General Question

stevenb's avatar

Do you think that the UN and the rest of the world for that matter should do something to force China to clean up and stop being such a horrid polluter?

Asked by stevenb (3816points) July 18th, 2008

I was reading National Geographic the other day and was shocked and horrified to see how bad of shape their country is in. The air is aweful, the water will cause serious illness or death in over 80% of the country, and then it gets bad. What do you think the rest of the world should do? How do you think China would react? Would they try to fight everyone? How can they be forced to change?

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23 Answers

lifeflame's avatar

Dear Stevenb,

Considering the USA refused to sign Kyoto, relies mainly on cars to get around and produces gas guzzling SUVs, I think your country is a horrible polluter and you should consider fixing things at home first.

More seriously though, as a Chinese person I am concerned about China’s growth, but more specifically, the rampant consumerist lifestyle being pursued (modeled after the West), which – when multiplied by our population – spells disaster for the world.

Sorry, I don’t think you can really “force” China to change. What can be done is a transfer of greener technologies, and work towards a change of consciousness to a more sustainable lifestyle.

By the way: fun map here:

Lightlyseared's avatar

although the US as a whole didn’t sign the Kyoto agreement, several states (California for example) did.

marinelife's avatar

I think that the same pattern will occur in China that has occurred in other nations as they industrialize. The situation will get very bad, so bad that people die, and then the government will turn their attention to it. Until it is regulated by the government, greedy polluters will take no action.

The U.S. has very little to credibility to tell any other nation that they need to clean up their pollution. Our history of caring about or cleaning up pollution is very recent and our track record is very spotty. To this day, we do virtually nothing that we could be doing to lower CO2 emissions. We are not much better on the rest.

While China took over the lead in CO2 emissions in 2006, it was not as if the U.S. (which until that date had been the world’s “leader”) lagged far behind. From a UK source: “It says China produced 6,200m tonnes of CO2 last year, compared with 5,800m tonnes from the US. Britain produced about 600m tonnes.”

Our history of cleaning up pollution is so recent that you might be surprised:

From the EPA in 1972 (emphasis mine):
“It is only within the last seven years, however, that major water pollution legislation has been passed.”

AIR POLLUTION From school curriculum material
“1963 Clean Air Act – This law was an important first step in our national air pollution control program. Through this act the federal government began to publish national air quality standards, although these were only recommendations. 1965 Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act 1967 Clean Air Act Amendments – This legislation converted the air quality criteria requested in 1963 into requirements and listed specific regions known for air pollution problems as special air quality control regions. The 1970 Clean Air Act launched an ambitious national campaign to reduce air pollution. This 1970 legislation is still the basis of our national air pollution prevention program.

ACID RAIN From the EPA (Parenthetical and emphasis mine.):
“Acid rain was first observed in the mid 19th century, when some people noticed that forests located downwind of large industrial areas showed signs of deterioration. Acid rain was not considered a serious environmental problem until the 1970s. In 1980, the U.S. Congress passed an Acid Deposition Act. (to study the problem.) In 1990, the US Congress passed a series of amendments to the Clean Air Act. Title IV of these amendments established a program designed to control emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Title IV called for a total reduction of about 10 million tons of SO2 emissions from power plants.”

btko's avatar

Canada and the United States pollute at least 10x more per capita than china. What scares me is that the Chinese are pushing towards our affluent life-styles. If right now we pollute 10x more per capita, imagine what it will be like when they reach our levels of consumption and polluting.

We need to lead by example and lower our per capita levels by 90%.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Gandhi

stevenb's avatar

@ life flame, I agree that the US is a bad polluter, but we do not have anything close to the toxicity levels in our water supplies that China does.“China has the worlds highest number of annual deaths triggered by air pollution”, “China is constructing the equivalent of two midsize coal-fired power plants each week-adding a capacity comparable to the entire UK power grid each year. What does that mean for the planet? China recently surpassed the US in carbon dioxide Emissions”. “50% of the Yellow rivers water is deemed undrinkable”. “Welcome to northern China, where desertification-caused primarily by human activities-is wiping out close to a million acres of grassland a year”. Those quotes are all out of the may 2008 China edition of National Geographic. Read it and tell me you dont think China is getting exponentionally worse every day. Yes the US has its own issues, but China is an excellent competitor and is winning the battle to become the worst polluter of the planet. I dont know of a single city in the US where people have to wear masks to breathe comfortably.

allengreen's avatar

interesting that the US has outsourced much of it’s food production to China and South America, where there are no enviromental protection laws. I think this is why we have so much food contamination now. Those in power suggest that funding the food inspectors is akin to socialism, therefore, we eat and drink low cost and high profit, poision food.

Thank you George W Bush for moving our manufacturing base and food production to the cesspool know as China.

stevenb's avatar

I also read that China is on the verge of a meltdown that will happen in the next ten to fifteen years because of the lack of younger workers and the large number of older citizens. The younger people will not be able to support the older members of their families and the society will start to fumble. I don’t wish bad on anyone, or any country, and that is not what my question is about. I know we pollute and have issues, but China is passing us and doesn’t seem to have any plans to change. I just wondered what flutherites would do.

stevenb's avatar

@ lifeflame, that info is also four years old, and things change fast.

marinelife's avatar

I don’t think that we can do anything. I also still see it as extremely hypocritical to even think about telling someone else to stop. What about the whole world that sat helplessly by while we did not stop for decades and decades?

I think we should lead by example. I think we should offer to share technology. Other than that, I think we have to hope they wise up faster than we did.

stevenb's avatar

@ marina, I don’t know if China is a “follow the leader kind of country”. I think while we were poluting no other countries really did anything because they were busy with their own issues at the time, or did not care. I wish we would have done better, and we are still sadly doing an aweful job. If cleaning up made people rich like computers and technology do, maybe someone would do it. Greed gets in the way of helping the environment. I think people and companies want to do better, but the bottom line gets in the way. They would rather make more money and destroy the environment than make a little less and clean it up. Maybe Bill Gates will make that his hew project. God help us.

lifeflame's avatar


I’m not saying that China isn’t going to be a very very big environmental problem. It is, and people are going to die/are dying.

What I am snippy about is what I perceive as American arrogance… that after reading a National Geographic you are horrified and think that China should be “forced” to change.
If you are really concerned about the environment I would encourage you to effect change locally as well as thinking what other countries should do/be forced to do; if you are really concerned about the environment of China in particular then I would invite you to learn the language, move here and see what you can do.
(I have, for example, a Canadian friend; an alternative energy-expert who decided that he could best help the world by basing his work in China. He’s doing important work here.)

The truth is, the UN is pretty ineffective in forcing any member state who happens to have veto power (c.f. Iraq); and in general, the way the global game is played is that if you have power, you don’t really have to listen to anyone. The US for a long time was in that position, and China is pretty much (for better for worse) looks like it’s going to end up where the US used to be.

stevenb's avatar

Wow, sorry for your perception of my arrogance. Good thing you don’t have any. I am glad you know that I never effect change locally, that I have never known about China being a polluter since I was in grade school, and that your aren’t arrogant enough to think I should learn their language, give up everything and everyone in my life to go help a country that doesn’t welcome change or outsiders with the opennest of arms. It must be great to be you and have no arrogance or to let the mainstream media affect your perceptions and thoughts.

marinelife's avatar

@stevenb I am somewhat surprised at your defensiveness here. I think lifeflame thought you were arrogant because of these rather aggressive statements in your details section (emphasis mine):
“What do you think the rest of the world should do? How do you think China would react? Would they try to fight everyone? How can they be forced to change?

To be truthful, I found the question rather arrogant too, because of the way it was phrased. Americans are perceived around the world as being arrogant, and I think we made that bed as a country by our attitude and actions.

stevenb's avatar

@marina and all, I have seen and read since I was very young about the aweful things in China. I know two couples who adopted girls from there and their stories and pictures are what got me really bothered about China. The US has it’s problems to be sure, but we are no China! We have had issues with race, religion, culture, you name it. We don’t however throw babies in orphan homes to die because they aren’t the “right sex”. The polution, humanitarian problems, and all of the other problems they have make the US look saintly. We had Hurricane Katrina and everyone thought we were terrible, but that is still not to be compared with China on any level. I don’t see a huge influx of average people migrating to China for a better life and more freedom. I love the history and people of China. I just think someone will have to take steps to help them change their views on polition and glutinous ruination of their national resources. I probably should have said “force them to see a better way to be world friendly” or to help them see. They have been around thousands of years longer than the US, but the currant regime does not seem to care if they are around for another 2000. Next time I will try to phrase my questions more P. C. I meant no offense to anyone, but it bugs me and I am a small town guy from the sticks. Surely it bothers the people like me in China who are dead and dying from their countries leaders oversights or uncaring attitudes.

marinelife's avatar

@stevenb We will have to disagree here on China being so much worse than the U.S. It mirrors much of the abuses that occurred in this country between one hundred and two hundred years ago from pollution to worker exploitation to genocide of opposing minorities.

What about what we have done in Iraq, essentially destroying a culture and sending it back practically back to the Stone Age? What about the destruction of American Indian cultures? We have no business telling any other sovereign nation what to do.

It is precisely your attitude that we should “fix” them that causes the people of the world to see us as arrogant. We have no room to talk here.

There is what I think is an apt Bible quote that appeared in another thread recently:

Matt 7:2–5
”For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

stevenb's avatar

@marina. The only difference I see is time. A hundred plus years ago the world was bigger, as in no instant communication between continents, as well as not being able to see the big picture of our actions. Today is different solely for those reasons. We can all see the dangers of our actions ok a global scale. Yes we are bad. Yeas china is bad. A lot of countries are bad. The US seems to be trying, though little as yet. I hope China gets better too. I Love the US for the freedom, opportunity, and
Choices it offers me as well as any other people of the world that choose to come here. It just kills me how many people dog The US as a horrible place to live and how bad it is. When I was in the Navy I saw so many countries and I wouldn’t live in any of them. The space and beauty of this country and it’s people makes me love it. I am sorry if I offended you or any others, but I am just a simple guy.

8lightminutesaway's avatar

I think that stevenb is giving more weight to environmental problems than other problems… thats ok, I do too, because it effects the entire world. It seems he is worried, as he should be, that China is a terrible polluter, and not only that, but the problem there is getting worse at an alarming rate. I’m sure he meant no offense, but is simply concerned about the environment more so than other problems in the world. The US has problems, certainly. A lot, actually. Most people are saying that the US should fix its problems first, and then lead by example and help others to get better. This would take a long time, and frankly, I don’t think we have time. All countries have to get better now, we don’t have time for politics. Everyone here has had valid arguments… we just dont have time for countries to call each other arrogant or whatever and argue, we just have to DO.

stevenb's avatar

^^^^^^ You got it exactly!!!^^^^^^^ Rock on!

flameboi's avatar

We should stop buying stuff from them, China should be isolated from the rest of us, they are ruining the world and the economy, I know I sound bitter, but that’s the way it is, right?

marinelife's avatar

@8lightminutesaway You fix your problems right now, because I waited 150 years before beginning to fix mine so you no longer have the luxury of time. Also, I am still not fixing a bunch of mine, but that’s OK you need to hurry up and fix yours right now.

What a pile of crap!

8lightminutesaway's avatar

Its a pile of crap that everyone needs to cooperate and do better? Because thats what I said… ”All countries have to get better now, we dont have time for politics.” Its hard to break habits, and it won’t be enough if just US or just China cleans up. Both have to clean up, and everyone inbetween too. My point is that there isn’t time to argue about whether or not global warming is real (hopefully we can all agree we don’t want to risk the predicted outcomes and so we don’t have to “believe” it exists), we don’t have time to worry about which country is bad and which is good, who has problems and who has more problems, who makes mistakes and who doesn’t. We have to identify the worst contributions to climate change, and work to reduce, if not reverse them. At that point we must have everyone change, not just China. If some people don’t listen, and need to be forced/aided/funded, so be it. there are larger things at stake, like, say, our known way of life on this planet (some may think there is a tiny chance this is even remotely possible, but do you want to risk it?). (On a personal note, this is one of only a few issues where I support large government invervention). Some may not like it, but how do you get 6 billion people to cooperate on a problem when many disbelieve in its very existence, and many who do know it to be true still don’t act on it?

I’m not worried that the US has had problems for 150 years. What is the right thing to do now?

btko's avatar

“this is one of only a few issues where I support large government invervention). Some may not like it, but how do you get 6 billion people to cooperate on a problem when many disbelieve in its very existence” ~8lightminutesaway

I’m with you on your post man, we do need to change, and change right now. Your last bit of your post reminds me that some people think that this is another power grab. Governments using terrorism and now climate change as a way to clear the path to a one world government. (which I tihnk would be bad).

davidk's avatar

@stevenb Thanks for the interesting question

No country has to clean up its act, unless they are a small nation that can be bullied by others. China can and will no longer be bullied or intimidated by other nations. The UN may agree to resolution after resolution, but it won’t make any difference, unless the people of China want to make a difference.

Basic principle of political power:
Laws and regulations are only as good as the enforcers of the laws and regulations.

Does anyone seriously imagine the UN developing into an organization that has “teeth” behind its proclamations?

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