in the last 30 years, they have pulled their country up from unspeakable  poverty to become a world leader. 
No place for the laundry, or for the woman washing it.
And they deserve much, much better than the flimsy protection they’re getting from the MEP.
What’s the problem?  Among many, here’s the core:  Whatever China’s MEP says, enforcement is controlled by local officials who get rich off new factory openings, not newly-cleaned lakes and rivers.  And those officials march to the daily mantra: “First development, then environment.”
Thou leadest me beside still waters: sheep drinking textile poisons.
Let’s talk sense: There has never been any environmental protection that didn’t initially threaten someone’s job.  But before long, those jobs might seem like poor compensation for the resulting toxic water, dry wells, growing deserts, mounting cleanup costs and deformed babies.
So before they hold another debate, I wish the candidates would come over here for a closer look at the new, improved EPA they’re longing for. 
But first, I’d give them this bit of friendly travel advice: Don’t drink the water.
Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood
Waterfront street vendor: 75% of city rivers are contaminated


  1. J - my husband and I have been living in China for the past 8 years and have seen this trend accelerating at an alarming rate. The consequences and direct impact to the Chinese people are staggering. Last I heard, there are over 700 pedestrians killed every day as the Chinese "upgrade" from bicycles to autos and scooters. That was about two years ago. Just one of many unfortunate examples we've encountered regarding the devastating environmental issues was a shocking report from our colleagues up North about a village of 200 people who died almost instantly when a toxic chemical plant emptied its waste into their river. Just heart-wrenching, especially when the situation seems so vast and, thereby, seemingly hopeless. We appreciate your blog and sincerely hope the word gets out as to what the negative consequences can be to countries who subscribe to the mantra "First development, then environment" - many thanks. P&C, Fuzhou (Fujian) and Jiangmen (Guangdong), China