This speech was delivered by Dr. Tobias to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences two years ago, focusing on the ecological challenges of China, and of the Tianjin/North China Plains region in particular, and puts in perspective much that is at risk in the current disaster that has afflicted the region. The Conference was at the Binhai Forum & Expo, in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, focusing on the “Eco-City and Beautiful Home” concept for China’s future. With the release, in this disaster, of what is being characterized currently as some 700 tons of sodium cyanide, and possibly many other contaminants, an intense challenge for Chinese ecologists and authorities, not to mention the surrounding wildlife and human citizenry, has now been tragically accelerated.
Species diversity in China’s northernmost marine biome, the 78,000 km2 Bohai Sea – the innermost portion, of the Yellow Sea, closest to China’s Capital, Beijing and 5th largest city of nearly 15 million, Tianjin –has been well documented.  Declares Dr. Liu, “The China Species Red List is not encouraging as may marine species are regarded as endangered because of overexploitation for the seafood market or for ‘fine art’ collections,” and cites, “The Chinese shrimp…the large yellow croaker…the horsehoe crab….and among the 256 species of scleractinian corals, 26 species have been assessed as endangered while all the others are considered vulnerable endangered.” Similar levels of attrition or vulnerability were assigned amongst Mollusca and Crustacea Decapoda.
In the case of North China Plain wetland data, particularly in the case of Hengshui Lake Nature Reserve within the North China Plain, that body of water’s declining biodiversity has been intensively studied, along with corresponding fishing and farming by the local communities. 
Northern China indicator species like ground beetles have also seen significant analysis and conclusions drawn with respect to what has been described as “large knowledge gaps [which] still prevail with regard to the current status of biodiversity in general, and especially in relation to agriculture management and planting patterns. Effective measures for species conservation are hence widely lacking.”  Among field surveys and in situ experimentation with soil seed banks in the Tianjin Binhai New Area and Wetland, “the diversity index show a relatively low value.” 
The Tianjin Binhai wetlands have also witnessed recent international attention with respect to the attrition rates of endangered avifauna. In November, 2012, 13 Oriental White Storks (and other wild birds, particularly ducks) died from pesticide organophosphate (phosphate ester) poisoning at the rare migratory bird’s important Beidagang Natural Reserve, a key stopover habitat. Until the early 1980s, these birds were actually hunted for food. 
And it is not just a new generation of Chinese ornithologists and bird lovers who are deeply concerned. New Zealanders are, as well. Referring to Arctic Godwits (long-distance migratory waders of the Limosa Genus), Geoff Cumming writes in the New Zealand Herald, “Their key ‘gas station’ is 10,000km away in the Yellow Sea, where rampant development of the coastline and tidal mudflats by China and Korea is threatening the future of many migratory bird species.” 
Across the North China Plains other wetlands are witnessing systemic declines in biodiversity. 
All of the goals of engendering landscape level habitats, geneplasm and biodiversity protection infrastructure, have been fully articulated in China’s National Biodiversity Strategy And Action Plan approved by the People’s Republic of China on September 15, 2010. Meanwhile, animal rights movements across China are rapidly galvanizing support for animals of countless breed and species type.  But the rise of dense urban assemblages like Tianjin in the same shared habitat with vulnerable biodiversity are creating severe challenges.
Global Biodiversity Context
In May of 2006, The European Environment Agency (EEA) embraced a concept whose time was long overdue: that of “halting the loss of (global) biodiversity by 2010.”  In so doing, the EEA announcement echoed the avalanche of data and widespread alarm throughout the world’s scientific communities by firmly acknowledging that we are in the midst of the Earth’s sixth massive extinction spasm in the known 4.5 billion year history of life on Earth, with an acceleration in species extinctions occurring 1,000 times more rapidly than the presumed ‘natural rate’ of extinctions (which is estimated to be 1 out of every million species, or, between 10 and 100 extinctions annually).
The rate of loss varies from location to location. In some areas we could be looking at literally hundreds-of-thousands of species wiped out forever in a day.  According to Dr. Paul Ehrlich, with colleagues Jennifer Hughes and Gretchen Daily  there are as many as 1.6 to 6.6 billion distinct genetic populations on the planet, of which some 16 million are being lost each year. This is one way of eyeing the loss of organisms, and it is colossally bad news. Another vantage point can be gleaned at an instant from the World Bank Development Indicators, namely, urbanization. As of 2011, 52% of our species inhabited cities and 21% of our kind were in cities of over 1 million sized populations. 
Typically, more than 75% of those people were engaged in non-agricultural activities. But every single resident consumed agricultural products, a fact underscored by water shortages long studied in China, where the largest populations live in the North, but the largest agricultural and water assets are found in the South. With over 3,500 cities in the world, not including so called ‘urban clusters’ with populations under 50,000, China looks into the mirror and sees the very real likelihood that by 2025, 400 million of her denizens will live in cities larger than urban clusters, and nearly 200 of these sub-provincial and sub-prefecture cities will contain over one million residents.
Not unlike the margin effects of damage in any rain forest, so too these megacities will exert their own impact on surrounding areas, as has already been identified within the Tianjin Binhai New Area biological corridors: degradation across every spectrum of life thus far studied, from beetles and wading birds, to earthworms.
Even in the most biologically and rigorously protected of biomes on the terrestrial planet, namely, Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park, the government as of this August (2013) felt compelled to go forward with a plan to aggressively tap oil in at least 1% of the relatively small park’s area. This same incremental-type compromise (an ecological condition first characterized by US Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt) is occurring throughout the world. Haiti, with less than 1.5% of her primary forest canopies in-tact, has, none-the-less committed to the southwestern peninsular Pic Macaya National Park, which – if effected in reality, as opposed to merely on paper (as so many of the ‘paper parks’ in nations like Indonesia) – will provide a watershed for nearly 1 million people currently in need whose villages are becoming increasingly connected in an urban cluster-like level of densities in a small country with 10 million people, 650 per square mile. 
I have termed Pic Macaya a ‘1% solution’ instructively precisely because 1% of endemic seed source is more than sufficient, with tender loving care, to re-instate over time a biological region of endemism. Every porch, backyard, even a 50-foot wide swath of corridor in urbanized Western Costa Rica is territorially sufficient size-wise for butterfly migration feeding. This facile but effective formula (a mere 1%) re-affirms the tenacity of mother earth and billions of years of evolution and could help assuage global ecological concerns regarding such alleged cul-de-sacs as Yasuni; whilst inspiring decision makers in Chinese cities elsewhere as they endeavor to balance human needs and the much greater overarching needs of biodiversity in general. As California Governor Jerry Brown once described, nature is not a subset of human economics. Economics is a subset of nature.
“…the biodiversity science community has to create a way to get organized, to coordinate its work across disciplines, and together with one clear voice advise governments on steps to halt the potentially catastrophic loss of species already occurring,” said Dr. Watson, former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  On numerous fronts China is engaged in significant ecological restoration. From its recent National Strategy for Plant Conservation aimed at safeguarding the future of nearly 5,000 threatened plants within the country, to its efforts to expand its network of protected areas.  China’s massive 10-year reforestation project is aimed at covering 97% of the country, the largest initiative of its type in any country in history. Initially, an area twice the size of Colorado was planted.  By 1998 commercial logging in China’s one designated biological hotspot –the Hengduan Shan, or Mountains of the Southwest – had been halted. But, to date, many continue to ignore the government ban and data suggests that as little as 5% of the overall forests in Hengduan Shan remain.  Similarly, in spite of major botanical restoration work with endemics and floristic medicinals , it is likely that Chinese wild rice could disappear in little over a decade from now. 
The crisis of disappearing biodiversity cannot be understated: it is the core loss that a nation and her people must fear the most. History has not been kind to the twenty-two great civilizations of the past that ignored the ecological warning signs, as outlined all too clearly by such notable historians as Arnold Toynbee and Jared Diamond, and in my own previous book and film, World War III: Population and the Biosphere at the End of the Millennium.  In Collapse, Diamond points to three developmental leviathans in China that together emblemize “the world’s largest development projects, all expected to cause severe environmental problems,”: the Three Gorges Dam in Hubei Province (first envisioned in 1919), the South-to-North Water Diversion Project, and the major developments (some would say ‘runaway’) of Western China. 
The People’s Republic has as much or more to lose in terms of biodiversity than any country in history. Consider some of the nation’s ‘basal ecological metabolism’: nearly 18% of the country remains clad in forest, or 175 million hectares (420 million acres or nearly 700,000 square miles). Within that vast and scattered canopy exists at least 6,347 vertebrate species including 581 mammals, 1,244 bird species, 284 species of amphibian, 376 species of reptile and at least 20,000 marine species. In addition, nearly 8% of the Earth’s plant species are represented in China, or some 30,000, a third of which are endemic (found nowhere else).  From the summit of Everest to the Turfan Depression 154 meters below sea level, China’s altitudinal variations are the largest in the world, ensuring an astonishing turnover rate of species diversity across the vast arrays of China’s numerous mountain ranges, deserts, tropical, temperate and marine biota. This includes the “greatest concentrations of endangered primate species,” including the sub-nosed monkeys of the genus Rhinopithecus, and the Hainan gibbon.  Add to that the Giant Panda, Yangtze river dolphins, Père David’s deer, snow leopards, the Chinese alligator, and the world’s largest number of endemic pheasants, not to mention a quarter of the world’s unique Rhododendron species, plus some of the most diverse lichens, ferns and other Bryophytes on Earth.
Write the authors of Hotspots in their assessment of China, “…time is short…pressures on fragmented natural habitats from grazing, clearance, hunting, and collection of forest produce remain, and new threats, such as dam building on all main rivers in the hotspot, mining, and unplanned mass tourism development accompanied by road expansion and wildlife consumption are emerging. This means that the extinction of many of the restricted-range species of plants and animals is a realistic and immediate possibility.” 
The 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) ranked China 133 out of 146 (with North Korea being 146).  By 2008, the Environmental Performance Index showed some improvement: China had risen to a ranking of 105 out of 149 nations listed. China fell behind Myanmar and was just barely ahead of Uzbekistan. 
The approximated cost-benefits accompanying ecological damage in a country the size of China is deeply counter to a century aspiring after carbon neutrality. With net annual losses far exceeding the nation’s US$10 billion monthly trade surplus average and a general demographic reversal in terms of increasing preferred family size (2 rather than 1), consumerism in China is taking a terrible toll, in spite of the country’s trillion dollar+ ‘cash hoard’.  Metropolitan statistical areas, with their tally of low sulfur coal-fired power plants, spring up virtually overnight, and the fast-growing number of automobiles is outstripping even the human population explosion. Increasingly, more and more landscapes are being converted to sacrifice areas.
There is discussion of targeting China’s growing surplus at a pension fund for the country. But an environmental safety net is no less critical. While Xinhua, the official press agency, cited a former Chinese Deputy Prime Minister as declaring “coal, iron and oil” to be the purchases of choice with all that money  two other looming realities must sound a wake-up call for the country: some estimates suggesting as large a population as 1.45 billion Chinese by 2050, a large percentage of whom will be elderly; and vastly truncated natural capital.  These represent a potentially lethal combination for biodiversity. Similar situations are escalating – though of course in different ratios and proportions – from nation to nation.
In the U.S., Europe, across South America and Africa, urban despoliation is forcing land managers and city planners to think in terms of vertical agriculture and terra-forming the vast expanse of city-rooftops. One city in desperate need of such albedo-heat-island countering greening is Los Angeles. New visions of green space corridors have already been engendered, or partially so, within Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore and Frankfurt-am-Main. Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, a strong trading partner of China, is in the process of creating Africa’s most important city park, the former Army Dump known as Malhazine. It will be nearly three times the size of New York’s Central Park, which sees some 30 million visitors per year, and serve as an international template for a ‘peace park’, an in situ biodiversity sanctuary, an environmental educational outreach center, a museum, herbarium and arts and crafts emporium for local artists and artisanal aficionados.
For an ecotourism, biodiversity sanctuary movement to flourish in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, thus providing the suitable biological coefficients of the International Port to Beijing, Chinese conservation and business will need to work hand-in-hand, as visionary partners, while the Government must continue to adopt nation-wide strategies for identifying biodiversity rarity: setting priorities for large scale ecosystem protections to mitigate corresponding economic progress; allocating significant ecological resources; distributing the ‘green benefits’ of virtuous engagement with the natural world; implementing national ‘polluter pays’ protocols and precautionary principles; and exacting much stricter monitoring and enforcement of current environmental and animal rights legislation.
The challenges are exacerbated by the time-frame, which is short. China’s position vis à vis other countries is one of significant loss. Among those nations with the largest number of threatened and endangered plant and animal species, China is one of the worst, ranking 14th and 7th from the bottom, respectively.  And while the country has focused considerable attention on the prospects of ecotourism, it has done so without any overall sustainability plan. 
Conversely, with her increasing economic success, and vast opportunities for international carbon credits by mitigation within China, the economics of environmental remediation suggest an industry that will transcend all others in the country, thus providing a win-win for one of the last standing aggregates of critical biodiversity on Earth. In this spirit, China’s National Environment Protection Agency has long avowed that “the survival of mankind cannot be separated from that of other species.” 
What will be particularly challenging is the demographic transition occurring in China – an aging population and what that will imply for consumption. In the recent National People’s Congress (NPC) couples in five rural areas in five provinces, and in two municipalities were given amended latitude to have more than one child.  Notwithstanding projections of 1.45 billion Chinese, other demographers have also pointed out that China may well self-moderate its nation-wide fertility rates, with less draconian projections suggesting a total population for China peaking at 1.395 billion in 2025, a population growth rate as low as 0.4 percent today, and a Total Fertility Rate of 1.5 versus that of the global average now at 2.7.
Regardless of the precise details of China’s inevitable aging population and demographic shift to urban corridors, what will be absolutely essential for biological carrying capacity within cities like Tianjin Binhai, is full faith in the ancient adage that ‘nature knows best’. The more biodiversity, the better life will be for human beings. Cities prosper or fall, like civilizations, based upon the constraints of the natural world. In the 21st century, it is not evolution but, rather, the collective human choices and community-based mechanisms for consensus, that must recognize the majesty of the natural world, employing best-environmental practices, and all of our ingenuity, to reignite the wonders of nature within our midst’s, in our very backyards. Not as mere Disneyland-type enjoyments, or passive petting zoos; but very real ecosystem integrity that can, in turn, deliver those myriad of nature’s services upon which every city depends –no matter how picturesque or numerous its skyscrapers, and financial statistics.
The fact remains: from a global perspective, China has more remaining wilderness to lose than any other nation. With rapid urbanization occurring, this is a critical divining rod for future ecological carrying capacity within Chinese cities; and, by interpolation, for cities everywhere. But when it comes to correlating the prospects for urban wildlife with human habitation, the gaps in our analysis are enormous and we need much multi-disciplinary work to redress this absence of understanding. Ignorance leads to intolerance.
We know the average square footage of homes in the U.S. (2,300), Australia (2,217), Denmark (1,475), France (1,216), Spain (1,044), Ireland (947) and the U.K. (818).  We also know that an urban raccoon in North America (Procyon lotor) needs between 100 and 200 acres nightly through which to omni-forage. How that translates into actual human-raccoon interactions, is a great mystery. Some people feed raccoons huge amounts of goodies. Others simply fear them. How various legislators, and community standards determine what should be the appropriate relationship between people and urban raccoons, bats at resorts in Australia, grizzly bears on the fringes of Anchorage, Alaska, pigeons in Vienna, crows in Paris, or black bears near Cal Tech, in Pasadena, California, are of major consequence in terms of global ethical mindsets. Many years ago, China launched its war against four pests –rats, mosquitoes, sparrows and flies. “…in 2004, China culled 10,000 civet cats in an effort to eradicate SARS. And according to Tim Luard of the BBC [the Chinese] have also launched a ‘patriotic extermination campaign’ that targets badgers, raccoon dogs, rats, and cockroaches.” 
China has a supreme choice before it: a new vision for biological carrying capacity that harbors human health as well as profound respect for, and protection of biodiversity, or, continued approaches to canines and Gallus gallus, for starters, that are certainly not in the best interest of either dog or chicken. China’s spiritual and aesthetic history lends itself to urban eco-happiness, if it so chooses to remember. To compassionately embrace the idealism of its most sovereign, lyrical and elegant injunctions, with the added certitude of scientific data we now have in hand. To turn the tide on species extinctions. To refurbish wetlands, expand open space, plant native species, ensure ecological integrity in every sector, and thereby indoctrinate a new generation of civic and business leaders, as well as 21st century venture-ecologists who will make all the difference for China’s future, hand-in-hand with other species.
 J. Y. Liu (2013) Status of Marine Biodiversity of the China Seas. PLoS ONE 8(1): e50719.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050719.
 See “Wetlands and Poverty Reduction in Henshui Lake,” www.wetlands.org/?TabId=2661&mod=601&articleType=CategoryView&categoryId=32.
 Yunhui Liu, Jan C. Axmacher, Changliu Wang, Liangtao Li, Zhenrong Yu, et.al., “Ground beetles (Coleoptera: Carabidae) in the intensively cultivated agricultural landscape of Northern China – implications for biodiversity conservation,” Insect Conservation and Diversity, DOI: 10.1111/j.1752-4598.2009.00069.x. Article first published online: 18 NOV 2009.
 “Study on Soil Seed Bank in Saline-Alkali Wetlands of Tianjin Binhai New Area,” Advanced Materials Research, Xun Qiang Mo et al., 2012, Advanced Materials Research, (Volumes 610-613), 3483, DOI 10.4028/www.scientific.net/AMR.610-613.348 Xun Qiang Mo, Nuo Xu, Hong Yuan Li, and Wei Zinq Meng.
 This draconian assertion is born of three empirically driven sets of data. First, the astonishing revelations of Terry L. Erwin. In a study of one hectare (2.4 acres) of Ecuador’s Yasuni National Park tropics, Erwin and colleagues extrapolated a reliable index of invertebrate abundance, and determined as many as 60,000 different species per hectare, many of them endemic within those very few acres of rainforest., “The Tropical Forest Canopy: The Heart of Biotic Diversity,” in E.O.Wilson, ed., Biodiversity, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1988, pp.123-129; See also, Terry Erwin, “Biodiversity at Its utmost: Tropical Forest Beetles, In Biodiversity II, ed. by M.L.Reaka-Kudla, D.E. Wilson, and E.O.Wilson, Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, pp.27-40. Add to Erwin’s findings the inevitability of biological co-dependents. Navjot Sodhi and Lian Pin Koh of the National University of Singapore, in a study focusing on some 12,200 plants and animals that are threatened or endangered, discovered that for every endangered species (often an invertebrate) two other known species appear to be equally imperiled.
See http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/27082/story.htm, September 13, 2004, Reuters News Service. Place this remarkable combination of species vulnerabilities beside the fires and bulldozers of development now accounting globally for as much as 200,000 acres of rainforest lost every day, and the loss in this generation becomes incalculably large. See “Rainforest Facts,” www.rain-tree.com/facts.htm; See also, “Rainforests and Mass Extinction,” by Tim Keating, Sayta Journal, Nov/Dec., 2000,www.satyamag.com/novdec00/keating.html
 See “Earth facing `catastrophic’ loss of species,” China Daily, 07/21/2006. http://english.biodiv.gov.cn/zyxw/200609/t20060904_92241.htm; See also: “Mass Extinction Underway, Majority of Biologists Say,” by Joby Warrick, Washington Post, April 21, 1998: “A majority of the nation’s biologists are convinced that a ‘mass extinction’ of plants and animals is underway that poses a major threat to humans in the next century, yet most Americans are only dimly aware of the problem, a poll says, quotes Warrick. See http://www.well.com/~davidu/extinction.htm
 See “China Launches `Mammoth’ Plan to Halt Biodiversity Crisis,” www.bgci.org/china_en/news/0376/
 See “Major Reforestation Project Announced,” www.china.org.cn/english/2002/May/32599.htm; see also “Paulownia, the Tree of Choice in China,” www.fadr.msu.ru/rodale/agsieve/txt/vo14/issue1/1.html.
 See “UTC and CI partner to support reforestation in China,” www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-09/ci-uac091406.php
 “Chinese wild rice will become extinct in fifteen years,” says Peking University Professor Dr. Lu, in a new report detailing the country’s fast disappearing natural heritage and just some of what is at stake. See “China’s Turtles, Emblems of a Crisis,” by Jim Yardley, The New York Times, December 5, 2007:www.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/world/asia/05turtle.html
 A. Toynbee, Mankind and Mother Earth, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976; J. Diamond,Collapse –How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed, New York: Viking Press, 2005; M. C. Tobias,World War III, Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1994.
 ibid., Diamond, p.367.
 China’s Third National Report On Implementation Of The Convention On Biological Diversity, State Environmental Protection Administration Of China, Sept., 15, 2005, p.7.
 See Megadiversity: Earth’s Biologically Wealthiest Nations, by Russell A. Mittermeier, Patricio Robles Gil and Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier, Foreword by Edward O. Wilson, Agrupacion Sierra Madres, S.C., Mexico, Cemex, 1997, p.263 and 267.
 See Hotspots Revisited, ibid., p.164. See also Hotspots Revisited –Earth’s Biologically Richest And Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions, by Russell A. Mittermeier, Patricio Robles Gil, Michael Hoffmann, John Pilgrim, Thomas Brooks, Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier, John Lamoreux and Gustavo A. B. Da Fonseca, Cemex, 2004, p.160. A “hotspot” so defined refers to a region that has at least 1500 endemic vascular plants (indicator species) in terrain of which at least 70 percent has been lost from its original extent.
 “2008 Environmental Performance Index Summary for Policymakers,” Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy; Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Columbia University, In Collaboration with the World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland, and Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, Ispra, Italy; http://epi.yale.edu.
 See “Spending China’s cash hoard,” by Andy Mukherjee, International Herald Tribune, www.iht.com/articles/2007/01/09/bloomberg/sxmuk.php
 See “Ecotourism in China’s Nature Reserves: Opportunities and Challenges, by Han Nianyong and Ren Zhuge, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Vol.9, No.3, pp.228-242, Channel View Publications, 2001
 See China’s Biodiversity: A Country Study, Beijing: National Environment Protection Agency of China, 1998: http://bpsp-neca.brim.ac.cn/books/cntrysdy_cn/index.html
 See “Parsing China’s Trade Surplus, by Nicholas Lardy, Business Week, January 13, 2008,www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnlash/jan2006/nf20060113_8659_db053.htm; See also “Imports cut China’s trade surplus,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7341962.stm
 See “China’s reverse population bomb,” by Scott Zhou, who writes, “China is getting older faster than it’s getting richer.” See Asia Times, November 1, 2006, www.atimes.com/atimes/china/HK01Ad01.html
 See Population Reference Bureau Data Comparisons: http://ww.prb.org/Datafinder/Topic/Bar.aspx?sort=v&order=d&variable=92, and 93
 “China softens its one-child policy,” http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/China/China-loosening-its-one-child-population-policy/Article1-1022708.aspx
Copyright 2015 by Dr. Michael Charles Tobias, President, Dancing Star Foundation
Dr. Michael Charles Tobias is the President of the Dancing Star Foundation. Learn more about the group through their MAHB Node.