I think it’s only a matter of time before a giant ecological disaster kills multiple millions of people in China. Just recently, the third largest lake in China has become overwhelmed by toxic cyanobacteria. The two million residents of the area surrounding Lake Tai can no longer rely on their main source of water due to industrial and human waste. With the cavalier attitude of Chinese regional officials towards environmental concerns, things can get out of hand fast. Growing industrialism that relies on keeping costs to a minimum will resort to anything — be that setting wages and conditions equivalent to slave labor or dumping deadly chemicals directly into drinking water.
My brother-in-law recently visited Taiwan for his company, unknowingly helping them outsource his factory (unknowing, since they lied to him). While there, the plant officials wanted to dump a variety of wastes into a nearby water supply. Among the chemicals they were planning to dump (and thereby avoid the cost of doing the right thing) was cadmium, which is a known carcinogen and can cause a variety of health problems including kidney failure and softening of the bones. A mass cadmium exposure in Japan led to a condition called itai-itai disease (“ouch-ouch” disease), so named for the screams of pain by its victims. My brother-in-law, an all around excellent chap, went over the heads of a number of people attempting to do this coverup to the plant heads and challenged them on this, threatening to report it otherwise. They gave in and now who knows how many people’s lives were saved or are better because of his actions. Taiwan supposedly has strict environmental restrictions and yet something like this might have still been able to happen.
Switch to China where such restrictions exist only if they are politically expedient. Environmentalists are considered threats to the state and are imprisoned. The New York Times has a long piece today on Wu Lihong, an environmentalist who challenged the Chinese government to clean up Lake Tai. He was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison on a series of trumped up charges. So as pollution steadily increases in China, voices of dissent are silenced and progress towards a catastrophe never before seen may continue.
I forgot to post the link to the NY Times article. Also, the cyanobacteria contamination occurred back in May.