« Back to Home Page

China Now Handing Down Death Penalty to Worst Polluters

RP Siegel | Wednesday July 3rd, 2013 | 7 Comments

China pollutionGiven our heavily business-friendly Congress, members of which believe that the best thing they can do for Americans is to cut taxes and reduce regulations; it should not be surprising to find a somewhat laissez-faire attitude toward polluters. Occasionally, people go to jail for environmental crimes, but that is relatively rare. More commonly, civil penalties and fines are involved.

That is not always the case in other parts of the world. In the EU, for example, environmental regulation is one of the most important and far-reaching aspects of their legislation. Penalties vary by country, but jail terms and substantial fines are common and often more severe than in the US.

But, by far the most severe is China. In what appears to be a clear case of “desperate measures for desperate times,” Chinese authorities have recently given courts the authority to hand down the death penalty for serious cases of pollution. This is apparently in response to public outrage over the despoliation of the environment.

The new reading of the law would enact harsher punishment, tightening what that official Xinhua announcement called, “lax and superficial enforcement” of laws that were already on the books. In the case of the most serious crimes, the death penalty could be given.

Public anger over China’s growth-at-all-costs policies has been growing steadily in response to the increasingly polluted air and water. A new survey, carried out by the Public Opinion Research Centre in collaboration with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, measuring the public’s attitudes towards environmental protection found that up to 80 percent believe that environmental protection should be a higher priority than economic development.

There is good reason for this concern. A recent analysis by the Health Effects Institute in Boston found that over a million people die prematurely in China every year as the result of air pollution.

Particulate levels in Beijing, Guangzhou and other Chinese cities often rise to as much as seven times the World Health Organization’s air-quality standard, or twice China’s own less stringent limits. Pollution from factories in the Pearl River Delta have created a dead zone that stretches several miles from the river’s mouth out to sea.

There is a bit of an irony in the fact that the pro-growth policy that emerged with the idea of bringing widespread prosperity as an antidote to the Tienanmen-type social unrest, has now led to levels of pollution so severe that it has led to unrest.

A protest over plans to build a petro-chemical refinery in Kunming in Yunnan province back in May is considered by many to be the tip of the iceberg. The proposed plant would process 10 million tons of crude oil and 500,000 tons of carcinogenic paraxylene, used in the production of plastic bottles. Some 2,500 people took to the streets.

The new penalties are clearly the act of a government that feels itself caught between a rock and a hard place. It’s difficult to say what impact the new penalties will have, but it certainly does indicate that the government is taking the environmental concerns of its citizens seriously.

[Image credit: Andy Enero: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining romp that is currently being adapted for the big screen. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


▼▼▼      7 Comments     ▼▼▼

Newsletter Signup
  • http://sustainablestate.blogspot.jp/ Chad Brick

    Can you imagine the US stringing up the Koch brothers, whose company spews north of 300 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. At $30/ton, that’s $9 billion in damage their corporation causes every year, and that is not even the only type of pollution they spew. Over the lifetime of the company, Koch Industries has caused well over a hundred billion dollars in damage to third parties. The Koch brothers should be held personally accountable, all their riches seized, and their names erased from the history books.

  • http://twitter.com/SustainLandDev SLDI

    “There is a bit of an irony in the fact that the pro-growth policy that emerged with the idea of bringing widespread prosperity as an antidote to the Tienanmen-type social unrest, has now led to levels of pollution so severe that it has led to unrest.”

    The 21st century will overturn many of our previously-held assumptions about civilization. The challenges and opportunities land development stakeholders now face – to fulfill the needs of society and achieve a favorable return on investment without harming the environment – have vast implications on the sustainability of our communities around the
    world…. http://www.triplepundit.com/author/sldi/

    Beginning of the Sustainable World – j.mp/11b9RGP

  • BZReeve

    “Particulate levels in Beijing, Guangzhou and other Chinese cities often rise to as much as seven times the World Health Organization’s air-quality standard, or twice China’s own less stringent limits.”
    A factor of 7 vs a factor of 2… it sounds like China needs to update their laws, not the penalties.

  • Rezwan Razani

    Why doesn’t China mitigate the death toll by switching to nuclear? I didn’t think they had qualms about it. http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html – And check out http://pandoraspromise.org for more info on nuclear.

    • RPSiegel
      • Rezwan Razani

        Some thoughts on Fukushima: http://www.fusionenergyleague.org/index.php/blog/article/unite_and_conquer

        RP, these are compelling reasons to avoid nuclear, but a holistic approach will keep things in perspective. I hear you on the increased risks, the local deforestation, the radioactive fish. Awful. Would love that all to not be. Now for perspective: How much deforestation comes from ROUTINE coal mining? How many deaths from ROUTINE coal and oil burning? [Spoiler: Coal and Oil are thousands of times worse than nuclear on all counts].

        As for the fish – well, those fish need a break from fishing. Perhaps the fear of radiation will dampen demand for fish and allow the fish populations to come back up a bit. Some will die from fish mutations, but far fewer than die from human overfishing. A similar thing happened at Chernobyl. http://www.thewildlifenews.com/2012/12/31/chernobyl-wildlife/

    • Guest

      Because the Chinese are not idiots?