Outsourced pollution is a convenient effect of outsourced manufacturing. A paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year found that once it was taken into account, developed countries’ apparent 2% reduction in carbon emissions between 1990 and 2008 turned into a 7% increase. 75% of these offshored emissions, researchers said, had been shifted to China. Similarly, China’s domination of the global rare earth supply is the product less of unrivalled mineral deposits than the convenience of letting China bear the considerable environmental burden of extraction and processing.
This sweeping continues within China. While the country’s population became mostly urban for the first time late last year, its pollution balance has tipped in the opposite direction, with the countryside now polluting more than the cities. In addition to agriculture and changing lifestyles, the shift has been fuelled by relocation of industry and waste to rural areas where environmental enforcement is often weaker, and local communities less able to resist. Caixin spoke to Tsinghua professor Li Dun about rural pollution with Chinese characteristics:
The environmental issues facing rural China differ from those facing developed countries and other developing nations. It is an environmental and ecological deterioration that has occurred in the wake of the collapse of the state monopoly of grain and the people’s commune system which left in place the hukou system and its legacy of official separation between rural and urban areas.
From this system sprung an unspoken yet not entirely unconscious arrangement: The countryside was where you could sweep under the rug all of the waste and heavy polluters from the shiny prosperous new cities.
Chemical and smelting enterprises that were originally located in the cities were prompted to relocate to rural areas. Any firm whose polluting activities caused public protest was relocated to more remote
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