“Ordinary People Suffer Most”: Chinese Farms Face Climate Problems


JIAOZUO, China (AP) – Wang Yuetang’s sneakers sink into the mud of what was once his thriving corn and peanut farm as he examines the damage caused by a volatile climate.

Three months after torrential rains inundated much of central China’s Henan Province, swathes of the country’s flat agricultural center are still submerged in several inches of water. It is one of the many calamities around the world that make the ongoing United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland urgent.

“There is nothing this year. It’s all gone, ”Wang said. “The plains farmers have virtually no crops, nothing. He lost his summer crop to the floods, and by the end of October the soil was still too wet to plant the next season’s crop, winter wheat.

On other nearby farms, shriveled bean stalks and rotten cabbage heads float in the damp water, buzzing with flies. Some corn cobs can be salvaged, but because the husks are moldy, they can only be sold as animal feed, resulting in lower prices.

The flood disaster is the worst Henan farmers like Wang can remember in 40 years – but it’s also a glimpse into the kind of extreme conditions the country is likely to face as the planet warms and conditions weather conditions on which producers depend are increasingly destabilized. .

“As the atmosphere warms, the air can hold more moisture, so when storms do occur, they can rain more extreme precipitation,” said Richard Seager, climatologist at Columbia University. “It’s extremely likely that man-made climate change caused the extreme flooding you’ve seen this summer in places like China and Europe.”

China, the most populous country in the world, with 1.4 billion people, is now the biggest contributor to climate change on the planet, responsible for around 28% of the carbon dioxide emissions that warm the Earth, although the United States is the biggest polluter historically.

As world leaders participate in the climate summit this week, China is under fire for not setting a more ambitious timetable for phasing out fossil fuels.

President Xi Jinping, who has not left China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and will not attend the summit but has sent a seasoned negotiator, said the country’s carbon emissions will stabilize before 2030. Critics say it’s not soon enough.

Chinese government projections present a worrying vision for the future: rising sea levels threaten major coastal cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, and melting glaciers and permafrost threatening supplies water supply in western China and major infrastructure projects such as railways across the Tibetan Plateau.

Senior government scientists also predict an increase in droughts, heat waves and extreme rainfall across China that could threaten crops and endanger reservoirs and dams, including the Three Gorges Dam.

Meanwhile, the Chinese people are already bearing the brunt of climate change. And according to a pattern common across the world, those who have contributed the least to warming and have the fewest resources to adapt often feel pain most acutely.

At the end of July, Chinese television news broadcast striking images of torrential rains flooding the provincial capital of Henan, Zhengzhou – at one point, 20 centimeters fell in a single hour – with cars washed away, subways flooded and people falling. waist-deep water. More than 300 people died when the megalopolis turned into accidental Venice, its highways turned into muddy canals.

Even after the most dramatic storms ended, water continued to pool in much of the surrounding countryside, a flat and fertile area.

The economy here depends on corn, wheat, and vegetables, and other parts of China depend on Henan for food. The local government reported that nearly 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of farmland was inundated – an area the size of Connecticut – with damage totaling $ 18 billion.

“All I could do back then was watch the sky cry, cry and cry every day,” said Wang, the peanut farmer.

A limited number of rudimentary pumps were shared among farmers in Henan. Soft plastic tubes have been stretched across the fields to drain the water, but they periodically burst, causing farmers to run to plug the holes.

A 58-year-old farmer who only gave her last name, Song, said everything she owned was overwhelmed by the flooding – her house, furniture, fields, farm equipment.

“Nothing was harvested. This year the common people have suffered all year, ”she said. “Ordinary people suffer the most.

“We worked so hard, breaking our backs… without even a penny, my heart hurts,” said Hou Beibei, a farmer whose simple greenhouses of vegetables – plastic sheeting covering plots of eggplant, said of garlic and celery – remain inundated, her hard work carried away.

She is worried about her two young children. “The children’s school fees and the living expenses of the whole family depend on this land,” she said.

The summer also saw another climate-related natural disaster in China. In July, the hottest month on Earth in 142 years on record, according to U.S. meteorological experts, a vast and toxic bloom of blue-green algae covering 675 square miles (1,748 square kilometers) engulfed coastal waters in off the prosperous city of Qingdao, threatening shipping, fishing and tourism. State broadcasts were showing footage of people using dump trucks to remove mounds of algae.

Another threat to China’s coastal provinces is sea level rise. Government records show that coastal water levels have already risen by about 4.8 inches (122 millimeters) between 1980 and 2017 and predict that over the next 30 years, the waters could increase an additional 2.8 to 6.3 inches (70 to 160 millimeters).

Because China’s coastal areas are largely flat, “a slight rise in sea level will worsen flooding of a large area,” wiping out expensive waterfront properties and critical habitats, report says of the government.

“I think these impacts are triggering a national awakening. I think people are asking more and more, “Why have extreme weather events like this happened? What are the root causes? ‘ Said Li Shuo, climate policy expert at Greenpeace East Asia in Beijing.

“I think this makes Chinese policymakers and the general public realize that we are indeed in a climate emergency. ”

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Researcher AP Chen Si contributed to the Shanghai research.

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Follow Christina Larson on Twitter: @larsonchristina

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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education at Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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