Special Reports
China Issues "Red Alert" Drought Emergency

By John Laume
February 7, 2009

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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