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China's Haves and Have Nots

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China's Haves and Have Nots

I landed in China safely. Shortly after I arrived in Nanjing, we went sight seeing at a site with a coal plant, a coking plant and a cement factory all next door to each other and along the Yangtze River. The air and the water surrounding the site was not very pleasant.

Photo credit: Donna Lisenby

The next day, Hao, Qingwei and I spoke at a school and then later we gave a presentation to a group of people living in a gated multi-million dollar green development. Sixty percent of the property was wooded. It had forests, ponds and trails. The least expensive house was about 3 million dollars.

Photo credit: Donna Lisenby

In China, only the very rich can afford to live in "green" developments. Clean water and slightly cleaner air is something you have to pay a lot of money to get. They are selling points and treated like amenities for marketing purposes. I felt like I was a character in a dystopian novel. I started my travels in the poisoned air, land and and water of the coal facilities—a horrifically ugly, toxic industrial wasteland. From there I went to a school where 6th graders were learning about environmental stewardship in a country that doesn't do that very well—a little sea of hope for the future. And then to the rich green development where the elite have their own little 600 acre green reserve all to themselves.

The uniformed guards at the gates snapping to attention to salute all who enter and keep those out who can't pay the price to have trees, clean air and water. Only it wasn't a novel. It was just two days in my real life as a warrior for our only planet home.

As I sit here this morning at a desk in the office of our Qiantang River Waterkeeper, I find myself wishing I could speak Chinese so I could talk to the people who are not rich and who can't afford access to a green enclave. I want to ask them whether this is the future they want for their children. Where the haves and the have nots are segregated into those who get trees, clean air and water, and those who are slowly and systemically poisoned.

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