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THE DIRTIEST RIVER IN THE WORLD IS FAST BECOMING AN OPEN SEWER.
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THE DIRTIEST RIVER IN THE WORLD IS FAST BECOMING AN OPEN SEWER.
Imagine living in a country that has twenty four million people looking for work. It sounds a lot but when it is taken as a percentage of the total population it is less than 2%. There are countries that would sell their souls for an unemployment rate that low but there are countries where the total population is less than the unemployed sector of the largest Communist State to survive the demise of the USSR. The peoples Republic of China has problems that from the perspective of an observer of western democracy would seem insurmountable but on the scale accepted in China they are no more than an annoyance to be overcome by a state that controls the destinies of a quarter of the worlds population.
In a country which is only slightly smaller than the USA but with near five times the population it was inevitable that it would industrialise and with that industrialisation came an appetite for power unprecedented in a country that is moving rapidly from an agricultural society to a heavily industrialised nation. The demand for such power quickly outstripped the abilities of its power stations to fulfil the need and most being oil or coal fired were accelerating the air pollution exponentially. A solution to China’s thirst for power had to be found and unlike its western counterparts it pays only lip service to nuclear power though its nuclear capability is beyond question.
A great deal of China’s electrical power is generated from oil, gas and coal in fact they continue to build such conventional power generators but a project on the Yangtze river has allowed China to set foot into the “Green Camp” of power generation. It is a hydroelectric project that was so immense in scale that the work carried out to complete the project has few parallels inside China and none outside
the country. In fact the three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River is acknowledged to be a civil engineering undertaking that can only be compared with the building of the Great Wall of China. It is the largest hydroelectric scheme ever constructed and surpassed the previous holder of the accolade, The Itaipu scheme in South America on the border between Brazil and Paraguay easily.
It has taken fourteen years to bring the project to completion and the last turbine is now being installed, when it reaches its full capability the Three Gorges Dam will generate close to 85 billion kilowatts per year.Its output is more than can be generated from 15 atomic reactors but its affect on the ecology of the Yangtze could turn out to be far more deadly than dealing with atomic waste.
But there is a cost to be taken into account when weighing the benefits of such a scheme apart from the $25 billion cost of the project, whole cities had to be demolished and moved, 1.3 million people re-housed, a major river temporarily diverted and a change of use to the eco system of a major river.
When the project began China was a very different lace than it is today and the first steps of their “Industrial revolution” were presenting problems to the ecology even then. They were concerned that the project would effectively sever a major waterway in two and prevent shipping [for the Yangtze is a navigable waterway for a great deal of its length] from reaching as far inland as it had in the past. There was also concern that the vast reservoirs of water awaiting exploitation would become the world’s largest cesspools and if that were so then the Three gorges would become the graveyard of many endangered species.
The Yangtze is not the world’s cleanest river and for most of its length it can best be described as an “Effluent soup” collecting debris and carrying it to discharge into the sea. In fact it was concern for the damage that the debris carried from the upper Yangtze could inflict upon the turbines in the Three Gorges dam that gave birth to a parallel project to keep the waterway clear of anything that might be a danger. The upper reaches of the river is known to “Collect” upwards of seven million cubic feet of debris every year and if that sort of volume should collect in the reservoirs it would almost certainly result in a power loss if just one of the turbines were damaged.
Enter the “Floating Dustman”, two ships were built to collect and dispose of the rubbish, though some of it is “Natural” waste expected to be found in a river most is “Thrown in” and a great deal of that discarded is coming from industry along the river. The discharges into the river however are not always “Solid and visible” particularly where industry is a factor, the solids are relatively easy to dispose of but the liquid effluent that was once dispersed by the swirling volume of water churning along the Yangtze is now hitting an impediment to its progress that was not there before The Three Gorges Dam project began and the reservoirs created by the project are in serious danger of becoming the “Deadpools” of water that the Chinese sought to avoid.
Alongside the power requirements of the dams across the Qutang Gorge,Wuxia Gorge and Xi Ling Gorge around 30 Km from the city of Yichang, water treatment plants were intended to improve the water supplies to around 15 million people and control the flooding which takes place along the Yangtze but whilst the flotsam and jetsam of industrial effluent that can be tangibly removed to be burnt, buried or recycled by the army of floating refuse collectors is controllable the liquid discharges into this major waterway are becoming far more difficult to control because there is a time lag between disposal and the discovery that something is wrong. Agriculture too is a large cause of the pollution now affecting the waters though this source is far less deliberate
Its effect upon the river is accelerating; the build up of nitrates and phosphates from fertilisers is no longer being flushed away by the raging torrent that was once the Yangtze.
There are many stretches of the Yangtze that are already lifeless, the demise of wildlife flora and fauna is at an advanced stage and though 98% of all animal species that have ever lived on Earth were extinct before man appeared it is not a reason to eradicate the remaining 2%. It is almost certain that the Baiji or white fin dolphin [Lipotes Vexillifer] is extinct along with the Yangtze finless porpoise, which have been in the river for 20 million years. In 1986 the Baiji was listed as an endangered species and numbers were determined to be 400 but by 1996 there were less than 150. The last sighting of a Baiji was in 2004, it is a shy almost blind creature at the top of thee food chain and its numbers dropped dramatically during the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. To be fair to the Chinese government they did set aside a lake in Hubei province with the intention of preserving the species in semi-captivity but no specimens could be found to begin the breeding program, it has to be assumed that they are now extinct.
The Yangtze is the world’s fourth longest river and stretches 6,211Km[3859 miles] into Asia from its outfall into the East China Sea where it discharges at a rate of 32 cubic metres every second near Shanghai which stands as a monument to China’s lust for progress at any price as it seethes below the clouds of pollution that cover the city.
China has a problem that it cannot easily solve, in the past twenty years it has crammed in an industrialisation process that took 100 years in the west. In the west respect for the environment was something that did not exist when the process began but it does now and we are still trying [sometimes without success] to minimise its affects. In China the price of industrial progress is still an unpaid bill but if their disregard for the environment and the effects that the Chinese industrialisation process will have upon the global environment persists it is an account that the whole world will have to settle by proxy.
There are two major contributors to world pollution, one is amoral and the other immoral. The USA puts more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any nation on Earth, they remain unconvinced that the Earth cannot replenish itself indefinitely whilst China could be considered to be amoral, it wants the progress it sees in the west and is prepared to move heaven and earth to achieve it [which is self evident by its civil engineering projects]. The pollution being generated in China will rapidly overhaul that emanating from the USA if China continues to disregard its responsibility to the rest of the world but it may also be the bargaining chip that the world needs to redress the balance when the USA comes to the realisation that a greener United States sells where Sino-pollution does not.
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