Giving a new meaning to greening the landscape . . .

This news item from Yunnan province, in the very south of China, would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. Gives a whole new meaning to the idea of greenery . . . . An item in NY Times on the same matter (

Villagers outraged after quarry painted green (SCMP 2/14/07)

A county forestry department in Yunnan province has come under fire for spending more than 400,000 yuan to paint a former quarry green. Thousands of square metres of the hill, part of Laoshou Mountain in Kunming’s Fumin county, were sprayed green in August after the quarry was closed, the Kunming-based Metropolis Times reported. Seven workers spent 45 days on the project which cost 470,000 yuan, the newspaper quoted one of the workers as saying.
A villager who lives at the foot of the hill said: “At first we thought they were spraying pesticide and would start planting trees soon, then we found the empty paint containers …Why green the mountain with paint? It’s not a building.”
Some locals speculated that the project was meant to improve the fung shui of the new county government office, which faces the painted mountain directly, the report said.
“If the money was spent on buying saplings, they would cover several mountains,” another villager said.
“The project is not useful and does not look nice.”
A county government spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying he first needed to verify certain issues.


Lest anyone laugh about this foolishness, however, the idea is not new, certainly not to the U.S. Back in the early 1970s, Los Angeles tried to place plastic trees in the city because real trees kept dying from the urban pollution. The perversity of that endeavor led Lawrence Tribe to write a law review article (either in the Harvard Law Review or the Yale Law Journal, I forget) about the plastic trees controversy.

Happy Year of the Pig

Today is the first day of the year of the pig. Happy new year to all of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from snowy Vermont. Unfortunately, there really is not much of a festive atmosphere here in Vermont since there is not much of an Asian community here. Nevertheless, after making the obligatory family phone calls, I am vicariously experiencing the festivities by watching new years programming on the CCTV 4 channel on cable.

The Chinese Small Animals Protection Association is asking the National People’s Congress to draft a law protecting animal welfare. (SCMP 2/17) The focus seems have been an instance of cruel treatment of several hundred cats in Tianjin. It is interesting to see something like this in the wake of last years anti-rabies campaign. In a couple of cities thousands of dogs, some of them family pets, were clubbed to death as a preventative measure to curb the spread of rabies. (See, e.g., Xinhua 8/5/2006) Would a law banning animal cruelty have made a difference in such a campaign? Considering how poorly many laws are enforced, it does not seem likely.

By the way, I am not sure how widely folks have caught on to the following interesting tid-bit – last month, Mr. Xie Zhenhua was appointed deputy chief of the NDRC (National Development and Reform Commission). (Xinhua 1/19/2007) In case the name does not ring any bells, Xie Zhenhua was the former chief of SEPA until he resigned in December 2006 in an effort to “take responsibility” for the Songhua river benzene spill. The benzene spill fouled the water supply of the city of Harbin in Heilongjiang province and resulted in a several day shut-off of the municipal water supply in the middle of winter.

While, I think, it’s always been clear that Xie Zhenhua was not the official primarily responsible for the spill or the mismanagement of the spill response, including keeping the contamination secret from the public, his forced resignation had been intended to send a signal that highly placed officials had to take responsibility and be accountable for government failures that had serious consequences. Xie’s appointment is to one of the most powerful central government commissions. The elevation, only a little more than a year after his supposedly being held responsible for the Songhua river spill, is really a mockery of the idea of accountability. In all fairness to him, I suppose that he is really being rewarded for being the scapegoat and willing fall-guy for what happened with the mismanaged spill response. But it also means that the message of deterrence of holding high-ranking government officials “accountable,” for example by forcing them to resign, has little substance and rings rather hollow.


Citizen Yang has been inundated with snow. On Wednesday, after having received only a few inches of snow at a time all winter, we received about 3 feet (about 1 meter of snow) in one day. My snow-plow guy had to come twice and I spent several hours shoveling snow.

More evidence of climate change? Who knows . . .

China and the IPCC report

With the recent release of the IPCC report, there have been some responses by Chinese officials to the report. There is clear acknowledgment of the science of climate change and the seriousness of the problem, unlike past positions of the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, the response by some Chinese officials was not as positive with respect to China’s mitigation efforts. Qin Dahe, chief of the China Meteorological Adminstration, suggested that the cost of reducing carbon emissions might be too high for China to bear at this time because it relies on coal for 70% of its energy needs and because conversion to clean energy sources would be expensive. (SCMP 2/7/07) Of course, China still has much lower per capita carbon emissions than industrialized countries. But given that climate change is expected to continue to change precipitation patterns, including exacerbating water availability that already seriously impacts parts of China, taking the challenge of climate change consequences more seriously should arguably be of much higher priority to China’s government. After all, fixing environmental problems before they arise is inevitably cheaper than fixing them after the fact.

By the way, I have not been posting here for various reasons. (A couple of weeks ago, my wife Tinling Choong’s novel was released into bookstores nation-wide – her website is at — and I was in China for parts of December.) But over the next few weeks, I am going to catch up on some things, including some observations from my trip to the Guangdong countryside and to one of the “cancer” villages there. Over the coming weeks, I am also planning to change the format of my blog, posting on environmental topics beyond China.