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The CBC recently aired a documentary titled, China Rises. I don’t know if anyone outside of Canada saw this 4 part documentary but it had me enthralled and a little bit frightened.

The documentary examines China’s politics, economy, environment and society through the lives of various Chinese individuals. I had so many thoughts and feelings while watching their stories but the feeling that sticks with me the most is amazement.

China’s economic growth is nothing short of amazing. To see the sprawling factories, the rags-to-riches stories and the sheer enormity of their industrial complex is staggering. Anything that can be made by the hand of man is manufactured in China. In a land where you can pay a worker 60 cents an hour for a 12 hour day, it’s no wonder North America is loosing all of its manufacturing jobs – how can we possibly compete?

This economic boom comes at a heavy price though. As big (geographically speaking) as China is, it doesn’t have very much arable land. A good proportion of what it does have is being expropriated to industrial and residential development. The documentary took a look at the city of Shanghai. The skyline looks like something out of a Buck Rogers serial! Thousands of skyscrapers, glowing in neon conceal those unfortunate enough to be displaced in the development boom. Never was the difference between the “haves” and “have-nots” made more apparent.

Beyond the cities, fishermen can no longer earn a living because the rivers which had sustained them for generations are so polluted there are no more fish. Farmers irrigate their fields with waters laiden with chromium and other toxic by-products of the factories. Most of the produce is so tainted that it wouldn’t pass the safety standards of Europe or North America. Not only are the crops contaminated but China’s water supply is disappearing to the point that desert is encroaching on once-fertile land.

That the Chinese are eating poisoned food and are loosing their reserves of water is not the frightening thing. What’s so frightening is that many of those who would be in a position to do something about it simply shrug off the environmental destruction as a cost of prosperity. What I understood from the interview of one woman in the documentary was that she seemed to think that the harm to the environment was a small price to pay and once the country had grown sufficiently, they could then address environmental concerns. Sound familiar?

Am I afraid that China or any other country for that matter, will destroy the earth? Nah. We can’t destroy the earth. We can though, make it uninhabitable for humans. The earth will endure. Whether or not we do is another story.