Last week, I was in Beijing and Hefei, China, giving talks on the assessment and cleanup of marine oil spills and other insults to the natural environment. In some ways, the developing areas of China may seem a paradise for those in the U.S. who think that our environmental laws improperly impede development. The Chinese government has a tough-sounding environmental protection law on the books, but it's rarely enforced. The result is that development is booming -- Hefei, the provincial capital of Anhui Province, is growing at 20% per year -- but you can't breathe the air or drink the water.
If you're interested, there is a link to the daily hazard level of particulate matter and ozone in Beijing here. The air is so bad in Beijing that I saw bicyclists wearing anti-pollution face masks on a snowy day. I didn’t see any improvement from last year when I visited Beijing.
In Anhui Province, I had the pleasure of meeting with activists from Green Anhui, a local environmental justice group. You can see a powerful Oscar-nominated documentary about one of their campaigns here.
Another positive step is that the Chinese government is considering expanding the right to sue to local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that want to protect the environment. NRDC's Beijing office has an environmental law program, headed by Bernadette Brennan, that has offered suggestions to the government and to Chinese lawyers and academics on ways to improve China's environmental protection system. I hope to go back to China next year to help.