Ed Fagan counts the cost of cheap industry in billions of euros

In the largest class action suit to date, Ed Fagan is taking the Chinese Government and industry to the European Court of Justice for the damage caused by decades of unbridled industrial growth.

Acting on behalf of “citizens of the world”, with notable support from the EU, Fagan cited health problems and deteriorating environments outside China, directly caused by massive pollution from China’s factories.

“The problem,” said Fagan, “is that China has been aware of the growing impact of industrial pollution on the people of the planet for the last five years, and has done little to avoid it. This makes Chernobyl look like spilled milk.”

An unnamed Chinese source commented that for years Europeans and Americans were happy to buy cheap Chinese goods; now they want China to bear the burden.

“By outsourcing their manufacturing to China, Europe has simply been exporting their own industrial waste.”

ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

China is the world’s second largest producer of greenhouse gases and fast becoming the world’s largest polluter. While the west revels in cheap goods imported from China, the planet is paying dearly in terms of pollution, environmental damage and the sustainability of resources being consumed at an alarming rate.

The World Bank estimates that air and water pollution cost China US$ 54 billion per year, or about eight percent of GDP. The World Bank further estimates that, every year, just the air pollution in excess of China’s own air quality standards results in 6.8 million emergency room visits, 346,000 hospital admissions, and 178,000 premature deaths.

In his book ‘Blue Planet, Red Sky’ Mark Hertsgaard predicts that the world’s most populous country could single-handedly wreck the global environment. “China can single-handedly guarantee that climate change, ozone depletion and other deadly hazards become a reality for people the world over,” Mr Hertsgaard said.

Already European ecologists are noticing the spillover effects of Chinese industrial pollution. How long before someone sees the opportunity to make a claim for damages? Who is really to blame; the Chinese fuelling their economic growth, or the West snapping up cheap imports without a care for the future cost?

2000: Something in the air
As early as 2000, climate researchers in the United States pick up influences from across the Pacific and lay the blame on China’s unfettered industrial development.

2005: Clean Air for Europe>
WHO and the European Commission work together in a new long-term strategy known as Clean Air for Europe (CAFE). As part of this study it is discovered that a large percentage of the air pollution in Europe is drifting in from the Chinese mainland.

2007: China blamed for global warming
The EU releases a report condemning China’s “lip-service attitude” to the joint problems of pollution and global warming. It seems that while the West has made great strides to go green, China has been all talk and no action. China is now regarded as the greatest threat to the planet’s ecological stability.

2009: China called to account for pollution>
Friends of the Earth hire Ed Fagan to take on the suit on behalf of the EU and the “citizens of the world”. He files against the Chinese Government, major industrial corporations and exporters. “This case will run to hundreds of billions of Euros,” he says, smiling broadly.

But perhaps the Chinese defenders have a point. For more than a decade the developed nations have outsourced their dirty production processes to the East, and re-imported cheap consumer goods. Is it fair to also make China pay for collateral damage?

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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