Damp with sweat, dust, and chaff, [the farmer] pulls a plastic hose into a water pump that is powered by a truck with a belt-drive. The moment the engines roar, the ingenious makeshift machine fills the hose with turbid water from the nearby canal where a pharmaceutical factory has just dumped its rancid effluent.
As farmers across China produce increasing amounts of food to feed a burgeoning middle-class surge, much of it is irrigated with polluted water.
Much of China’s water is so contaminated that it should not even be touched, yet tremendous amounts of the grains, vegetables, and fruits that are served in homes and restaurants, as well as textiles that are sold in markets, are irrigated with untreated industrial waste water.
The beef and pork desired by the middle- and upper classes consume large amounts of grain, grown with polluted water. Rice, too, is contaminated with cadmium,
a heavy metal that is discharged in mining and industrial sewage, according to scientists at Nanjing Agricultural University.
Nearly 15% of China’s river water is unusable for any purpose, and half the groundwater nation wide is polluted. The worst pollution is in industrial areas in the southeast, and the drier agricultural areas in the northeast.
Half of the water pollution is actually caused by intensive farming:
fertilizers, pesticides, and livestock waste that are carried into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters, and underground aquifers by rainfall and snowmelt.
“China is developing too rapidly,” Wang told Circle of Blue. “It took Western countries 100 and more years to develop to this level — it took China 30 years. “
Although China sees the problems, addressing them is another issue entirely. Restrictions will slow economic growth, and the central government doesn’t want that to happen.
“All the environmental problems in China are political problems,” Hu Kanping told Circle of Blue. “And water pollution is more difficult to address than air pollution. In many areas, there’s resistance from farmers and local governments to address this problem, because it will affect their irrigation; it will raise their water fees and slow local GDP growth.”
“We estimate we’re going to have millions of tons of plastic going into the ocean with, so far, unknown consequences,” says Jenna Jambeck,an environmental engineer [.]
Most of this plastic is in tiny pieces, smaller than a grain of rice, and floating in the water column. They are created when larger plastic items such as bags or plastic pellets (used to make all kinds of products) are broken down by the sun and salt water. These are ingested by numerous animals and invertebrates as they feed on the phytoplankton floating in the water. Since plastics mimic endocrines in the bloodstream, they affect the reproductive systems of fish and wildlife.
Jambeck and her team’s research, to be published later this year, will provide new estimates of how much garbage is produced globally every year, how much garbage comes from developing countries lacking garbage collection systems, and how much litter is produced by developed countries. All trash has the potential to reach the oceans.
It is much easier to prevent trash from reaching the ocean than it is to clean up the Ocean:
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it is known, is often said to be twice the size of Texas. It actually extends, at times, from Japan to San Francisco, and varies in shape and density. According to NOAA, cleaning up less than one percent of the North Pacific would take 68 ships working 10 hours a day for a year.
Many people are working on solutions to garbage disposal, especially in poor countries. What are you doing to help keep the oceans clean?
“Do not impose on others what you yourselves do not desire.” This is Confucius’ version of the Golden Rule, and the writer quotes it when talking about the ubiquitous Chinese water diversion projects.
I was surprised at how openly critical this piece is – but it’s written for the English version of the paper, so may it didn’t run in the Chinese version.