Labor movements around the world are beginning to confront the consequences of global warming. Big changes are in store over the next few decades whether humanity acts, or fails to act, to effectively address global warming. What happens in China, the world’s fastest growing economy and now the largest total emitter of greenhouse gases, matters to people everywhere. But like the rest of the world, China seems trapped in an unsustainable economy with dire consequences for us all.
A toxic haze
In our last post, following our return from a trip to China in April and early May, we wrote about some of the environmental consequences of China’s rapidly growing dependence on private automobiles. The exhaust fumes from those cars mingles with the smoke from the mills, factories, and coal fired power plants that ring China’s big cities to form a toxic haze that takes a high toll in lives and money. The World Health Organization estimates that about 656,000 people each year die prematurely as result of all types of air pollution.
Air pollution is a major public issue in China, one that elicits public protests, press attention, and increasingly, government action. The old idea of industrialization first, environment later is slowly giving way to a more nuanced approach to development. The Chinese government is taking steps to reduce air pollution. Higher quality gasoline is now being sold in China; automobile emission controls and tougher mileage standards are being phased in; new scrubbing technology is being built into (some) new coal power plants; more efficient boilers are coming on line in buildings and factories; new energy saving building codes have been enacted in Beijing and elsewhere; public transport systems are expanding; and some steel mills and power plants are being moved away from big cities.
Global attention is focused on Beijing’s air pollution as this year’s Olympics Games draws near. Athletes have expressed concerns about the health hazards of breathing Beijing’s air: world record marathoner Haile Gebrselassie, has actually opted out of running the marathon. In response, authorities in Beijing have instituted additional measures to reduce pollution: construction will temporarily be halted to keep down dust and fumes; alternate day car use schemes will be put in place to reduce traffic; and the operation of polluting mills, factories, and power plants will be halted or curtailed.