China Issues "Red Alert" Drought Emergency As Jobless Factory Workers Head Back To The Land


Dried-up pond in Tangyin County, Henan Province, China Image credit:The Epoch Times, Severe Drought Hits China, Nearly 43 percent of China’s winter wheat affected

It feels inhumane to write about the 'positive side' of simultaneous drought and massive job loss in far-away China. But, bear with me, and we'll explore whether from these twin tragedies, long term, "good" may result for China and the world.Review the circumstances.
BBC has covered the Chinese government deciding to openly confront the impacts of worsening drought - climate change in other words. See BBC, China declares drought emergency for details.

The government's new openness about climate change impacts comes on top of recent, massive layoffs of Chinese factory workers. Business Week spells out the bleak aspects of falling demand for exports to the US and EU.

As millions of the migrant workers across China returned to cities and manufacturing areas from Lunar New Year holidays this week, the government warned at least 20 million others were jobless due to the crisis.
It is the rural poor of China who are hit the hardest by these overlapping trends: crops failing and no jobs in the city to fall back on. What could possibly be "good" about that?

More open information.
Government openness about environmental matters is all to the good. Nations of the world, better able to understand these harsh realities, can no longer claim that by simply changing foreign policy or by better managing currency valuations that all will be made well. A much broader view is needed.

Renewed focus on sustainable development.
Sustainability requires simultaneously keeping three things in balance: economics, natural resources, and social interests (includes public health). To date, the world has cared little for management of China's natural resources or for the health of its factory workers. For corporations dependent upon outsourcing manufacturing to China, now is the time look at their respective roles in creating a sustainable future..

The same goes for the Chinese government, which, until now, has pursued an economic-growth-at-all-costs policy, waiting for the right moment to seek a balance with other factors.

Workers are no longer exposed to very serious occupational health hazards.
Moving back to the countryside en-mass, Chinese factory workers have removed themselves from the badly polluted environments they have been living and working in for years. See In China, Pollution Causes Two Birth Defects a Minute: Official for details.

Green House Gas emissions will fall drastically, benefiting all living things.
China, already the world's largest emitter of CO2, due in part to its extremely heavy reliance on coal for industrial power and heat, will certainly have lost that distinction in 2009. Add to that, the reduced volume of ocean export freighters carrying Chinese made goods to the west, and for the climate this is all to the good. See China Gets Dubious Honor Of World's #1 CO2 Emitter for details.

Food and Energy Policies
Loss of agricultural productivity on this scale will widen awareness that relying on food grains as feedstock for "bio-fuel" is fundamentally a bad idea. The losses might also force a re-examination of how agricultural and logging policies stand to impact climate change. See Chinese Biofuel Push Could Devastate Remaining Forests ... for perspective.

Learning more about these tragedies, farmers in America and elsewhere may come to realize that they have more to gain by selling grain to governments in need than they do by resisting carte blanche US government consideration of climate action. For a good example of the paranoid naval gazing mindset US farmers need to get past, see the New York Times GreenBlog story: Farmers Panic About a ‘Cow Tax’.

Have I missed anything?

Closing thought.
I wonder how bad the US jobs market would have to become before large numbers of American city dwellers would head back to grandma's farm, or look to relearn the skills of food production so long forgotten?

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Tags: Coal | Pollution