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Obama: Drinking the Tea Party's Environmental Meltdown

The name of the 1979 movie China Syndrome has ever since been attached to a catastrophic nuclear reactor meltdown.   But the name is better suited for what is evolving now in China,  a new version of the China Syndrome; complete “environmental meltdown.”  (If you haven’t seen the pictures go here.)  China actually has decent environmental laws, but  they are not enforced.  Chinese industry and utilities are basically free to do as they please, much like what the increasingly radical Anti-Science/Tea Party wing of the GOP is clamoring for in the United States.  So how well is this Tea Party brand of environmental protection working in China? 

Chinese authorities admit that 750,000 thousand of their citizens die from air pollution and 60,000 from water pollution annually.  Outside organizations think that is a gross underestimation.  The Chinese Ministry of Health admits pollution has made cancer the leading cause of death in China, followed by respiratory and heart diseases, also related to air pollution.  Only 1% of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union.  All of China's major cities are constantly blanketed by the same choking, toxic gray shroud, the "China Syndrome."  

Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware of how this affects their health, longevity and livelihoods.  In 2009 China had 90,000 incidents of riots or mass protests triggered by outrage over chronic or acute pollution.   Some of these riots involved 15,000 people risking arrest, beatings and even their lives. 

After a 2007 investigation, the New York Times wrote, “Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public, but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party.”
Pollution is an equally severe economic liability for China.  Our State Department estimates that pollution costs China 7-10% of their GDP,  negating almost all of their GDP growth.  In other words, pollution is an economic disaster as well.  Nonetheless, Tea Partiers  want to bring the China Syndrome to America.  Actually some of it already does.  

Satellite photos reveal an “Asian Brown Cloud”, a massive plume of Asian industrial pollution and dust from the Gobi Desert constantly making its way across the Pacific Ocean and reaching the United States.  On average about 20-30% of the air pollution over Los Angeles originates in China.   In May 2006, University of California-Davis researchers claimed that almost all the particulate matter over Lake Tahoe came from China.  Mercury, furans, and dioxins from the burning of coal in Chinese power plants and cement kilns circle the entire globe--as does our own pollution--adding to the growing contamination of the US environment with these intensely hazardous toxins.

The Anti-Science Tea Party can never hear the words “freedom” and “liberty” too many times.  To them the archetypal enemy of freedom is of course the federal government which they are determined to wrestle away from believers in science and the deniers of freedom.  Inexplicably, this year no freedom is more important to the Tea Party than freedom for corporations to pollute our air and water at will, albeit using a more soothing name of "deregulation."  Eric Cantor announced that is the entire GOP job creation plan, and he released a memo to his GOP colleagues last week itemizing the top ten environmental regulations whose evisceration he plans to make his number one priority.

Every Republican presidential candidate and virtually every Republican Congressperson is loudly demonizing the face of environmental regulation, the EPA.   Michelle Bachmann proudly wants to abolish the EPA altogether. Not to be out done, pistol packin’ Rick Perry sounds like he wants to torture everyone who works there, then abolish it.  Even Obama bought some of this anti-science snake oil last week, ordering the EPA to abandon a court ordered tightening of inadequate smog standards.   

But most Americans aren't buying it.  Polls taken even in the midst of our moribund economy, show that people don’t think their health and the environment must be sacrificed for economic recovery,  they don’t want  regulations watered down,  and are even willing to pay  more out of their pockets for cleaner energy. 

The China Syndrome, literally and immorally sacrificing the health and lives of millions of innocent people in Asia, is the lesson we are ignoring.  The Anti-Science Tea Party, carrying water for the industrial polluters, are hard selling the hogwash that giving Americans the freedom to breathe more pollution is an ideological virtue and an economic miracle elixir.  Obama is shamefully conceding to them the stage, hiding behind the curtain, even handing us a straw to sip the hogwash.   That the cure for our economic free fall is to allow environmental meltdown is a despicable lie, and Americans know it.

Brian Moench

Dr. Brian Moench is President of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a practicing anesthesiologist in Salt Lake City. He is a former adjunct faculty member at the University of Utah.

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