The WSJ was unique in one way--it was almost as if the editorial page was a newspaper of its own and ideologically driven with Robert Bartley in the driver seat, separate from the rest of the paper that was not that far from a middle-of the-road routine journalism. The paper even had Alexander Cockburn as a regular columnist giving his interpretations from the far left side of the political spectrum.
Typically, every issue had an interesting rather off-beat story that began in the front page and worked its way into the inside pages. I can even faintly recall the image of Daniel Pearl's portrait on the front in that characteristic WSJ-style.
Even now, every once in a while, the WSJ breaks free of its ideological framework (I guess it is possible now with Murdoch being distracted with many professional and personal issues!) and presents lengthy pieces, like this one on China's pollution in the rural areas, affecting the agricultural lands too.
Pollution in China is not anything new in this blog. For instance, this past January alone, I had three entries (here, here, and here)on the topic, with the bottom-line question of all is all that cheap manufacturing for the rest of the world really worth all the pollution?
In its latest piece on China's rural pollution, the WSJ notes:
For years, public attention has focused on the choking air and contaminated water that plague China's ever-expanding cities. But a series of recent cases have highlighted the spread of pollution outside of urban areas, now encompassing vast swaths of countryside, including the agricultural heartland.To begin with, though it is vast in land area, most of the land is not suited for agriculture. And then to have between 8% and 20% of the arable land messed up?
Estimates from state-affiliated researchers say that anywhere between 8% and 20% of China's arable land, some 25 to 60 million acres, may now be contaminated with heavy metals. A loss of even 5% could be disastrous, taking China below the "red line" of 296 million acres of arable land that are currently needed, according to the government, to feed the country's 1.35 billion people.
|Caption at the WSJ story:|
[Factories] are moving to the countryside to take advantage of cheaper land, often made available with the help of local officials who want to boost growth, environmental researchers say. In other cases, urban leaders want factories to move out of crowded cities. The ensuing problems of rural pollution are exacerbated by the fact that many small-town governments have less capacity to properly regulate complex industrial activities than their counterparts in big cities, experts say.Even in a dysfunctional politics like the one in India, such happenings get reported by the media, and activists head to the courts--like Rahul Choudhary, about whom I had written in the Register Guard. But, it is a different story in China, where negative reports rarely see daylight.
China's Ministry of Environmental Protection refused to release the results of a multiyear nationwide soil-pollution survey, calling the data a "state secret."It gets complex:
Removing heavy metals from farmland is a complicated process that can take years—time lost for farming. That is a chilling prospect for a government tasked with supporting 20% of the world's population on less than 10% of the world's arable land. Any major reduction in food security would hurt the Communist Party, which has staked its reputation in part on its ability to keep the country's granaries full with minimal imports.We consumers have a responsibility, too. As I often remind students, "the invisible hand" watches out for whether we are willing to put our money where our mouth is. If we are willing to pay up, then the market responds. But, as long as we do not care about the pollution in China, or labor dying in accidents in Bangladesh, and all we care about is getting the most inexpensive product, even if it means that we toss it away after a few months, well, we will have to witness the pollution too.
The government's refusal to release its soil survey, meanwhile, has only added to fears that officials know more than they are willing to say. Launched to great fanfare in the state media in 2006, the survey was originally scheduled to be completed in 2010. In June last year, an environment ministry official told the Xinhua news service that more than 20% of soil samples in a trial program for monitoring pollution, involving 364 rural villages, had failed to meet national standards and that the results of the survey would be published "at the proper time."
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