News flash: China’s environment is bad and getting worse

A Washington Post exploration of China’s environmental problems confirms all the sorry tales you’ve been hearing. The country contains at least six of the world’s 10 most polluted cities, experts say, leading to respiratory problems for millions of citizens. Deforestation in north and central China means deserts are expanding by thousands of square miles a year. Five of China’s largest rivers are so polluted they are dangerous to touch (not drink — touch!), and an estimated 600 million Chinese, roughly half the population, drink water contaminated by human or animal waste. Meanwhile, the number of cars on the roads rises, 70 percent of energy comes from nasty brown coal, regional Communist bosses benefit from out-of-control development, and the country’s environmental agency is understaffed and ineffectual. Environmental protests are more frequent, but some observers think that a Chernobyl-style catastrophe would be required to spur the drastic changes needed.