A Long Day in Beijing

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A long day in Beijing is over.  It was the fall of 1997; our temporary offices were in the City Hotel in Chaoyang District right near Workers Stadium where my team worked to plan and build a hospital.   Just down the lane there was a little restaurant, Franks Place who served up a mix of bad imitation western food, but I didn’t mind, this was a little place that foreigners would gather.   I sat down at the bar where others were gathered.

A man beside me introduced himself and eventually began talking about his business here in China.  He owned a golf club manufacturing company near Guangzhou.  He described how much his costs were lower.  “Back in Montreal there were so many regulations I had to follow that were just too costly so I moved my factory over here”.   He went on. “Our golf clubs are chrome plated (titanium wasn’t in use yet) and the plating process has so much waste.  Back in Montreal I had to secure the waste, pay companies to treat it, I had to put scrubbers on all my air stacks” In China, this business man simply dumped his liquid waste into a drainage creek beside his plant and did not need to put any other treatment systems in.

And that is how all of China worked, tens of thousands of companies emitting and dumping without any regard to air, water and soil and a government that looked the other way because they traded the environment for foreign investment and to create jobs as a way to mitigate unrest and poverty.   I saw thousands of stories of pollution by just watching the perpetual industrial fog, the coal soot piling on cars, the several illnesses I contracted, the disgusts of so much pollution everywhere and saddest of all the sight of hardship on everyone’s face who held a labourer’s role.  China so full of wonder but all that wonder was covered in a crust of disgust.

It is a grueling and dirty grind to haul a poor nation out of poverty and here I was immersed in the middle of it, watching from the front seat.

Back in Canada this company’s product sold well, he made great margins and he thrived.  His customers saw his product but were oblivious to the decrepit road this product travelled down to get to stores.

That short glimpse of what was going on in China and in other countries was one snippet of millions of such practices that happened all day, every day, every year, every city.  And it added up.  One end of the supply chain in a nice clean store in the west, the other end a cesspool of contaminated, unethical behaviour.

So, where did climate change blow up into a global quagmire?  Was it in that Montreal businessman’s boardroom or in his plant in Guangzhou?  In his boardroom, and the many thousands more like them are the cause, enabled by trade agreements negotiated on their behalf by their own Governments which were and are quite happy to let our companies pollute other countries.

China has cleaned itself up to some degree, but the legacy of emissions has a long way to go.  This is why we have runaway data validating that our entire planet is in trouble.   It is not solely China it is us as equal partners in all this.

Here in Canada we think that if we charge ourselves a carbon tax, we are going to make a difference? Or we will punish a few companies for their emissions on a case by case basis?  I am sorry but anyone who believes that has no experience in the world around them and they certainly have no credibility to lead the thoughts of a nation, rather, they are misleaders of our nation.

We have bought environmentally discounted products, paid for with millions of jobs, for 50 years and now it is time to bring those costs back to all of us, every country.  The only way to undo what we created is to do the opposite, add the cost of environmental responsibility to every country that is not up to standard and accept that we are not up to standard.  We have to tariff back in the costs and let our consumers decide if they are prepared to pay for those products.  And when countries squeal, we have to negotiate a mutual environmental arms race reduction.  It is a shared responsibility because both are at fault.  The tariffs we collect we must invest in reducing emissions here in Canada and some of it in the jurisdictions we helped destroy.  Working together to accelerate climate renewal is the imperative of todays world.

We have to be leaders in changing how we live because the planet cannot handle it.  That is where regulation comes in and must regain its role as helping drive into the future.  An example is we have to get rid of single serve plastic water bottles period and innovate a newer better way.

Failure to do that means everyone loses. On a global basis the war on climate change has to be a war on it by all of us.

Post note: So many people equate climate change to simplistic ideas of rising water and weather changes.  It Is so much more than that.  It is water shortages, spread of disease, acidification of water, loss of fish stocks, forest fires, parasites, human migration, human health issues, suffering and others.  People have to open their minds to the complexity before they get down to the work of making simple, effective changes and they have to accept the idea that a battle against climate change is the foothold to economic reform that will fuel economic growth for decades to come.  Climate change actually provides the answer to our automation AI dilemma.

If you wish to see my talk on climate change presented at the State of the North Conference last week please visit: https://www.northernpolicy.ca/sotn-livestream-2019 at the 4 hr 37 minute mark.

Peter Bruijns
Executive Director
Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre

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