Labor Day Reads
INTRODUCTION TO “MELTDOWN: CHINA’S ENVIRONMENT CRISIS”
China has always seemed to be a part of my life. Even before my first trip here, I already knew of some its sights, sounds and smells. My father first traveled to China in the early 1980s as part of his work in international trade, just as the door to the nation was beginning to creep open.
Over the course of 25 years and countless trips, he brought back with him tales about a place that was at first mysterious, but through his recollections, it became strangely familiar. It seemed inevitable that I would eventually be drawn to the country that I had heard so much about.
So, in November 2005, I stepped off the plane in Beijing for the first time, greeted by polluted grey skies. And here I live, experiencing life in one of the most rapidly changing countries on earth.
Armed with my camera, I have spent the past seven years traveling thousands of kilometers — climbing glaciers, walking through sandstorms, crawling through mangroves and skyscrapers, trying to understand and document some of China’s most pressing environmental issues.
It is a daunting task. China is a vast nation composed of a wide variety of people, ecosystems and climates. From the nomadic herders of the Tibetan Plateau in the west, to the cellphone-wielding urbanites 4,000 kilometers away in the eastern megalopolises, the country’s diversity and dynamism is staggering. Yet it hosts one of the largest economies on earth, requiring massive amounts of resources to fuel its engines.
My intention with this book was to draw together individual stories about the impacts on ecosystems and communities from desertification, wetlands disappearance, deforestation, species extinctions, and climate change, into one narrative. Each of these stories required months in the field, spending hours in cars, planes, trains and on foot as I journeyed to China’s remote corners. I traveled widely and met many people, but the true story extends even farther.
China’s environmental problems are significant not just for its citizens, but for the millions of people who live downstream of its eroding rivers or in the wind paths of its incredible sandstorms. The problems have become so dire that China’s economic future is at risk. Pan Yue, China’s deputy minister of the environment, told Der Spiegel in 2005 that “Because air and water are polluted, we are losing between 8 and 15 percent of our gross domestic product. And that doesn’t include the costs for health. Then there’s the human suffering: In Beijing alone, 70 to 80 percent of all deadly cancer cases are related to the environment. Lung cancer has emerged as the number one cause of death.”
How China navigates the need to reconcile environmental preservation and the health of its citizens with economic growth will have global ramifications — and reveal important lessons for other countries. I hope that these stories and photographs help you better understand environmental issues in your own communities. Though many are working to protect what’s left and restore what we’ve lost, we have a long way to go. As you’ll see in this book, time is running out for much of the flora and fauna we share this earth with, and extinctions—of flora, fauna and our cultural heritage connected with them—are happening everyday.
— Sean Gallagher. Download your copy of the book for free for the iPad, web browser or Kindle ($1.99). To read it on your iPhone, download the free Creatavist app. Learn more about the book here.