I am fascinated by China’s growth and wonder about the impact of all this development on the local and global environment. The ‘2006 Index of Leading Environmental Indicators: The Nature and Sources of Ecological Progress in the US and the World’ by Steven Hayward at the Pacific Research Institute has an interesting section on China as a case study with some data on air quality and land reserved. The study also suggests that environmental concern is driving political reform:
“Environmental calamities may have become the principal source of political unrest and turbulence in China. In April the New York Times reported on a major riot in the southeastern province of Zhejiang where a crowd of up to 60,000, burned police cars, smashed windows, and injured more than 30 government workers in protest of pollution from nearby chemical plants. The Washington Post followed up on the story in June, reporting that the violent protest, which apparently routed the Chinese government authorities in the region, was at least partially successful: six chemical facilities were shut down or relocated.
This protest is reportedly just one of many occurring frequently in China in the last few years. In July, the New York Times reported another environmental protest in Xinchang, a city 180 miles south of Shanghai, where an estimated 15,000 people rioted for three days “in a pitched battle with authorities, overturning police cars and throwing stones for hours, undeterred by thick clouds of tear gas.”
The object of their ire was a 10-year-old pharmaceutical plant, which the protestors wanted closed or relocated. News of environmental protests spread rapidly across the Internet, spawning imitators throughout the nation on a large—perhaps massive—scale. The Times reported that there are “government figures” showing 74,000 incidents of mass protest in China in 2004 (not all of them necessarily environmentally related). In early December, a protest against a proposed wind-power project turned deadly as Chinese security forces fired on a crowd, killing 10 people.
Hayward goes on to suggest that environmental catastrophies have driven political reform in other parts of the world:
“The Songhua River spill [in China] might be likened to the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, which was one of the galvanizing events in the rise of the modern environmental movement in the U.S.. In a nutshell, the public outcry over the Cuyahoga River (which had experienced fires several times before with little public fanfare) showed that the affluent society no longer wished to be the effluent society. Certainly rising middle-class consciousness is involved with the popular protests about environmental calamity in China.
Perhaps the better comparison is with the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Soviet Union, which helped galvanize political liberalization under Mikhail Gorbachev. As has been demonstrated in numerous transnational studies, there is a strong correlation between various indices of political freedom and environmental performance.24 If China responds to its environmental challenges with administrative decentralization and greater use of market mechanisms and property rights, who knows where it might lead.”
I am interested in reliable sources of information on the state of the environment in China, particularly information on surface and ground water. Is there a best reference?