A Tale of Two News Stories – Part 2

Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline – News Story #2

While we, in the east, actively involved expressing our thoughts and feelings towards the Quebec Charter of Values, on the opposite side of our country in the west were expressing their opinions on the business of the Northern Gateway Pipelines. This $7.9-billion project proposes to build two pipelines stretching 1,177 kilometers from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C. From what I understand, once the raw material hits BC they will ship the bitumen to China for refinement and then we (including other nations) will buy it back for our nation’s consumption. The plan drew mixed reaction as First Nations and environmental groups are dead set against the plan.

In December 2013, an independent panel from the National Energy Board reviewed a report on the proposed pipeline and recommended that the Federal Government should approve the plan but it “…hinges on 209 required conditions, including developing a marine mammal protection plan, researching heavy oil cleanup and conducting emergency response exercises” says a CBC report. Furthermore, Enbridge enlisted the help of former Conservative Jim Prentice who served in Harper’s cabinet as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs as well as Environment Minister, to reopen talks with First Nations because the project will not go ahead without their approval and in some capacity their involvement. Prentice seems a likely candidate for this task. During his term in Harper’s government, he negotiated residential school settlement agreements, and as a lawyer negotiated land claim settlements and recently has suggested that he might run for Alberta’s Premier. 

Source: cbc.ca

There are so many reasons the construction of these pipelines should concern us, yet at the same time the benefits are equally important. How do we raise the pros and cons of such a project. One question we should ask ourselves; which is more important economic development, bringing an infusion of cash and jobs to local communities or protecting the environment? Can we do both? How far should we compromise? Perhaps the answer lies in examining the customer. China.

China

China’s modernization has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and created a booming middle class. Very impressive! But in doing so China has placed themselves in an environmental crisis which “is one of the most pressing challenges to emerge from the country’s rapid industrialization. Its economic rise, which has averaged around 10 percent annual GDP growth for the past decade, has come at the cost of its environment and public health.” says Beina Xu in an article she wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations entitled China’s Environmental Crisis. “As the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, China is responsible for a third of the planet’s greenhouse gas output and has sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities.” Environmental damage has cost China dearly, resulting in an increasingly growing social unrest for the ruling Communist Party. Citizens have launched demonstrations, shifting from rural-based to urban based environmental protest movements to express their rising anger over economic development projects that threatens the environment and their quality of life.

Photo Source: CBC News

For example, In October 2012, demonstrations against an $8.9 billion petrochemical plant expansion in the eastern city of Ningbo suspended the project. Several months later, anger boiled over in Shanxi province, where a factory spilled thirty-nine tons of toxic chemicals into local water sources. In May 2013, thousands of demonstrators gathered in the southwest city of Kunming to protest the building of a nearby chemical plant, which would produce half a million tons of a carcinogenic chemicals annually. By early 2013, public protests had succeeded in consistently gaining concessions from local governments, and in March 2013, Li Keqiang, China’s new premier, pledged that his government would show “even greater resolve” in tackling China’s pollution crisis.”

China: What’s Being Done?

The government has mapped out several ambitious environmental initiatives in recent five-year plans, although experts say few have been realized. In December 2013, China’s National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planning agency, issued its first nationwide blueprint for climate change, outlining an extensive list of goals to meet by 2020.

Since January 2014, the central government has required 15,000 factories, including large state-owned enterprises, to publicly report real-time figures on their air emissions and water discharges. And the government has pledged to spend $275 billion over the next five years to clean up the air. More recently, China’s legislature amended the country’s environmental protection law to allow for stricter punishments against companies or individuals caught polluting the environment.

China is also one of the biggest investors in renewables; its spending could total 1.8 trillion RMB ($300 billion) in the five years through 2015 as part of its pledge to cut its carbon intensity. According to its National Energy Administration, renewable energy sources comprised 57 percent of newly installed electricity-generating capacity in the first ten months of 2013. “China is also reaching out and partnering with international companies to jointly create technologies,” says the Wilson Center’s Turner.

While policy implementation has been inconsistent, a thriving environmental NGO community has grown to push the government to stay on track. Tens of thousands of these groups—often working with U.S. and foreign counterparts—push for transparency, investigate corruption, and head grassroots campaigns.

[Source: China’s Environmental Crisis]

Source: cbc.ca

Back to Canada

The damage China is facing also hurts the country’s economic prospects as it continues to pursue resources and pump investment into other countries (like our own). Its close economic partners, particularly in the developing world, face costly environmental burdens attached with doing business with China. Will we share the same fate?

What are the global implications, environmentally speaking, if we share our natural resources with China? Nothing is wrong with sharing our natural resources with our global neighbors but in doing so, particularly with China, do we become willing participants in the planetary degradation? Can we give China some recommendations, to fix their environmental crisis, for implementation before we build our pipelines? How do we hold them accountable for the sake of a healthier planet? Why can’t we take the same amount of investment and build the refineries here and use our natural resources for ourselves and share it with the US?…these are just a few questions that immediately pop into my mind as I continue to investigate this topic.

Photo Source: CBC News

What is equally concerning is our country’s present environmental regulations. In a conference not too long ago CBC reported that “Both Prentice and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall agree that Canada should harmonize its environmental regulations with the U.S….Wall urged the Harper government to bring in long-delayed regulations on the oil and gas industry…The federal Conservatives have said since 2007 that they would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by imposing regulations on industrial sectors. But the federal government has so far avoided the fastest-growing and most contentious sector: oil and gas. The Saskatchewan premier said he doesn’t know why it has taken eight years to regulate such an important sector, [and why we citizens have not made him accountable] but Ottawa needs to get it right.”

Photo Source: CBC News

So there you have it. Two news stories that shared the same time line and continually debated up to this present day. There are many stories within the news that equally demand our attention and it’s hard to keep track of all of them. We have a planetary responsibility yet many believe that this responsibility is too much for us; it involves too much thinking, too much energy and too many sacrifices. We’d rather focus on tabloid garbage because it is easier to criticize, laugh at and to poke fun at those who are different or dealing with personal demons. And while we are occupied with all this static, in the meantime, ‘life on this planet is slowly diminishing, both in variety and quality and we humans, some more than others, are to blame.’ However, there is still glimmers of hope in each and every one of us as we become more active as responsible stewards of the earth.

Stats about China’s Pollution:

Air Quality

  • Life expectancy in the north has decreased by 5.5 years due to air pollution, and severe water contamination and scarcity have compounded land deterioration problems.

  • Environmental degradation cost the country roughly 9 percent of its gross national income in 2008, according to the World Bank, threatening to undermine the country’s growth and exhausting public patience with the government’s pace of reform.

  • China’s energy consumption has ballooned, spiking 130 percent from 2000 to 2010.

  • In January 2013, Beijing experienced a prolonged bout of smog so severe that citizens dubbed it “airpocalypse”; the concentration of hazardous particles was forty times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization.

  • Later that year, pollution in the northern city of Harbin shrank visibility to less than 50 meters. China Daily reported that December was the worst month in 2013 for air quality, with more than 80 percent of the seventy-four cities with air-monitoring devices failing to meet national standards for at least half the month. Based on a 2012 Asian Development Bank report, less than 1 percent of China’s 500 largest cities meet the WHO’s air quality standards.

Coal

  • Coal has been the main culprit in the degradation of air quality.

    (Photo source: China Daily Mail)
  • China is the world’s largest coal producer and accounts for almost half of global consumption. Coal is also the source of as much as 90 percent of the country’s sulfur dioxide emissions and half of its particulate emissions. Mostly burned in the north, it provides around 70 percent of China’s energy needs.

  • Emissions levels from coal plants alone in 2011 potentially contributed to a quarter of a million premature deaths that year, according to a Greenpeace analysis.

  • Another troubling trend compounding air problems has been the country’s staggering pace of urbanization, with the government planning to move 70 to 75 percent of China’s population to cities between 2000 and 2030.

  • China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, having overtaken the United States in 2007.

Water and Pollution 

  • Yet experts cite water depletion and pollution as the country’s biggest environmental hazards;

    (Photo Source: Natural News)
  • Overuse, contamination, and waste have produced severe shortages; about two-thirds of China’s roughly 660 cities don’t have enough water despite the fact that China controls the river water supply of thirteen neighboring countries and has dammed every major river on the Tibetan plateau.

  • The impact is particularly felt in rural areas, where some 300 to 500 million people lack access to piped water. Industry along China’s major water sources has also polluted the supply heavily; in 2005, a plant explosion leaked around one hundred tons of toxic chemicals into the Songhua river.

  • In March 2013, Shanghai came under scrutiny when roughly 16,000 dead pigs were discovered floating through the Huangpu River. Lack of waste removal and proper processing has exacerbated the problem; almost 90 percent of underground water in cities and 70 percent of China’s rivers and lakes are now polluted.

  • Combined with negligent farming practices, the water crisis has turned China’s arable land into desert, which today claims around 27.5 percent of China’s total land mass.

  • Some 400 million Chinese lives are affected by desertification, according to the government, and the World Bank estimates that the overall cost of water scarcity associated with pollution is around 147 billion RMB, or roughly 1 percent of GDP.

Health Implications 

  • According to a Global Burden of Disease study, air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010. In late 2013, an eight-year-old girl in Jiangsu province became China’s youngest lung cancer patient; doctors attribute her illness to air pollution.
  • Epidemiological studies conducted since the 1980s in northern China suggest that urban air in China causes significant health complications, including respiratory, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular diseases.

  • The pollution has also been linked to the proliferation of acute and chronic diseases; estimates suggest that around 11 percent of digestive system cancers in China may stem from unsafe drinking water.

  • Human cases of the avian flu (H7N9 virus), which broke out in China in March 2013 and has claimed more than forty lives, were caused by exposure to infected poultry and contaminated environments.

  • China’s neighbors, including Japan and South Korea, have also expressed concern over acid rain and smog affecting their native populations.

  • A recent study reported that emissions from China’s export industries are worsening air pollution as far as the western United States.

[SourceChina’s Environmental Crisis]

Part One: A Tale of Two News Stories