Summer 2007: A Catalyst for Environment Change in China

Tuesday, December 18, 2007 1:36
Posted in category Uncategorized

China air pollutionThe summer of 2007, will be shown as a turning point in China’s development.

Everyday there was news that brought to light many of the issues China is having to address when managing when managing this economy. There were high profile cases in areas of the environment, manufacturing, labor, health, and so on.

One of these events, the green algae blooms in Taihu lake (and others), rocked China. . For years, chemical factories in the area had been dumping untreated waste into the lake, and when mother nature provided drought conditions in the area, lake levels dropped. When these two elements came together, the chemicals activated natural bacterias. Wuxi residents couldn’t shower in their city’s water, much less drink it. Firms were trucking in water from Shanghai, and overnight the prices of water spiked. It was a nightmare situation for the central government, who have been working on many levels to prevent this issues.

This event, more than any other in China, put government approved environmental activism on the map. Chemical factories were put squarely into the cross hairs of angry citizens and a frustrated central party. In a post entitled, , address how this event impacted a project I was working on and what firms could expect going forward.

Xiamen Chemical InvestmentSoon after, 20,000 citizens of Xiamen walked down mainstreet Xiamen to show that they did not want a large investment to move forward in their back yard. There was some press coverage, but in large part the importance of this event was missed as it was one of China’s first real citizen actions that was allowed to proceed without any interference… and it worked. The message of the people was received in Beijing, the project was shut down by the central office of NRDC, and a full review was conducted.

In the 6 months since both of these events, we have of course all seen the reports of China’s growing role in the global environment. the majority of reporters offered a number of statistics along with some slight of hand remarks that showed little appreciation of what was going on behind the scenes in China…

However, where I saw this as being different than before is that for the first time the general public was allowed to voice their opposition. More than that though, whereas the direction of civil society had historically been driven by the government, and individual citizens expected to look out for their best interests, through these events it was clean that the role of NGOs and individuals had taken a step forward.

That rather than view the government as the ultimate caretaker, individual citizens were given the power to hold companies accountable. and that is HUGE.

At this point, you are probably wondering why this is really important to you, and with my next post The Real Meaning of Public Hearings in Xiamen I will address that. But understand that the changes occurring are real, and that as I previous wrote, it is time to clean up or clear out.

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6 Responses to “Summer 2007: A Catalyst for Environment Change in China”

  1. John Guise says:

    December 18th, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    Hi Rich

    I agree with you that the protests around the PX plant in Xiamen and the civil protests and public hearings that came out of that are a major step forward for China’s civil society. I’m looking forward to more of your posts on this topic.

    Happy Holidays
    J.

  2. Rich says:

    December 18th, 2007 at 9:56 pm

    Hi john,

    How is everything? Getting out for the holiday?

    While I might be giving too much away.. check out this article in the Shanghai Daily.

    I think this is a huge decision, and one that will only bolster those looking to protect their environments. this is a case of where a healthy channel for change was opened up, and where it worked. A real step in the right direction, and one I hope is replicated.

    On a side note, I have had 2 meetings in the Bay Area today with people who are working with high level officials on both sides of the pond, and they things they are talking about are super exciting. Really good stuff (yes, I will put a blog up about it) that shows me just how far we have come in the last 5 years, and that it has moved past the dog and pony shows.

    Hope all is well and have a great holiday break.
    R

  3. John Guise says:

    December 19th, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Hi Rich

    I’m staying in Shanghai this year as I find attempting to get out of the city at this time of year. I need to go home in June for a family wedding and don’t have enough annual leave to do both.

    As to the article, I don’t know if moving the plant is the answer. The government seemed to get the idea that the people in Xiamen don’t want the plant but putting it in another community isn’t the right answer either. It should be stopped entirely.

    J.

  4. Rich says:

    December 19th, 2007 at 7:47 pm

    John,

    I must admit that I thought moving it from Xiamen to Zhangzhou was not just disappointing, but odd…. and why does Xiamen have the ability to relocate to Zhangzhou?

    I guess only time will tell, but if the residents of Zhangzhou were to take the same measures (I am sure they were aware of what happened), I wonder what the next step would be? Is there a chemical zone in that area that would be suitable (like a Lingang in tianjin)…. far removed from the general population?

    Have a good Christmas. I am already back in the U.S. (Bay Area this week) and will be back in Jan. first time in 5 years I have spent more than 10 days in the U.S. at one time.

    R

  5. John Guise says:

    December 20th, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Enjoy your vacation Rich. I’ll be watching this issue as I am sure you will be too.

    J.

  6. Rich says:

    December 20th, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    ZonaEuropa has put up a translated article that contains an interview with the architect behind the recent public debates. Click here to read the entire translation. It is quite interesting.

    where I find it interesting was that they say this as a tool to channel public opinion in a good way, organizers put the forum together carefully , and he says the tool could be used again in cases where investments affect the pubic welfare (ok.. so that is a bit gray).