We're helping China suffocate itself

By Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic, April 2014

Wood pellets are the latest resource BC is shipping west.

The air outside my window is cool and pristine but at the moment I’m struggling to breathe, thanks to a nasty, stubborn cold. Laboured breathing is a bad feeling but for me the ordeal is almost over. Not so for the millions of people living in Beijing and northern China who, for the seventh day in a row, are caught under a dome of smog so thick and toxic that the World Health Organization has declared it extremely hazardous to human health.

Don’t let my use of the word “dome” keep you from thinking big: The poisonous cloud covers a landmass larger than that of British Columbia and the Yukon combined. And that’s not the extent of China’s air quality crisis. More than a thousand kilometres to the south, pollution is also stifling the massive port city of Shanghai, home to another 14 million people.

Meanwhile RCI Capital Group, a Vancouver-based investment company with some far-reaching connections to both the federal and BC governments (Stockwell Day is a “Lead Director,” for example), claims to be well on the way to brokering a government-sanctioned deal to annually ship $1 billion in BC wood pellets to China. “China has no trees. It’s a huge land but it has no trees,” John Park, the company’s mercurial CEO, said by way of explaining the deal’s particular salience in a recent interview with the online news magazine, The Tyee.

Now wait a minute. China has depleted its forests? According to Greenpeace Southeast Asia, only two percent of China’s natural forests remain intact and most of that is unprotected from future exploitation. In other words, China has destroyed its lungs, and this while herding its citizens to huge cities and a colossal manufacturing industry—much of it un- or under-regulated—that now depends largely on foreign energy. It’s also put a quarter of a billion cars on the road. No wonder the people of China can’t breathe.

So how do we help? We continue to send them all the coal we can while forging ahead with plans to flood them with untold tonnes of natural gas (while it’s still worth something), knowing full well that they risk burning themselves up with these resources. And now there are plans to send boatloads of wood pellets too, even though shipping wood of any grade all the way to China just to be burned makes no overall sense and further strains our own forests’ ability to keep the air clean. 

So hungry is our political regime for easy money, and so impoverished is it of real leadership and innovation that it allows our valuable resources to go even to markets where they will cause harm and hardship (the money streaming into corporate and government pockets notwithstanding). That’s wilful blindness and ethics-out-the-window on two counts.

We have the luxury of not being able to imagine what it would be like to have the sky go grey and all the forests clear-cut. We live in a comparatively pristine environment, with dozens of green spaces nearby. Massive old-growth trees still stand tall and beautiful in Goldstream Provincial Park and Francis King Regional Park. (Shh, don’t tell Rich Coleman. I know he’s moved on to another portfolio, but still…) In Gowlland Tod Provincial Park in Brentwood Bay you can hike halfway up to the clouds and watch majestic eagles circling below. Just inside Rithet’s Bog, one of several suburban sanctuaries, the traffic noise melts away and leaves you convinced you’re miles out of town.

I wish our government would see fit to support the growth and development of innovative companies like Victoria-based Carmanah, a designer and global provider of renewable and energy-efficient technologies. Instead, Premier Clark chooses to continue funnelling millions of taxpayer dollars to the fossil fuel industry every year. I don’t get the logic of it. Is it the jobs-jobs-jobs? Personally, I’d rather work in a factory making solar-powered LED marine lanterns and contributing to a solution, than in a mine or on a fracking outfit exacerbating the problem.

Back in Beijing a young woman tells a television reporter, “We want to see blue sky but we can’t, so we see it on the computer screen.”

Here’s something we can’t do: Call ourselves a good society if we keep contributing to this travesty.

After writing this piece Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic had to retreat to the garden and let the snowdrops, birdsong and smell of good compost help restore her hope that a saner, kinder, cleaner world will someday prevail.