Harbin: Wake-Up Call or Business as Usual? Chinese Activists Split

Plus The Evolving Corporation, Getting the Vinyl Out, and More in the March/April 2006 issue of World Watch

CoverWashington, DC—Unlike most industrial incidents in China, the November disaster on the Songhua River yielded major political fallout, according to a China Watch contribution to the March/April 2006 issue of World Watch magazine, titled "Incident at Jilin: Wake-up Call or Business as Usual?" After issuing a formal apology to affected downstream neighbor Russia, the government of President Hu Jintao suffered several resignations including that of Xie Zhenhua, minister of the State Environmental Protection Authority (SEPA) and China's top environmental official--who became the highest-ranking Chinese official to be removed from office for an environmental incident since China activated its new accountability system during the SARS crisis in 2003.

While some environmentalists, including China Green Times journalist Hu Kanping, believe Xie’s resignation was a sign that the Chinese government is taking major pollution events seriously, others, such as Wen Bo, Beijing representative for Pacific Environment, have called the resignation "a pity," noting that Xie was "a rare person at SEPA and also in the Chinese government to have a firm grasp of environmental issues." One thing most activists agree on is that without the international attention it received, the incident probably wouldn't have provoked the government response it did. Although it's not the only major pollution story in China, "the Songhua accident is an emotional one….It has made a good story," said Wen.


Many companies have prioritized waste reduction and profited in the process, writes Erik Assadourian in the final article of his three-part series on "The Evolving Corporation." But becoming more efficient is not enough, notes Assadourian: "Eco-efficiency will simply delay the environmental collapse threatened by the unbridled growth of the global economy." To maintain an industrial economy in a world of increasing environmental constraints, businesses will have to become not just eco-efficient but “eco-effective,” a term coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart that calls for the design of goods and production processes that follow the laws of nature. Two companies applying long-term visions that will reduce waste and redesign production processes to be eco-effective are Fetzer Wines and Fuji Xerox. Fetzer Wines is not only striving to use all-organic grapes by 2010, but it has switched entirely to renewable energy and reduced its waste by 97 percent since 1990. Fuji Xerox, meanwhile, was reusing 54 percent of components in new copiers by 2003. By recycling the other parts, the company has been able to reduce waste practically to zero.


Ecotourism that encourages conservation of Ecuador's rich biodiversity is helping bring much-needed revenue to a country burdened with an oil-dependent economy, contentious politics, and high levels of poverty, writes Howard Youth in "Ecuador, In Search of Natural Balance." While Ecuador is smaller than the state of Nevada, it boasts plant diversity rivaling that of the entire United States, while bird watching brings 200,000 foreign visitors to the country every year. Over the past 20 years, tourism (most of it nature-based) has grown to become the third-largest foreign income earner, after oil and remittances from Ecuadorians living and working out of the country.

In this month's "Green Guidance," Paul W. McRandle notes that in the United States, some 250,500 tons of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is burned in municipal incinerators each year, releasing dioxin into the air and into the groundwater near landfills where the ash is buried. Dioxins attach to fat and bio-accumulate in the human body, particularly in women's breast milk. One tip to get the vinyl out? Avoid using plastic lunchboxes. McRandle notes that steel options are available at AsianaWest or Lunchboxes.com.


Car Sharing Grows
"Green" Medal for Torino
Some Antibiotics With Your Vegetables?
Extinction Risks Pinpointed
Climate Developments


Bicycle Frame

Bicycles per 1,000 people in the United States (mid-1990s)                                                            385
In Germany                                                                                                                                    588
In the Netherlands                                                                                                                     1,000

Percent of urban travel accounted for by cycling in the United States (1995)                          1
Percent in Germany                                                                                                                        12
Percent in Netherlands                                                                                                            28

* * *

Percent of adults that are obese in the United States (2003)                                                30.6
Percent in Germany                                                                                                                        12.9
Percent in the Netherlands                                                                                                            10.0

Total spending on health as percent of GDP in the United States (2002)                                    14.6
Percent in Germany                                                                                                                        10.9
Percent in the Netherlands                                                                                                              8.8

* * *

Persons per hour that one meter-width-equivalent right-of-way can carry, by mode:
Auto in mixed traffic                                                                                                               170
Bicycle                                                                                                                                    1,500
Bus in mixed traffic                                                                                                            2,700
Pedestrian                                                                                                                        3,600
Suburban railway                                                                                                            4,000

Energy used per passenger-mile (calories):
Auto                                                                                                                                    1,860
Bus                                                                                                                                       920
Rail                                                                                                                                                  885
Foot                                                                                                                                       100
Bicycle                                                                                                                                            35

Sources: Bicycle ownership:  Cycle Press (via www.bicycleretailer.com). Urban travel by bike: U.S. Transportation Research Board. Obesity rates: OECD Health Data 2005. Health spending: World Health Organization, World Health Report 2005. Modal carrying capacity: United Nations, Transportation Strategies for Human Settlements in Developing Countries. Energy per passenger-mile: Marcia Lowe, The Bicycle: Vehicle for a Small Planet (Worldwatch Institute, 1989).