Our hottest year | Earth Matters

By Bill Trueit | Feb 22, 2017

A mining company in southern China releases red clay and toxins into the local water system. The toxins find their way into the wells of the small town of Shaoguan. While there was no data to determine the health risk, villagers in the rural community decide it is not a good idea to eat the rice or other agricultural products they have produced. As this is their only source of income, they transport and sell their tainted food products to larger cities in the area.

Are there environmental laws in China? Of course there are. Zhang Jingjing leads the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims in Beijing. She has been part of a growing number of committed environmentalists responding to a level of pollution that is killing businesses as well as citizens.

In this particular case, even Jingjing was surprised to find that the legal system gave her organization a victory, through her clients ended up getting no compensation at all. According to the 2008 PBS Frontline documentary Young and Restless in China, the small fine paid by the mining company was given to the mayor's office, a member of the Communist Party, with no other public record for the disbursement of the settlement money.

According to the Council of Foreign Affairs, "China’s environmental crisis is one of the most pressing challenges to emerge from the country’s rapid industrialization." The report by the CFA last January revealed, "Beijing experienced a prolonged bout of smog so severe that citizens dubbed it an 'airpocalypse'; the concentration of hazardous particles was forty times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization (WHO)." The report also revealed that, "The municipal government closed schools, limited road traffic, halted outdoor construction, and paused factory manufacturing."

In the CFA report it concluded, "Water scarcity, pollution, and desertification are reducing China’s ability to sustain its industrial output and produce food and drinkable water for its large population." Increases in cancer, lower life expectancy, and deaths attributed to just the air quality of China are some of the by-products of limited regulations, minimal enforcement of regulations, and a climate where economic development favors industries over the health of people.

Unfortunately, even in Mill Creek and throughout Snohomish County, the environment is slowly getting worse. Our population is growing thanks to a growing economy. We benefit in many ways with growth. At the same time growth also means more trees will be taken down. More land will be bulldozed and covered with sidewalks, homes, and roads. The roads will become more congested so that even the most fuel efficient gas car will be using more gas as it idles in traffic.

As it rains, the traces of minerals will be washed into storm drains and find their way in increasing numbers to Puget Sound. Even with a good snow pack our rivers and streams are becoming less and less habitable for salmon and other freshwater species due to increasing temperatures and development.

Our continued use of certain pesticides will continue to contribute to reduced populations of bees needed to pollinate crops needed to feed our community. While we are in much better shape than China, and so many other places around the world, we just degrade our environment more slowly.

At the federal level, President Trump signed an executive order placing a moratorium on regulations. The legislative agenda in general for the new President and the majority party of Congress is to repeal as many regulations as possible with those of the Environmental Protection Agency having the biggest target.

The state and local levels also have their deregulation proponents. Deregulation isn't entirely a bad thing. As times change regulations should change with them. Regulations that don't efficiently do what they were intended should also be revised or eliminated.

Environmental regulations in general, are being challenged on the claims that they kill jobs and drive up prices. While that may be true in some cases, it is not in all cases. Besides that isn't the whole story.

When you add in the costs of illness to people, the added cost of cleaning the effects of pollution, the loss of species, and the loss of habitats, the cost of doing business as usual becomes a monumental loss of time, life, and money.

Last year was the hottest year in recorded history. Surprised? Both NASA and NOAA came to the same conclusion after reviewing their data. That means glaciers will continue to melt and disappear. That means an ice sheet the size of Delaware will likely continue to melt and break off of the Antarctic ice shelf contributing to an estimated four inches in sea level very soon. That means that there will likely be more droughts around the world devastating agricultural regions and increasing the cost of food.

Fortunately, Mill Creek is not like Shaoguan or so many other places in China. Still we have work to do and decisions to make. Is the slow destruction of our environment acceptable? Are we willing to demand the changes needed to make sure we always have orcas and salmon in Puget Sound? Do we accept a carbon tax that Governor Inslee is proposing so that we force ourselves to move to a sustainable green economy? What increased health risks and their costs are we willing to accept if we reduce environmental regulations?

Our health, our security and our economy are now so interconnected that each impacts the others whether we are in China or Mill Creek. The changes needed require our commitment to making personal choices today. We also need to participate in whatever way is possible with our local and national leaders. Please contact your federal, state, and local government leaders this week and let them know you support their efforts to protect the environment.

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