Lake of Paint

China Digital Times (a J-School-hosted site) links to a stunning pair of images showing an algae bloom in China’s Lake Dianchi so intense the water seems to have turned to paint (here’s how the lake used to look).

Algaebloom picked up and expanded on the post: Invasion of the great green algae monster, quoting Ming Dynasty poet Yang Shen:

A windy lake is Dian yet never any dust is seen,
The newly green isle Ding in the far horizon lies.
Beauty one enjoys here as in land south of the Yangtse River,
A vast rippling lake in spring with distant foam lily white.

The bloom is stunning – and tragic – evidence of the consequences of China’s economic boom and rapid industrialization. While it’s common (and largely true) to point out that China’s boom has been marching on heedless of environmental considerations, that’s not quite the case here.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect to the current algae explosion is that Lake Dianchi has been a target for environmental cleanup for more than a decade. The days when the city of Kunming simply dumped nearly all of its raw sewage and garbage directly into the lake are more or less over. Landfills have been created, sewage plants erected, waste water treatment facilities put into place.

But efforts to clean up the lake have come too little too late, insufficient to offset years of abuse. “The struggle is vast: Cleaning up Lake Dianchi means nothing less than bringing to heel the entire economic revolution that has swept China over the past three decades.”

What kind of poem would Yang Shen write, if he were alive today? … Would he observe, in tones of the darkest gloom, that a jewel of China’s environment that has been treasured for centuries upon centuries has been made unfit for human beings or fish in the space of one lifetime?

To quote BTO, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Music: Jefferson Starship :: Dance With the Dragon

2 Replies to “Lake of Paint”

  1. This is scary. For all the efforts the West is just now starting to make in terms of environmental conservation, it’s taken us 50-80 years of rampant industrialisation to get to that point.
    China has to approach development differently – it can’t just try to replicate the West – because our model is horribly flawed from an environmental standpoint.

  2. The environmental movement in the West was able to gain momentum in large part because its citizens enjoy a certain amt of freedom of speech, the press, assembly, etc… plus representative democracies. All lacking in places like mainland China.

    It’s gonna be a lot tougher for a Chinese “Green Party” to come into existence :(

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