Three Gorges Probe

The moment of reckoning

The China Post
June 17, 2007

For the first time since its completion, the Three Gorges Dam is showing the world one of its many functions — flood control.

This week, the dam opened its sluicegates to let out water that has risen to a dangerous level due to torrential rains. According to Xinhua, the mainland’s official news agency, the measure was taken to safeguard operations of the world’s largest dam.
Heavy rains have played havoc on millions of people in at least six provinces in southern China. Scores of people were killed and thousands left homeless. Property loss was estimated at 4.7 billion yuan (US$620 million). While southern China is plagued by floods, northern China is suffering from severe drought, as rivers and lakes have dried up. Officials blame this on global climate change. But in fact the disaster is the result of years of ecological and environmental neglect.
It is less a natural disaster than a man-made one.
It can be argued that floods and droughts have happened since time immemorial. But it has become evident that the cycle of such disasters has become shorter and shorter. Early this year, scientists established evidence that climate change is the result of environmental abuses and damage to the ecological system by human beings. In China, the situation is particularly grave. The Yellow River, for instance, is broken by drought. The Yangtze has turned muddy due to deforestation and loss of topsoil. Rivers and lakes have lost natural protection as trees were cut down for fuel without reforestation. Rivers and lakes were drained when water was diverted to irrigate farms.
Years of neglect and environmental abuse have finally brought about the day of reckoning. China, however, is by no means the only country that faces a rude awakening. This island, which was once a land of verdant mountains and pristine rivers, is now in many places a polluted dumpsite of industrial waste. Floods and mudslides are haunting Taiwan, too. But there is a silver lining. The rude awakening in China has also aroused a belated environmental awareness. Have you been watching preparations for the “Green Olympics” that Beijing will host next year? The frenzied efforts at the “greening” of the capital are impressive; indeed, better late than never. People are talking about “Green GDP.” That is, the net GDP after taking into consideration the loss to the environment, such as pollution and pollution-induced diseases.
Despite the awareness, don’t expect mainland China to change to an environmental paradigm anytime soon. The world’s most populous country cannot be expected to slow down its pursuit of GDP growth for the simple reason of survival. An economic recession is sure to lead to social unrest and the collapse of communist rule.

Continued GDP growth, at 10 percent per annum, would mean increased energy demands and increased amounts of greenhouse emissions that contribute to global warming and climate change. Although Beijing has pledged efforts to reduce emissions and improve the efficiency of energy use, it refuses to commit itself to accepting the cap on emissions under the 1997 Kyoto protocol, arguing that it is a developing country that is exempt from such a cap. Already the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China is fast catching up the United States to take the dubious honor of being the Number One emitter in 2010, if not sooner. If China is to blame for its irresponsible position in the greenhouse emissions issue, then the United States and other developed countries like Canada should share the blame because they, too, balk at the Kyoto accord. Moreover, Beijing has a specious argument that its “per capita” carbon dioxide emissions is far less than that of any developed country.

But planet Earth is too small to be treated on a per capita basis regarding greenhouse emissions. It is the cumulative effect that causes climate change — be it global warming or global chilling. Nations should be unselfish in dealing with the issue because this man-made ecological disaster knows no national boundaries. Katrina, for example, devastated New Orleans, and the deadly tsunami in 2004 claimed thousands of lives in south Asia. In mainland China and Taiwan, climate change has been claiming more and more lives, year after year. It’s time for people of the world to deal with the issue with seriousness, and with a global vision.

Read the original story here.

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