Bicycles in China are not environmentally friendly (2) – Destruction and pollution

In the last post I discussed the way in which the Chinese love of the bicycle, both pedalled and powered, influences the Chinese authorities when it comes to town planning. They design everything with flat roads.

In this post I will show you what that means to the natural landscape of southern Guangxi.

Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region includes the world famous limestone karst scenery around Guilin and along the Li River up to Yangshuo, and beyond.

Yangshuo 2008

Yangshuo 2008

This is the same type of landscape that extends down through the South China Sea as far as, well, the islands of Ko Khao Phingkan in Phang Nga Bay in Thailand for example. You may recognise them.

Ko Khao Phingkan

Ko Khao Phingkan - 'James Bond Island' - by http://www.flickr.com/photos/colleysmill/3792059916

The new Guangxi Qinzhou Free Trade Port Area is being developed in southern Guangxi, and this is what the limestone karst scenery looked like there as we drove through it.

Karst Landscape destruction 1 - Dec 2009

Karst Landscape destruction 1 - Dec 2009

Karst Landscape destruction 2 - Dec 2009

Karst Landscape destruction 2 - Dec 2009

Karst Landscape destruction 3 - Dec 2009

Karst Landscape destruction 3 - Dec 2009

Karst Landscape destruction 4 - Dec 2009

Karst Landscape destruction 4 - Dec 2009

These are just four minute examples of what is happening over hundreds of square miles of southern Guangxi.

The whole area is being systematically flattened to make way for the new port and the surrounding extensions to Qinzhou which will house untold thousands of Chinese families who will move to the area so that their wage earner can service and operate it and, in turn, the people who will service them in new shopping malls, market places, hospitals, police stations, etc etc, all inter-connected by flat roads.

Take away the destruction which has already occurred and, although the flora and fauna may be a little different, the area in its previous more natural, rural state would remind me of parts of Normandy in France. Beautiful rolling countryside with small fields, clumps of trees, and the farms dotted around the little villages that nestle alongside picturesque little rivers. The French quite like their bicycles too, but they are prepared to get off them and walk uphill. They are also (slightly) less Communist. 😉

The Guangxi Qinzhou Free Trade Port Area website makes for some interesting reading, especially the section on Measures of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region for the Implementation of the Regulations on the Administration of Village and Town Planning and Construction.

Articles 30 – 34 in particular relate to the concept of looking after the environment. I especially like Article 31 which states :

    Villages and towns shall make good use of the roadside and riverside as well as the spaces around villages or houses for plantation of trees to improve the environment.

Well, that’s all right then !

In amongst all the new apartment blocks, shopping malls, and square mile upon square mile of flat, concrete road surface the locals will be planting a few trees where there used to be…. countless trees. It’s good to know they care !

Our day trip took us first to Qinzhou itself, so that Amanda and her colleagues could attend a short (15 minute) business meeting :wink:, and then out towards the new Guangxi Qinzhou Free Trade Port Area. I certainly had no idea what we were going to see or experience.

My first clue came as the (necessarily) flat road began to offer up some pleasantly scenic rural and coastal landscapes, exactly the sort of thing I had wanted to see.

Generations of boats at rest - near Qinzhou - Dec 2009

Generations of boats at rest - near Qinzhou - Dec 2009

Very nice. The air was, unfortunately, typically Guangxi-like… there was a haze over everything the whole day. I don’t think any Guangxi resident has experienced a perfectly clear sky on any day that I have been in China, irrespective of the season. As usual that made long distance photography a little difficult as the camera sometimes had problems working out the correct focus, and I am still struggling with the manual controls.

But that haze was not the only thing obscuring the distant horizon. Look at the next picture.

Fishing boat - and more

Fishing boat - and more

Or, for more detail, this.

Fishing boat and trucks

Fishing boat and trucks

Yes, that is a roadway that has been built right across the water (one of several) and it has a never ending stream of heavy trucks going up and down it all day long carrying, guess what ? Well you saw what earlier. Carrying the remains of the countryside (which is being flattened to allow for flat roads) to be used as building materials, turned into concrete, cement, or whatever.

We came to a bridge across the Luerhuan River, which is about a mile wide, and this was the sight which greeted us. (Both pictures are taken from approximately the same point).

Junction at bridge over Luerhuan River

Junction at bridge over Luerhuan River

That way madness lies

That way madness lies

As we crossed the bridge we came upon a small group of people who were fishing from it. We stopped to watch them for a while, and our driver had a chat to some of them. We have all seen pictures of Chinese or Japanese people in cities who wear those little white face masks to protect themselves from the pollutants in the atmosphere in such crowded places. There are some people in Nanning (The “Green City”, Pop 6,000,000+) who wear them. This bridge crosses a river estuary in an area which the Guangxi Qinzhou Free Trade Port Area website describes as, among other things :

    “Located by the sea and the rivers…. With the high ocean environment capacity, the air quality of the port is excellent.”
Hmmmm. Let me say here and now that I have never encountered a city dweller who considered it necessary to wear a mask like this while fishing off the middle of a mile-long bridge.
Woman fishing in mask on bridge over Luerhuan River - Dec 2009

Woman fishing in mask on bridge over Luerhuan River - Dec 2009

Everywhere, and I mean everywhere in that area, the roads are simply full of these trucks ferrying backwards and forwards, transporting what little remains of the countryside to be devoured by the building process.

It is not just the haze in the air that makes it difficult to see very far, it is the dust from the roads too. Dust that is continually blown up by every passing vehicle so that it rarely even gets the chance to hit the ground. And where does that dust come from ?….

Industrial traffic

Industrial traffic

It comes from the tyres of trucks such as these as they leave the myriad of quarries (sorry, former hillsides), and from dislodged and discarded pieces of rock that fall from the many overloaded trucks such as in the above picture. (And yes, the red truck in the distance is heading straight towards the rest of us, in our lane ! Click on the picture to view it full screen if you don’t believe me.)

Those idyllic rural and coastal scenes are becoming fewer by the day, to be replaced by what seems to be almost a hidden threat through the dust and the haze. Looking beyond the occasional egret, water buffalo, fish farm or fishing boat lurks something sinister.

In the distance all around you are things that are trying to hide themselves from prying eyes; things that will, one day, have an even more devastating effect on the remaining wildlife in the area by belching out pollutants into the atmosphere, and probably toxins into the water.
Cement Factory or Power Station ?

Cement Factory or Power Station ?

The bay area is supposed to be a wonderful place to see Chinese White Dolphins; there is a visitor centre there (Sanniangwan International Dolphins Park) which operates boat trips so that tourists can go out to see them in the bay.

How long will the dolphins survive once these shy monsters start their work ?

Tomorrow I will sidetrack a little because I have learned something from seeing this at first hand and I shall share that with you before addressing how I see China’s environmental future developing, and finishing by offering up some sort of defence on China’s behalf.

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