Xiamen Acid Rain

258 of China’s cities experience acid rains due to sulphur emissions.

Xiamen is located in the South-East part of Fujian province, which is often regarded as one of the best places to live in China. The city is experiencing continuous acid rain.

China has made some large attempts to reduce pollution levels, but these have clearly not had much of an effect on Fujian province yet.

“Official statistics show every drop of rain in Xiamen in the first half of 2010 was acidic, recording pH levels of less than 5.6 (neutral is 7),” – Zhuan Mazhan

Causes

The PRC is one of the most polluting countries in the world, along with the USofA, and air currents across the country push polluted air to the sea, and then south wards. Fujian province is at the Southern most point of the main curve of the PRC coastline, across the East China Sea from Taiwan, so it is at the point where the most polluted air converges.

Impacts

  • Acid rain is leaving buildings with yellow staining due to corrosion, particularly the colonnial age buildings which give Xiamen its unique appearance, which in turn helps to attract tourists to the island.
  • The island where Xiamen is located is being turned yellow as plants are being damaged.

Outside Xiamen, the Leshan Buddha statue of Sichuan province, has been hugely effected, and has been very badly damaged, losing its reddish colouring, due to factories built close by to it. The statue is the largest Buddha statue in the world, carved into the sacred Mount Emei, and has been there since at least 907 AD; it is a major tourist destination, particularly for Buddhist pilgrims, but is being damaged from all the acid rain and may not remain so. (This was initially confusing as almost every source mentions Leshan alongside Xiamen. I have tried to make it clear they are not the same place.)

Response

China is pursuing its promises made in 2009 to cut the intensity of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP in 2020 by 40-45% compared to 2005 levels. This has yet to be particularly effective; acid rain rates are still increasing down wind of industrial centers.

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PRC General Pollution Issues

A real time global air quality index visual map can be found here.

Soil contamination

The growth of the PRC since the 1980s has lead to major soil pollution. The State Environmental Protection Administration believes it to be a threat to environmental quality, food safety and sustainable agriculture. 100,000km^2 of the PRC’s cultivated land has been polluted, with contaminated water irrigating a further 21,670^2 and 1,300km^2 have been destroyed or covered in solid waste. This accounts for 1/10 of the PRC’s cultivatable land. 6 million tonnes of grain are contaminated annually, costing about 29 billion yuan to the Chinese economy, roughly US$2.57 billion.

Waste

The PRC’s general lack of real environmental awareness (which proves the level of thought into one president elect’s allegations of the PRC “inventing global warming”) has lead to a lack of decent recycling systems. In 2012, the PRC generated 300 million tonnes of waste material.

Industrial pollution

In 1997, the World Bank issued a report targetting the PRC stating that “hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and incidents of serious respiratory illness have been caused by exposure to industrial air pollution. Seriously contaminated by industrial discharges, many of China’s waterways are largely unfit for direct human use.”

The New York times stated in a 2007 article that “Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party.”

  • Air pollution has made cancer the PRC’s leading cause of death
  • Ambient pollution kills hundred of thousands of citizens annually.
  • 500 million Chinese citizens have no safe, clean drinking water.
  • only 1% of the 560 million city dwellers breath air considered safe within the European Union
  • Lead poisoning from pollution kills many Chinese children
  • Large sections of the ocean have no marine life because of massive algal blooms- eutrophication
  • Pollution from China has spread internationally, causing acid rain fall in Seoul and Tokyo, and even in Los Angeles.
  • The Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning estimated in 2003 that 300,000 people die each year from ambient air pollution.
  • Environmental experts estimated in 2005 that by 2010 380,000 people would die of air pollution in the PRC annually, and that in 2020 550,000 would.
  • “outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths a year. Indoor pollution contributed to the deaths of an additional 300,000 people, while 60,000 died from diarrhoea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases that can be caused by water-borne pollution.”, “China’s environmental agency insisted that the health statistics be removed from the published version of the report, citing the possible impact on ‘social stability'”- World Bank, 2007
  • Up to 760,000 people died prematurely in the PRC in 2007 due to air and water pollution. Around 360,000 to 400,000 people died of air pollution within PRC cities. 300,000 died because of poor indoor air quality, and 60,000 from poor water quality.

Electric Waste

Electronic Waste means discarded electronic devices which have not been recycled or re-purposed.

In 2011, the PRC produced 2.3 million tons of electronic waste. Additionally, a lot of electronic waste is imported from abroad.

Water supply

Due to general water shortages and high water pollution, there are often issues in the PRC in acquiring healthy drinking water. A quickly growing population, as well as often lax environmental laws regarding buildings have only increased demand for clean water.

Air Pollution

Coal combustion produces Particulate Matter known as PM. Beijing suffers from PM2.5- Particulate Matter less than 2.5 micrometers across. Such fine matter can easily lead to breathing problems such as bronchitis and asthma, and even lung cancer at extremely low ages (the typical age to contract cancer is above about 75 through most of the world, with this being raised to 80 with a healthy lifestyle, but in the PRC cases have been recorded of even 8 year olds having lung cancer).

Lung cancer is about 3x as common in Chinese cities as opposed to the countryside, despite similar exposure to other carcinogens such as tobacco smoke.

Despite now having means to measure much of the air pollution, measurements in 2013 showed that the  pollution was beyond the scope of what could be measured in the present particulate sizes.

Impacts of Pollution Generally

  • In 2005, pollution cost 3.05% of the PRC economy
  • Depending on the economic model (Eastern or Western), in 2003, according to the World Bank, 2.68% or 5.78% of GDP was spent on water or air pollution
  • A review of this in 2009 said that this might be as high as 10%
  • A 2012 study said that pollution had little effect on the actual growth of the PRC economy; even if they were going to continue using polluting industries and inefficient energy sources. Eventually, the effects of pollution would start to off set the gains from them into the economy.
  • In 2015, Berkeley Earth estimated that 1.6 million people die annually in the PRC from strokes or heart or lung issues caused by pollution.

Responses

The PRC is one of very few countries actively increasing its forest coverage, which is working to reduce its environmental pollution. Due to Mao’s policies, much of the forest of the PRC was removed in the past, leading to dust storms frequently entering the city in line with the air currents from elsewhere. This started to cause pollution across urban areas. Replenishing forest areas should help to reduce this impact, although it will probably take many years to resolve the situation caused by deforestation entirely.

Additionally, the air pollution and water pollution within the PRC are also decreasing, according to government account. Although the PRC is clearly very polluted, the government claims that they are trying to reduce the situation, and there is reasonable evidence that they are taking some good measures on this line, but not very far into actively reducing air pollution, where it is really most needed.

Waste: 

On 1st June 2008, the PRC banned all shops from distributing free plastic bags to customers. Stores have to clearly mark the price of plastic shopping bags and are banned from adding that price onto products.  The production of ultra-thin plastic bags, less than 0.025 mm across are also banned. However, the ban does not effect  take-away food businesses or paper bags. The year after the ban was introduced, the International Food Packaging Association found that 10% fewer plastic bags had entered the rubbish system.

Legislation has been introduced preventing the introduction of electronic waste, but it has been criticised as vulnerable to fraud.

Air Pollution:

The PRC government recently started to include ozone and PM2.5 in their air quality indexes, which are the two most harmful forms of air pollution in the country. Official data shows air pollution decreasing, but with the PRC’s record of requests to not publish figures on their pollution rates, it is reasonable to assume that the published data was heavily manipulated.

After record high pollution levels in 2012, the government made an action plan to reduce pollution levels in September 2013. The plan was to reduce air pollution 10% between 2012 and 2017, which from the frequency of the alerts delivered in the last few years, has not been successful. The plan was published on the government website.

On 20th August 2015, to create a “Parade Blue sky” for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the government shut down industries for a day in Beijing, and heavily regulated car exhaust fumes. PM2.5 concentration was briefly 35mg/m^3 lower than the national average in the city, down to 19.5mg/m^3, the lowest in the city’s recorded history.

The government is aiming to reduce its fossil fuel usage by increasing the PRC’s capacity for renewable energy sources, or other less polluting energy sources, such as nuclear power, hydroelectric power and compressed natural gas.

The PRC government set up a system of air quality alerts. These alerts are based on air quality indexes. The alerts are given through the large cities of the PRC.

  • A Blue warning indicates pollution levels of AQI 201-300 (Heavy Pollution) within the next 24 hours
  • A yellow warning indicates an AQI of 201-300 for three days or AQI between 301-500 (Hazardous) within the next 24 hours.
  • An orange warning indicates that pollution levels will be above 201 for the next three days, going between “Heavy Pollution” and “Hazardous”
  • A red warning indicates an AQI above 201 for four consecutive days, or above AQI of 301 for two days, or an average of over 500 over the course of one day.

Zhouqu County Mudslides

On the 8th August 2010, a mudslide occured in Zhouqu county, in southern Gansu province (Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture) in the PRC. The mudslide was 5km long and 300m wide, and up to 5m thick in places.

Causes

The mudslide was caused by a variety of factors, human and physical.

Forests around Zhouqu had been cut down for mining and agriculture which lead to soil erosion and destabilisation of the slopes, as roots were no longer holding the soil together and trees could no longer absorb water from the soil, leading to faster soil water saturation.  Despite the logging ban in 1998, trees continued to be felled. In the PRC, there had been 53 hydroelectric construction projects in recent years, with 12 just within Gansu province, where Zhouqu county is located. The dams have caused 750,000 tonnes of water and soil erosion and over 3 million cubic tonnes of bulldozed material, throughout the country. This has left the slopes weak and exposed to rainfall, allowing slides to occur more readily.

Oscillations between the patterns of El Nino and La Nina (climatic events where air currents across the Pacific Ocean change, effecting the local weather systems among dozens of countries) caused unusually intense monsoon rains in 2010.  Regions were receiving an extra 24 mm of rain above the normal daily rainfall. In ‘the largest downpour for a century’ 96 mm of rain fell in just one hour in the area.  The earthquake in Sichuan two years previously created cracks in the rock face and destabilised the ground; Zhouqu county is very close to Sichaun province, so instabilities within Sichaun can very easily effect towns within Gansu, directly to the North. The 9-month drought which preceded the heavy rain had added to the weakness and instability of the soil, especially when followed by the heavy rainfall.

Impacts

Social Impacts:

  • 1,471 people died due to the slide.
  • 1,200 people had to be rescued from the debris.
  • 300 people were never found, and are presumed dead.
  • 1,700 people who were evacuated from the immediate area were forced to live in schools. In total 45,000 people in Zhouqu county were evacuated.
  • Medical care in the region was disrupted as 10 doctors from the Zhouqu People’s Hospital were among the missing.

Economic Impacts:

  • 66% of the county went without power, disrupting local businesses and transport.
  • More than $40 billion worth of damage was caused in Gansu.
  • Power lines were down in 2/3 of the county which had to be repaired. Wider infrastructure was destroyed at great cost.
  • Mudslides throughout China in 2010 destroyed 8.76 million hectares of crops to be destroyed.
  •  The livelihoods of millions of people were entirely destroyed or otherwise decimated and China’s capacity to export was massively reduced.

Environmental Impacts:

  • 300 buildings were buried under mud.
  • A 3km temporary lake formed behind a blockage when the mudslide reached the local river at the base of the city of Zhouqu where the slide occured. This dam later burst causing further damage.
  • The river was clogged with debris, damaging habitats and reducing biodiversity.

Management 

  • 7,000 soldiers, firefighters and medical staff were deployed by the government. 20 speed boats and 4 helicopters were also mobilised.
  • Gansu province received 120 million yuan ($17.7 million) by August 13th 2010.
  • The PRC government promised local families $1,182 worth of financial aid for each victim lost.
  • Tents, food and medical supplies were rushed to the stricken area but the remote mountainous location made access difficult.
  • The governmentpromised to help rebuild homes and buildings in the affected area.
  • A National Day of mourning was observed to help with the emotional trauma.

Malaria

Malaria kills 1-3 million people a year, mainly among children under 5. This is about 500 every hour, and it tends to come back in recurrent bouts throughout life.

It has been known since the 1890s that mosquitoes transmit malaria by protozoa such as Plasmodium falciparumP. falciparum is the main transmitter in humans, causing 90% of modern cases.

There are eventually 3 outcomes of malaria:

  • Infected blood cells are recognised by the immune system and killed
  • Drug treatments kill the infected cells
  • The patient dies

Symptoms

Symptoms become less serious as a person becomes older, as their immune system becomes stronger. This is why the majority of deaths are from young children. Malaria does have a tendency, however, of returning and reinfecting a person multiple times; each time the protozoa uses a different set of genes and the person has to be reinfected several times before they gain immunity to all of the responsible genes.

Common symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills

These symptoms are seen as being caused due to the release of toxins by the protozoa. Symptoms increase as the new merozites- the sort of cell produced by the protozoa- are released.

The invasion of a red blood cell can be seen by some obvious changes. The normal disc shape turns highly uneven and lumpy. As the P. falciparum is released from host cells, the lumps move further to the outside of the cell, creating the bumps on the outside of the cell. The knobs also produce a sort of protein which takes the red blood cell out of commission and away from the other red blood cells. Normally mis-shapen cells are taken to the spleen and destroyed, but the cells are no longer reach the spleen, so are not destroyed, allowing the merozites to be freely produced.

More serious physical symptoms:

  • Infected blood cells bind with uninfected cells, that can block blood capillaries
  • Infected blood cells bind to blood vessel linings in the brain, which can cause cerebral malaria, which is the biggest cause of death.

Transmission

Mosquito saliva contains anticoagulants, which allow them to suck up blood through their probosces, but the anticoagulants are irritant and thus cause itching. The saliva also contains the Plasmodium parasites, which enter directly into the blood.

Within a few minutes, a certain type of cell, known as sporozites, have reached the host’s liver.

Infection

Once inside the host’s liver cells, the Plasmodium falciparum cell nucleus divides rapidly, creating a cell with many nucleus. Then each new nucleus buds off from the original parent cell, with a little cytoplasm, forming a new type of cell called a merozite. The liver cell bursts, releasing the merozites.

Merozites  then infect red blood cells and digest the haemoglobin in them as a food source. The merozites each undergo nuclear division several times, and produce up to 32 new offspring each. The blood cell bursts and within just a few minutes, merozites are released and each one then enters a new red blood cell.

The cycle of release of the merozites occcur every 3-4 days.

Treatment

Injection is normally a quite effective method of prevention . If the insect involved can be removed, the transmission is far less effective than even with the injection, however.

Vaccines must be suitable for use among small children, as they have the highest fatality rates. The variety of malarial forms and antigens makes finding a single vaccine very challenging. Researchers are working on finding a vaccine that recognises antigens present in the most severe forms of malaria first. The idea behind this is to reduce acute symptoms and keep the infant alive long enough for them to fight an infection naturally.

When in the past marshland has been drained for farming, this has reduced the number of mosquitoes, and thus the rate of incidence of malaria. However, this does have a large environmental cost, due to species which have then lost their habitats. A method of separation without environmental damage is even easier- installing glass into windows. Mosquito nets are another very easy, very effective method.

Insecticides are a popular method of eradication of malaria. However, this is not a sensible method in most areas, because the effected areas are massive, and thus the insecticide needed would be massively expensive and infeasible to deliver. Delivery to small, localised waters is feasible, and could be done easily.

Drugs to prevent malaria can be taken before and throughout visiting a country where malaria is endemic. The best known sorts are based of quinine. Quinine has been used by native American peoples in Bolivaria and Peru using natural bark from a Cinchona tree to treat malaria before scientists researched its use properly. The bark of the tree was then transferred back to imperialist powers which found the native peoples from the sixteenth century on-wards.

Quinine derivatives have since had to be added, thanks to the increasing incidence of strains resistant to quinine. Some are even more effective than quinine was originally. Chloroquinine is one of these. In a red blood cell, the merozite digests the haemoglobin, and uses amino acids from it in order to grow. The haem group left is normally toxic, but Plasmodium neutralise it by converting it into another chemical, haemozoin. Chloroquinine interferes with this conversion.The haem then builds up and kills of the merozites itself.

Other drugs target enzymes involved in Plasmodium DNA replication and growth. Artemisinins are a new class of drugs discovered from research based on Chinese traditional medicine for malaria. It is unknown how artmesinins work, but they have been used for over 2,000 years to cure malaria.

These methods could help save many lives from the disease in the tropics. The main limiting factors seem to be extreme poverty, a lack of infrastructure for distribution, poor governance, and disturbances, as well as any other number of human failures to develop nations evenly worldwide.

Dalai Lama- the 15th?

Although this is really not relevant at all to the A Level Geography course, I did a little random research on the Dalai Lama a few days ago (I’m really not sure why, I just had a sense of curiosity about him), and found some comments I thought were interesting, at least.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is well known as a proponent of a free Tibet, and as one of the few internationally respected heads of state, at least by the people. In the 1980s he proposed taking the middle ground and granting greater autonomy to Tibet, if the government of the PRC did not want a truly free Tibet. After this, he said something along the lines that the next Dalai Lama might not be born to the PRC, as clearly such an “authoritarian” state did not lead a spiritual leader. It was then speculated that a future Dalai Lama might be born to another geographically close country, like Nepal, Bhutan or even somewhere like Bangladesh.

(Since these comments, one spokesperson said something along the lines that if the middle way could not be fulfilled, Tibet must campaign for full independence once more.)

At another point, the Dalai Lama then stated that he might not reincarnate at all, as the world needs spiritual leaders less now.

And after that, he said that even if he did, he might be a woman in a future life.

Regardless of whether anyone reading this believes in reincarnation or not, I think these are still very interesting comments.

The Dalai Lama is normally found by a series of signs, such as which direction smoke is flowing at the time, or from visions. I think it would be interesting to see if these comments are taken as signs to a 15th Dalai Lama’s identity, and if, if they are, this would mean someone from outside Tibet could become the spiritual leader of the region, and even if a female Dalai Lama would take a traditionally male role. And of course, the implications if no Dalai Lama were found, would be culturally enormous.

There’s even a question of, if reincarnation is possible and has occurred 13 times for the Dalai Lama- can the Dalai Lama choose who he reincarnates as in any way, and, can he choose whether he reincarnates at all?

There hasn’t been a female Dalai Lama, and very rarely have there been female leaders in the Himalayan region, so that is especially interesting in a way.

Of course, I’d like it to still be a while before anyone finds out, as the 14th Dalai Lama, at least from what I’ve seen, is an incredibly good leader, and a brilliant person.

PRC and Infanticide

Girls are often called “Too many” or “Little mistake”. In the 1800s there was a famine in the PRC which led to an outbreak of civil war in Huaipen.

Girls were killed because they were another mouth to feed. The boys then grew up to have no one to marry. There were hundreds of thousands of unmarried men, who became rebels. They almost overthrew the emperor.

Now there are 100 women for every 117 men. 80 million men have no hope of (heterosexual) marriage (or just marriage if they stay in the PRC). The age gap between couples has only exacerbated this. Old grooms will take teenage wives which only makes the situation worse for the next generation.

There are now whole bachelor villages refered to as “bare branches”. They used to become monks, soldiers or eunuchs. Now they move into the cities.

There has been an outbreak of female abductions, where women are sold to families looking for daughters in law or as prostitutes for male dominated cities. Selective abortion has been banned by the government with the official statement “girls are fine descendants too”.

PRC and Coal

The PRC performs 46% of global coal production. Global coal reserves are estimated at 910 x 10^9 tons in 2006. Should current rates of production last then this is enough for 150 years.

Only 16% of the PRC’s coal enters international trade; the rest is consumed domestically.

Coal is used for iron and steel in industry.

It is easiest to find in anticlines, which are in strata which have become folded over time (essentially forming waves).

Three Gorges Dam

(This graphic on its own does a good summary)

The Three Gorges Dam is the largest Hydroelectric Power scheme. The dam blocks the 3rd largest river in the world, the Yangtze.400 million people live in it’s drainage basin.

Reservoir can flood up to 1045 km^2 at peak capacity. 1200 villages have been disappearing since 2002. 1500 factories and 70 waste management plants have had to close or move.

Of the more than a million relocated people, there have been numerous complaints:

  • Inadequate compensation
  • Reduction in land quality- the government recompensated with giving new, lower quality land
  • Widespread fraud and corruption among officials
  • 1,000s forced to live in squalid conditions.

Environmentally the dam has also had a huge impact:

  • Pollutants are leaked into the water flow
  • Water is too slow to remove these pollutants
  • This has caused algal blooms and eutrophication (a process in which life within an aquatic environment starts to slowly die out due to light being prevented from reaching the plants)
  • The dam traps sediment, causing deposition in the reservoir
  • River is sediment free downstream. This has changed the ecology and caused habitat loss.
  • Erosion has increased
  • The dam is thought to be responsible for the extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin (That said, it’s unknown if they are actually extinct. Either way, it has not helped their population.)
  • Loss of wildlife
  • 91 shoreline collapses
  • increased mud slides

Social and cultural impacts include:

  • 100s of cultural, archaeological and historical sits destroyed by the water
  • 600 km long reservoir destroying the natural beauty and character of the area.

Economically, the area has been affected by:

  • the loss of 30,000 hectares of farm land
  • sediment trapped by the dam has meant that there is less alluvial soil downstream, and farmers have naturally less fertile land, having to buy fertilisers for their fields.
  • East China Sea has suffered reduction in sediment, affecting habitats there (and so fish stocks)
  • Fish catches have fallen by 10 ^6 tons annually
  • Flooding has caused a permanent loss of coal and metal mines

All of this said, the Three Gorges Dam is better for the PRC than the coal power stations that would otherwise be needed to produce the same amount of energy.

(Image sources: https://geognis.edublogs.org/dp-geography/the-ib-five/china/chinas-three-gorges-dam/ http://www.yangziexplorer.org/destination/three-gorges-dam.html )

Linfen

Linfen is in the mid-Eastern PRC

It has a humid environment, and is in a valley so temperature inversions occur frequently, trapping in smog. This is worst in winter, where more fuel is used for heating buildings. Less rain and wind occurs to remove smog from the area.

Factories in Linfen producing green technology still primarily rely on coal to fuel them.

In the PRC, there is a new coal powered energy plant each week.

Dongtan

Dongtan was a proposal in the People’s Republic of China (The PRC) to help eleviate overpopulation within Shanghai. The scheme was ultimately scraped due to both environmental (As the site was originally on and later within a few km of an area of wetland important for native bird species) and economic reasons.

The plan was to have 5 eco-cities around the PRC, each housing 500,000- 1,000,000 people. Dongtan was one of these. It was going to be connected by a 25km long bridge and a tunnel to Shanghai. It was planned to have been completed by 2050.

Features

Work

Industrial and commercial centres would have been built within the city.

Residential areas

Homes would be built along canals, and have small wind turbines to reduce household energy bills. Housing would be based in small communities with a variety of facilities, including schools, shops, nurseries and a health centre.

Environmental factors

60% of the land would have been kept as green space (which, not meaning to sound overly harsh, although is a lovely idea, anyone who has ever been in a city in their lives would know that most of this would have been built on within another 20 years or so).

Pollution regulations would have been harsh and enforced properly.

Transport

The city would have had a fully integrated public transport system, including solar-powered water taxis and hydrogen fuel-cell cars. Cycle paths and walkways would have been included to reduce vehicle use.

Energy

Plant waste would have fueled a power station, providing 65% of Dongtan’s predicted energy needs. The rest of the energy would be supplied by solar or wind power- including the turbines attached to houses.

Waste

The city had an aim at 90% recycled waste. Human sewage would have been used for composting and eventually fertiliser.

 

(Image sources: http://thinkgreen.exteen.com/20081101/entry http://reregions.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/dongtan-ecocity-china.html )

(I am aware that many will view it as highly political to address “China” as the People’s Republic of China, but it is what they are listed as by the UN, and that’s a fair thing to decide my terms by. Also, referring to the actual territory of the Republic of China as the RoC is far easier for everyone’s sake; regardless of whether anyone reading this views it as a separate state or not.)