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China’s Other Environmental Problems

China is destroying itself, and I’m not talking about its corrupt, autocratic government. No, pollution, industrial accidents, traffic deaths, and far too many other man-made causes are killing millions of people—and animals.

Newspaper pictures of the brown pollution clouds over Beijing and Shanghai are distressing enough, but the pollution actually caused 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, the British magazine Lancet reported recently. And the problem isn’t improving. The Economic Observer, a Chinese magazine, said levels of two major pollutants in Beijing’s air, nitrogen dioxide and dangerous particulate matter, increased by nearly 30 percent in just the first three months of 2013.

If only that were the sole problem. But in fact, China burns more coal than any other nation, by far; 70 percent of the nation’s energy comes from coal. And more people die in coal-mining accidents there than anyplace else. In fact, 28 people died in a coal-mine gas explosion late last month, just the latest of several in recent weeks.

That explosion happened the same day as 83 people working in a Tibetan gold mining area died in a massive landslide, apparently set off by the mining work.

Official government figures show that 1,384 people died in coal-mine accidents during 2012, figures that probably understate the problem, as so many Chinese statistics do.

China also has more fatal road accidents than any other nation, even though automobile ownership per capita, while growing fast, remains low—on a par with Sri Lanka. The trouble is, people often buy cars before learning how to drive.

In 2011, the Lancet published a despairing piece about needless Chinese deaths on the roads. It noted that government figures grossly underestimate the problem—admitting to less than half the accidents—and concludes that “until the Chinese government is honest with its people, and with itself,” the problem won’t be solved.

Then think about the 16,000 diseased, decomposing pigs found in the river that supplies water for Shanghai’s 23 million people. China assured everyone: No worries, the water is clean. But one Shanghai resident told the London Telegraph, “I’m worried about the drinking water. It really, really stinks.”

That’s not the only problem of this sort. Early this month, authorities discovered a massive die-off of ducks, at least 1,000 of them, in the Nanhe River of southwestern Sichuan Province. Meanwhile, in the eastern city of Nanjing, residents are accusing several factories along the Yangtze River of dumping toxic effluent into the Yangtze River, killing thousands of fish, the Yangtze Evening News reported late last month.

To test the pollution level, the paper said, residents placed two large carp in a tank of river water. “Within 10 minutes, both fish were floating dead on top of the water,” the paper said, as quoted by Radio Free Asia.

Seeming to sum it all up, a new book by journalist Craig Simons is titled: The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World.

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