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Food Safety in China: Addressing Common Problems Requires Unusual Approaches

Artavazd Hakobyan's picture

Over the past three decades, China has successfully lifted more than 500 million people out of poverty. For many years, the government’s poverty alleviation strategy focused on ensuring that every person had access to enough food. Driven by rapid economic development and urbanization, China is today one of the world’s largest producers and consumers of agricultural products.

Now the Chinese government has turned its attention to making the country’s food supply safer. The issue has become so important that, in the words of President Xi Jinping: “Whether we can provide a satisfying solution on food safety to the people is an important test on our capacity of governance.”


According to a poll published in March 2015, more than 77 percent of respondents ranked food safety as the most important quality of life issue. Environmental pollution, which experts consider one of the causes of China’s food safety problems, was another top issue worrying the public.

Chinese people attach significant importance to food, beyond its nutritional characteristics, due to historic memories of starvation. Food is also a symbol of regional pride and distinction, as well as a reflection of respect to guests.
Traditionally Chinese people believe each type of food brings specific medicinal features. Ginger cures a cold, garlic stops diarrhea, spinach is good for the blood, walnuts are good for the brain, pear relieves a cough, etc. When in China, you cannot avoid stories on how adding a specific food to one’s diet helped cure some disease. Therefore, it is understandable why Chinese people attach such importance to food safety. Contaminated or unsafe food poses a threat to public health and also risks undermining social stability and cultural identity.

The root causes China’s food safety problems come from the country’s rapid development. China has experienced unprecedented growth in recent decades and now is the world’s second-largest economy. Such rapid expansion has unleashed positive and negative effects. The industrial boom coupled with urban expansion and infrastructure development put significant pressure on both land and water resources. Over the long term, that pressure could constrain the ability to produce more food.

Snowmelt, climate change and urban pollution—new perspectives

Tracy Hart's picture
Image by U.S. National Climate Assessment via Washington PostIt's been a snowy winter—not only here in Washington D.C., but also in places I travel, namely Jerusalem and Amman. The past week, the snowmelt runoff into Rock Creek in D.C. has been a sight to watch. It's also been a teachable moment for my daughter: we've talked about how snowmelt contributes to surface water flows.

Actually I talk, and she goes "okay, okay" looking out the window.

She and I have learned a few new facts to share: one is the linkage of irregular precipitation associated with global climate change.

Chris Mooney, the environment and climate change writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote a great article explaining why more snow is another result of climate change. D.C. is on the south border of the NE of the United States, where, as you can see from the map, (provided by the US National Climate Assessment), extreme rain/snow events have increased dramatically. Similarly, in Jerusalem three weeks ago, the snow came with sleet, blueberry-size hailstones (see below) and lightning.

#BestOf2014: Six Popular Environmental Stories You Shouldn’t Miss

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
As we get ready to kick off the new year, let’s recount the voices and stories about how we can enhance the way we interact with our planet. From Ethiopia to Indonesia, we’ve seen our efforts improve lives and help incomes grow as countries and communities strive for greener landscapes, healthier oceans and cleaner air.
 
Take a look back at some of the most popular stories you may have missed in 2014:
 
1. Raising More Fish to Meet Rising DemandPhoto by Nathan Jones via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Aquaculture is on the rise to help feed a growing population. New #Fish2030 report: http://t.co/0fbH4fLDJO http://t.co/Lm5eHsGZaR

— World Bank (@WorldBank) February 6, 2014

Remembering Bhopal 30 Years Later

Adriana Jordanova Damianova's picture
Children stand near the dilapidated premises of Union Carbide in Bhopal, India. (Photo via Bhopal Medical Appeal / Flickr CC)Thirty years ago, toxic gas leaking from Union Carbide’s factory in Bhopal claimed more than 5,000 lives and exposed more than half a million people to harmful toxins.  The negligence and human tragedy made Bhopal synonymous with industrial disaster and showed just how harmful chemical pollution is to health and well-being. The enormous human loss calls for remembering the victims and stronger engagement on a wide range of pollution management and environmental health issues to prevent similar tragedies.

What Happened Then?
A chemical gas spilled from a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide. More than 40 tons of gas created a dense cloud over more than half a million people and killed thousands.  None of the six safety systems at the plant worked to prevent the disaster. The company’s own documents prove the plant was designed with “untested” technology, and that it cut corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money.

The State of Bhopal Today
Today, clean-up of the site is still pending, those who survived the disaster don’t have alternate livelihood opportunities and victims are still suffering.
 

Campaign Art: Nature Is Speaking

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

“Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.” The message is blunt and ominous. The imagery is beautiful. It’s is the new campaign from Conservative International, Nature Is Speaking, which introduces the idea that it's in our own enlightened self interest as humans to take care of the environment because we need it to survive. 

The campaign rebrands the conservation movement from one that discusses the environment as fragile and separate from humans to a force that is wholly inseparable from the future of mankind.

It contains seven short films in which Nature is personified by celebrities, including Penélope Cruz, Harrison Ford, Edward Norton, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Ian Somerhalder and Kevin Spacey who all give voice to a different element of the environment.

In the following video Julia Roberts gives Mother Nature a voice: "I've been here for aeons. I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you,” she warns. “My oceans. My soil. My flowing streams. My forests. They all can take you. Or leave you.”
 
Nature Is Speaking – Julia Roberts is Mother Nature

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
 
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.


Facebook’s Gateway Drug
The New York Times
SILICON VALLEY was once content to dominate the tech world. But recently, its leading companies have ventured deep into areas well outside its traditional bailiwick, most notably international development — promising to transform a field once dominated by national governments and international institutions into a permanent playground of hackathons and app-fueled disruption.  To observe this venture humanitarianism in action, look no further than Internet.org, a coalition of Facebook, Samsung and several other large tech companies that promises to bring low-cost Internet access to people in underserviced parts of the world, via smartphones. 

New World Order, Labor, Capital, and Ideas in the Power Law Economy
Foreign Affairs
Recent advances in technology have created an increasingly unified global marketplace for labor and capital. The ability of both to flow to their highest-value uses, regardless of their location, is equalizing their prices across the globe. In recent years, this broad factor-price equalization has benefited nations with abundant low-cost labor and those with access to cheap capital. Some have argued that the current era of rapid technological progress serves labor, and some have argued that it serves capital. What both camps have slighted is the fact that technology is not only integrating existing sources of labor and capital but also creating new ones.

Do the IPCC Report Messages on Transport Provide a Strong Rationale for Action?

Andreas Kopp's picture

 Miso Lisanin/World Bank

In April, the preeminent scientific body known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the contribution of Working Group III to the 5th Assessment Report on climate change with a focus on climate change mitigation, including transport and other sectoral policies. What is new for transport since the 4th Assessment Report was released seven years ago? 
 
Quite a bit, it turns out. The 4th IPCC report strongly focused on fuel and vehicle technology substitution. Deep cuts in emissions would mainly be brought about by a switch from gasoline to biofuels and fuel cell cars. The 5th report’s messages are different and more in tune with the growing consensus around the need for new mobility patterns and a change in transport user behaviors: “When developing low-carbon transport systems, behavioral change and infrastructure investments are often as important as developing more efficient vehicle technologies and using low-carbon fuels,” say the authors of chapter 8 on transport. This is progress in my view, and the emphasis on different modes of transport (besides individual cars) is very much in line with the recent World Bank flagship report Turning the Right Corner
 
But how do we get there?
 

A Global Check-up: We Need Safer and Cleaner Mobility

Marc Shotten's picture
Many years ago in Bangkok, on my first World Bank mission, I made an error in judgment by taking a Tuk-Tuk, the ubiquitous three-wheeled "golf cart" taxi, in order to experience local transit patterns in a more intimate manner. At least that's how I retroactively justified what was nearly a fatal decision as the driver weaved in-between two buses which narrowly avoided squashing the tiny vehicle. What struck me more than anything at that time were the overall chaos of the transit system and the lack of safe mobility, unfortunately both quite common in a majority of low and middle-income countries which shoulder 90% of the world's road crashes.

In this context, and to better assist countries achieve safer and cleaner mobility, the World Bank,  in partnership with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), has issued a new report: Transport for Health: The Global Burden of Disease from Motorized Road Transport. The IHME is the home of the Global Burden of Disease study, widely considered among the preeminent global health metrics publications.

The Transport for Health report, for the first time, quantifies the global health loss from injuries and air pollution that can be attributed to motorized road transport. The results are stark and call for immediate action: deaths from road transport exceed those from HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria; together, road injuries and pollution from vehicles contribute to six of the top 10 causes of death globally. Moreover, road injuries are among the top-10 causes of death among women of childbearing age and the fourth leading cause among women aged 15-29.

Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach Unprecedented Highs: But Catastrophic Climate Change Can Still be Avoided

Alan Miller's picture

 Courtesy of World Meteorological Organization
Graph shows concentrations of atmospheric Co2 for the last 800,000 years, with measurements, starting from 1958, made at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. - Image courtesy of World Meteorological Organization

Scientists monitoring atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from a mountaintop in Hawaii recently reported that the presence of this greenhouse gas exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in at least three million years – a period when temperatures were much warmer than today. The significance of this seemingly dry statistical trend is stunning as reported in the New York Times:

From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages to about 280 during the warm periods between. The evidence shows that global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.

In addition to the location in Hawaii, several other Global Atmosphere Watch stations from the Arctic to the Equator reported CO2 concentrations exceeding 400ppm.

Experts believe that in order to limit warming to 2°C – a goal based on expected impacts – concentrations should rise to no more than 450 ppm, a level we may reach in only about 25 years based on current trends.

Fighting Black Carbon as Oceans & Temperatures Rise

Rachel Kyte's picture

Scripps Institution of OceanographyLast week, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography released data showing that CO2 atmospheric levels had briefly passed 400 parts per million (ppm) and were close to surpassing that level for sustained periods of time. This is bad news. At 450 ppm, scientists anticipate the world will be 2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times, and world leaders have agreed that’s a point of dangerous consequences.

Along with this grim news came important new research findings from Professor V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution at the University of California, San Diego, and other researchers regarding short-lived climate pollutants – black carbon, methane tropospheric ozone and some hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). While we continue – and must continue – to hammer away at reducing CO2 emissions, their work supports the argument that also reducing these short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) can have an immediate effect on slowing warming and the resulting sea-level rise.


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