China Snubs Obama Town Hall

16 11 2009

From: The Globe and Mail, 2009

In a very typical and anticipated move, China has decided not to allow millions of Chinese citizens to hear the President of the United States speak when he visited the country today.

The national television station, the Central China Television Network, will not be broadcasting a ‘town hall’ type question and answer period with 500 chinese students in Shanghai. The event will be broadcast on local Shanghai television and on the website of the official Xinhua News station. These two sources will broadcast the event uncensored. But these two news stations aren’t exactly accessible to the country as a whole. The US State Department plans to run feeds of the talk on Twitter, which China says it will allow access to, though as it stands, internet censorship in China does not allow access to Twitter, Facebook, or even Google. 

Why the reluctance to allow citizens to hear President Obama speak? They allowed Clinton to speak uncensored – George W Bush too. Maybe it’s because of quotes that supported those who “faced down facism and communism”. Or his warnings that go something like, “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent know that you are on the wrong side of history”.

A bit more on this in:


We Could All Use a Second Look

25 08 2009
From: CTV, 2009

From: CTV, 2009

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. “

– From the film Dead Poets Society

China and Pollution: What You Can Do

18 08 2009
From: Current, 2009

From: Current, 2009

I know this probably isn’t News to anyone, but China is pretty bad when it comes to pollution. Often the argument goes like this:

  • China’s recent history of water pollution, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions is higher than anywhere in the world.

But then there is the counter argument:

  • North Americans along with Western Europeans have far higher greenhouse gas emission rates per capita, in fact the emissions per person in china are about a quarter of those of his or her United States counterpart.

And my counter argument?:

  • If China’s pollution is so high when their per capita rate is so low, that means there are a few very large, very powerful corporations, power plants, etc in the East that are allowed to pollute without consequence, or so it seems to me. We can’t punish the already struggling and impoverished general population of that country.

My personal argument isn’t based in fact so much as it is in observation and inference. We often hear about industrial catastrophe’s in China such as the recent lead poisoning of nearly all children in one village. We see the polluted haze that consumes Beijing daily (the olympics sure didn’t help thier image). We know that the country is very rapidly running it’s water resources dry and on top of that, it is said that a major water pollution incident occurs every other day. In effect, most of these problems are partly induced by us westerners who demand Chinese goods day in and day out, from irons to computer chips. It is within our capacity to change the way China manufacturers it’s products. We have the ability to demand a clean manufacturing process and the fair treatment of employees by only purchasing goods that meet our requirements. Wal Mart, of all places, is sort of doing this. They are developing an environmental rating system for all products on their shelves, and if their manufacturers don’t comply, they’ve threatened to drop them. The catch here, is that the system will only apply to packaging, which Wal Mart says it will reduce by a whopping 5%. This doesn’t mean much in and of itself, but it may hopefully spawn a new movement towards consumer knowledge of what they are purchasing. A rating system that expalins the approximate greenhouse gas emissions created by that product, the amount of recyclable material within it, the exact toxins that go into the manufacturing process, the amount of water used. If the west were to make purchases based on this type of data and not solely price, then maybe we could see a great change in Chinese manufacturers?

For now, you can look desparately for North American made products (occassionaly you can still find some clothing, shoes, office products, etc.), and you can improve your knowledge of the manufacturing industry in China. Two relatively mainstream documentaries are worth watching: WalMart: The High Cost of Low Prices, and Manufactured Landscapes. You can also support Human Rights Watch or support any number of environmental organizations, many of which will be involved with China in some way.

We can’t blame the country of China for the environmental problems of the world. We in the west have certainly been polluting for a longer period of time. Consider our industrial revolution was over 100 years ago, China’s has happened within the past 20 years. However, they are not going to change all by themselves. A quote from Wang Yongli, a water engineer in Shijiazhuang says, “We have a water shortage, but we have to develop…And development is going to be put first…In Israel [where there are also extreme water shortages], people regard water as more important than life itself. In Shijianzhuang, it’s not that way. People are focused on the economy.” If we as consumers show that we want environmental and social justice through our purchases by buying locally as much as possible, maybe the Chinese will then see the need to meet western regulations on both the environment as well as human rights. This is as much our problem as it is theirs. Don’t blame China until you stop supporting their dirty industries with your wallet and demand change.

The eWaste Nightmare – Ghana, China, Vietnam, the List Goes On…

21 07 2009
From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

Ever wondered what happens to that old computer that you so responsibly do away with? Well, its highly likely that you should be holding some major companies accountable for their misdeeds and misinformation about computer disposal. Contrary to what you are told, electronic waste is often not recycled locally or in an environmentally responsible manner.

From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

Recently, a group of graduate students from the University of British Columbia travelled to Ghana to investigate the world of electronic waste. What they found, was more than disconcerting. On the outskirts of Ghana’s largest city sits Agbogbloshie, a wasteland of the first world’s electronic goods. Here also lies the Korle Lagoon, one of the most polluted bodies of water on earth, filled with old computers and their contaminants. It is reported that hundreds of millions of tons of eWaste end up here every year.

Many of the local boys work within this dumping ground, scrounging for scraps of metal by burning the plastic away from the body of the computer. There is no method of protection from the fumes either, they breath burning plastic every day.

How did things end up this way? A few years ago, Ghanaians welcomed truckloads of second hand computers, donations to help them bridge the technology gap. It didn’t take long though for corporations to see the loophole here though. More and more truckloads – boatloads – of used computers were shipped here. Western companies found that they could label their garbage computers as ‘donations’ and send the non-working computers to Ghana to dispose of them.

Now here is another risk that affects us in the west. Hard drives from these computers are never truly erased. Thus, our personal information is essentially up for sale at extremely cheap prices at Ghanaian markets. One purchased hard drive exposed credit card information, another wedding photos, a third a $22 million dollar government contract from the United States.

When the university group tries to track the disposal from a British Columbia recycler, they are informed by an employee that:

“What they literally do is dump it into a blast furnace and it burns it all up; and all they get out of it is a bunch of ash and some of the precious metal. Everything else gets consumed, burnt. And that’s an actual fact.”

From: Flickr, 2009

From: Flickr, 2009

After taking note of the serial number on the shipping container that contains computer waste, they track it to Hong Kong. Certainly not local. It turns out that the souther Chinese city of Guiyu has been built entirely around the eWaste trade. Miles and miles of computer monitors, hardware, other electronics line the streets. Guiyu is a dirty secret of the trade. Behind closed doors, women burn cicuit boards to find traces of gold, all the while breathing the lead solder fumes.

What is one of the largest reasons that eWaste trade flourishes in China? They ship so many containers of goods to North America that would all normall come back empty. It’s just easy to load them up with our crap and exploit their own workers to make a profit. Our overconsumption of Chinese goods coupled with their lack of humanitarianism equals one very polluted world of electronic waste.  And where do you go if regulations are too restrictive in China? Down to Vietnam.

In India, barrels of acid used to strip circuit boards are dumped into the sewer and products are burned in the open air despite Indian laws against this practice. Workers wear no protective masks or gloves. The owner of one of these scrap yards says, “If your country keeps sending us the material, our business will be good.”

There is some shred of hope though. Occassionally, you may stumble upon an honest-to-goodness electronic recycler. Do I know of any? Not at all. It would be best to do some research in your area to find one. Oh, and make sure that hard drive is destroyed before tossing it away.

Treehugger article and UBC videos: 

PBS video:

Basel Action Network:

Chinese Babies Sold for Profit?

2 07 2009
From: BBC, 2009

From: BBC, 2009

A BBC News article speaks of the sale of Chinese babies, the profit from which is split between local Chinese officials and the orphanage of the child. You may or may not know of the population regulation laws that exist in China – essentially, one child for every urban family, two children for every rural family. If you exceed this limit, you pay a fine of approximately $3000, which generally turns out to be more than a Chinese farmer’s annual income (this alone is despicable knowing all the money for our goods goes straight to this country). In Guizhou province, approximately 80 baby girls have been confiscated by local officials since 2001 and sent to orphanages to be raised essentially by the government. It has been revealed though, that the babies actually await adoption by North American and European families. Documents are forged and state the the babies are orphans, not children taken from their families. ‘Tang Jian, an official of the Zhenyuan family planning bureau, said: “According to our investigation, it is true that babies who have parents were forced into the orphanage and then abroad”‘. The adoption fees for these children, about $3000, are then split between the orphanage and the local authorities. Whether you agree or disagree with the population control measures, profitting off of someone else’s child is wrong. The reporter ends the article saying, “Child trafficking is widespread. A tightening of adoption rules for foreigners in 2006 has proved ineffective in the face of local corruption.”  this is such a difficult issue. One major problem that doesn’t get as much media attention, is that parents will continue having children until they get a boy. Any girls are given up to authorities because boys are seen to be of more use in terms of bringing in income. While the population of China is enormous and unsustainable, this is not right either.

Original BBC Article:

I also took informatino from this article: