It's the Environment, Stupid!

In a very strange coincidence, when I arrived home after posting yesterday's entry, Happy GIlmore was on tv. I am still dealing with the hell that is Topway, their customer (dis)service has helped me to understand a bit why lao taitai's drop any sense of "face" or reserve and want to bitch them out in public. Every time I've contacted them or gone by their offices, the requirements change just a bit. Still no internet at home, still coming to you live from Starbucks.

As a converted Democrat who comes from a home with an extremely environmentally concious mother and having watched (and believing) An Inconvenient Truth, I try to do what I can to protect the environment. In the US, military generals have deemed the environment to be a major issues of national security (the thing Americans are most concerned about). In China, many feel the environment is the greatest threat to continued economic success (the thing Chinese are most concerned about). Yet while the US, at least on a local level, have a number of programs in place to protect the environment, mostly in the form of recycling, China is severely lacking in this respect. My building has garbage cans on each floor, but no recycling bins anywhere. As far as I know, if I want to recycle my plastic bottles instead of just throwing them in the trash, I must bring them with me on my daily walk to work and wait until I come across a recycling bin on the street, in the meantime looking like one of the street people who spend their days collecting plastic bottles out of trash bins for money.

When I first arrived in Shenzhen, a big news story was made of Hong Kong's new law which would place something like a HKD$0.50 tax on customers at large grocery stores who require plastic bags instead of using more environmentally friendly bags. In the US those environmentally friendly bags are common at places like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, but still haven't gained wide use. Then again, in the US paper bags are often preferred to the plastic bags that you receive here. This measure by the HK government will hopefully work to force people to choose environmentally friendly bags over plastic bags and will be a step in the right direction for environmental protection. Just this morning, the news was reporting that Carrefour stores in Beijing are now pushing usage of an environmentally friendly bag instead of the more common plastic bags. As of my most recent to my local Carrefour in Shenzhen, this measure hasn't reached the south yet.

I'm not a tree hugger by any stretch of the imagination and my credentials when it comes to the environment are lacking at best, however even I was blown away by the number of plastic bags (or other recyclable goods) I receive on a daily basis here in Shenzhen. Whenever you buy anything, even if its just a bottle or two of beer and some snacks, the person behind the counter is reaching for plastic bags, and not just one, buy a bottle of beer and some snacks and walk away with at least 3 plastic bags. This is only my 3rd week in the city and I've already amassed a very large collection of plastic bags.

So many platitudes are made about how big a problem the environment in China could be and how important protection of it is. Yet today on tv, one of the heads of Greenpeace China was attacking the US as the number 1 problem in global environmental protection and at the same time praising China for advances it has made in this area. I'm one of the many that feels Bush's pulling out of Kyoto was a disgrace and that hopefully we can get a Democrat in the White House who will turn the US into a global leader on this issue. However, while the US hasn't done enough globally, China hasn't done anything and, beyond that, as discussed above, many cities and states in the US have very good local programs in place. I guess I was a bit surprised that such a radical organization as Greenpeace would be toeing the party line, but I probably shouldn't be.

China needs to stop talking about the environment as such a big national issue (or maybe it needs to talk more about it) and start recognizing that there are little things they can do on a local level to help the environment. Simple solutions exist and can be put in place like getting rid of plastic bags and single use wooden chopsticks as well as implementing more widespread recylcing programs. Such simple measures are only a start, but actually putting them in place would be enough to make a major difference. I don't think this is necessarily an area of danger, citizens can speak up and push the government and not worry too much, but its going to take enough concerned citizens coming forward and placing demands on their local government or even just deciding to do things on their own (private citizen actions is how many of the programs came to be in the US) instead of waiting for the government to decide its going to implement such programs. Let's hope enough citizens begin to stand up and take action.

As always, I invite any comments. Especially if anyone is aware of recycling programs in China (and in particular in Shenzhen).


Anonymous said...

I agree with you. People should improve the environment in China. I hate one word is 口号without 行动。It is an ugly Chinese. the environment is human important part of life. Do we want to kill human in the terrible environment? of couse! we do not.
Thank you for remind....

Anonymous said...

a very troublesome issue not just in China but all around the world. well actually in china, having someone picking up the recyclable cans create a job opportunity for the poor, and i remember once in a while, someone would ride their big bicycle to my neighborhood and try to buy old newspapers or books. But it's only effective in a limited extend, it doesn't help people develop their sense of responsibility for recycling. The plastic bag problem is also terrible in Canada, where people reuse them as garbage bag after coming home from grocery, so they would love to have them as much as possible --- 1 million years to decompose, we can't wait that long.