Escaping Nature: Air Quality and Strategic Environmental Assessment in Beijing

By Ariel Smith,

China is a leader in environmental mitigation and innovation strategies because of the desperate need of its citizens to counteract the fumes of the over 240 million cars and booming industry.” (Thompson, 2014)

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China’s relentless economic boom and leadership in the global market has been dubbed the “Chinese Miracle” (Thompson) and has made its middle-class the second largest in the world (Kharas, 30). It seems quite impressive, really: propelling millions of people to a standard of living they never would have been able to attain so quickly. The problem is, that paralleling this increase in wealth is the rapid decrease in resources, land, and clean air for Chinese people.

The video Beijing’s Sick Kids, found in the introduction of the article reported by the University of British Columbia’s Master of Journalism students, depicts environmental poverty through the eyes of two families living in Beijing.  The families are on different sides of the economic spectrum, both suffering from Beijing’s toxic air (Smith et al.).

Environmental in/justice in Beijing is not divided neatly between the rich and poor. At this point, even if you can afford an in-home air filter, and the luxury of taking your children from home, to your car, to school without breathing the unfiltered thick smog of Beijing’s urban centre, you are still not immune. It’s not only the health repercussions that Beijing families have to deal with though. Parents have been left with the terrible choice of either leaving their Beijing homes or splitting their family apart to keep their children away from the city’s poisonous air.

The idea of being raised predominately indoors is shocking to me.  As a British Columbian, the romantic notion of wilderness infiltrates our daily lives.  In Canadian cities, our kids still have access to clean air, and we are rarely concerned with the repercussions of allowing them to be exposed to city fumes.  We encourage our kids to get outdoors and explore, but Chinese parents don’t have this luxury.

So, how could successful environmental impact assessments be implemented in a country that is suffering this level of environmental degradation?  A major problem in the past has been that Environmental Impact Regulation in China has failed to address alternative sites and projects for proposed development (Xiuzhen et al., 102). Strategic environmental assessment has the potential to fill the gaps of this oversight, by allowing environmental experts to take the reigns on developing strategic overarching policies for all future projects. The Chinese government is now desperately backtracking to find appropriate environmental measures in the way of a policy-driven strategic environmental assessment (Xiuzhen et al., 102).  Corruption is heavily prevalent in the nation, but it is evident that the Chinese government has started listening to environmental scientists (Thompson), in a desperate act of digging themselves out of the current human health catastrophe they are in.  Reluctantly, China is turning to environmental experts, as it may be their only choice.

References:

Che, Xiuzhen, Jincheng Shang, and Jinhu Wang. “Strategic Environmental Assessment and Its Development in China.”         Environmental Impact Assessment Review (2001): 101-09.

Kharas, Homi. “The Emerging Middle Class in Developing Countries.” OECD Development Center 285 (2010): Web. 3. Oct.    2014. page 30.

Thompson, Jimmy. “China’s Generation Green – Waste, Food Safety, Pollution & The China Dream.” Thestar.com. UBC        International Reporting, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <http://projects.thestar.com/chinas-generation-green/&gt;.

Smith, Emma and Britney Dennison. Video: “Beijing’s Sick Kids”. Thestar.com. UBC International Reporting, 1 Jan. 2014. Web.    1 Oct. 2014.