China’s environmental problems focus of conference

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(Host) The Vermont Law School recently received a $1.8 million dollar grant to help tackle one of world’s most significant environmental challenges: Helping China reduce air and water pollution.

Today, the South Royalton School hosted its first conference on China’s environmental problems.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) To get a sense of the scope of the environmental impact of China’s industry, just look at coal. China burns more coal than the U.S. and Europe combined and its pumping huge quantities of particulates and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s not just China’s problem.

(Bruce Duthu) “The amount of carbon that the Chinese are putting into the atmosphere directly impacts us. There’s a study that recently showed that in some of the West Coast cities, on any given day if you did a particulate study, a significant amount of that actually floats over from China.

(Zind) Bruce Dutha is a professor at Vermont Law School. He’s the director of the partnership between the South Royalton School and a university in China.

Dutha says a goal of the collaboration is promote environmental education and increased government and business cooperation to take action on China’s environmental problems.

Industrial pollution has been such a significant problem that in some cases, villagers in rural areas have attacked factories they blame for polluting their air and water and causing serious health problems.

China doesn’t lack for environmental laws. In fact, over the past two decades China has enacted a comprehensive set of regulations. Wang Canfa is a professor of political science and law in Beijing. He spoke through an interpreter.

(Wang speaks, then interpreter)

(Interpreter) “There are many environmental laws in China, however there is not sufficient enforcement of these laws.”

(Zind) Wang says one of the problems is cultural: In China, people use an intricate network of family and friends to influence the courts and the government.

He says despite the magnitude and impact of the country’s pollution problems, issues like global warming have not taken hold in China yet.

(Interpreter) “For global warming there are not many Chinese who know a lot about it.”

(Zind) Wang is Director of a non-governmental organization that provides legal assistance to pollution victims. His group gets foundation money from the United States and financial help from other countries. When asked if the Chinese government helps support his organization, Wang replies emphatically in English.

(Wang) “No, we can’t get no money from the government or from the Chinese companies.”

(Zind) Wang says his organization has been litigating environmental cases for seven years, but is hampered by a chronic lack of funds and a court system that often ignores the law.

Organizers say they hope the collaboration between Chinese academics and the Vermont Law School will help promote more citizen participation in China’s legal system.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in South Royalton.

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