The more developed the economy is, the darker the water becomes. So said a senior official responsible for local water supply in Haikou, capital of Hainan Province.
This is a disagreeable statement, to be sure, but most residents in "developed" regions like me find it hard to disagree.
The official in question is in hot water, as he made the remark during a TV interview last week when asked, "Why Haikou has failed to tackle its water pollution problem after so many years?"
I think it the wrong question to ask that water-supply official.
The question should be addressed to the local environmental bureau, but that bureau is worse than toothless.
Bie Tao, an official from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, complained at a seminar last November that "to foster an 'easy-going' ambience for investors, some governments decree that environmental departments inspectors should be allowed to enter industrial parks only once a year - and with prior permission at that.''
That allows the polluting enterprises ample time to clean up.
For most enterprises, discharging waste direct into the water system is a cost-effective choice, and is part of the "sound investment environment."
Then should the question be addressed to the local mayor? They have even less incentives to go green, as officials are assessed by their economic achievements.
Not only can dark water be a good measure of economic activity, but bad air can serve that purpose as well.
Yangyuan Xincun is a fraction of an extensive area near the Waigaoqiao Duty Free Zone in Shanghai and is perpetually shrouded in smelly air.
When the wind is north by east, the air smells like that given off by a rural latrine. Some say this is due to a nearby landfill, but it is more likely the byproduct of a nearby factory.
There are less grounds for conjecture when the wind is north by west, when the air smells unmistakably of the super petro-chemical plant in Gaoqiao dozens of kilometers away.
Last September an unpropitious wind plus an accidental leak of about 300kg of herbicide from a factory in Waigaoqiao subjected residents of several districts in Puxi to the influence of a mildly toxic dust. Some were rushed to hospitals.
The sudden slump in exports afforded locals a respite from bad air, but recently the air smells frankly of a bottoming out.
There are other signs of economic vigor.
CCTV reported last week that the incidence of deformities among new-born babies in Shanxi Province is the highest in China. The province happens to be China's biggest coal producer.
After years of investigation local health experts found that pregnant women in coal mining districts are particularly vulnerable.
While parvenu coal mines bosses from Shanxi are snapping up properties across the nation, to great media acclaim, does it occur to them who is really paying for them?
In her column in China Business News this week Professor Li Ling from Beijing University challenges the common use of GDP as a measure of "development."
She cites the example of the United States, which has the world's highest GDP, yet is plagued by high suicide rates, violent crime, deteriorating urban environment, and other social ills.
Another professor from Beijing University Huang Yiping observes in a recent article on the Website of the Caijing magazine that the GDP growth on earth remained static until the Industrial Revolution, but it would be ridiculous to suggest that we are much happier than those who had clean air and water, and lived in sync with the environment.
He felt confused, asking: "Whether the accelerating economic growth in the post-Industrial Revolution era is leading to glory or destruction?"
(Shanghai Daily July 15, 2009)