The other oil spill

A firefighter drowns while trying to clean up a spill -- this one in Dalian, China.

While the efforts in the Gulf of Mexico to stem the flow of oil are dominating the world's headlines, another major oil spill is happening off the busy port of Dalian, in China.

China's largest-ever reported oil spill began a week ago when a pipeline operated by the China National Petroleum Company exploded. Details of the incident have predictably been few and far between, but it is thought that the explosion was caused by an injection of desulpheriser into the pipeline after a tanker had finished unloading. The pipeline has since been repaired and has started operating again.

Again, details of quite how much oil was released are not precise, but China Central Television has reported today that an estimated 1,500 tonnes of oil has been spilled, or roughly 400,000 gallons (compared with the 94 million thought to have escaped so far into the Gulf of Mexico).

Officials have warned of a "severe threat" to the coastline and sealife. A clean-up operation has begun, but has been marred by the death of Zhang Liang (above, left), a firefighter who drowned in the oil.

The Associated Press reports that clean-up workers have been using "chopsticks and their bare hands" to remove the oil from beaches. Meanwhile, the agency also reports that state media said 2,000 soldiers, 40 oil-skimming boats and hundreds of fishing boats were helping with the cleanup.

Worse, Greenpeace is reporting that beaches have not been closed and that children are playing in the oil. A spokesperson for Greenpeace China said:

Greenpeace was . . . surprised to see that the beaches have not been closed to visitors and lack any warning signs. As a result, locals and visitors unaware of the extent of the oil spill were playing in the water with their kids, risking exposure to petroleum.

Although the scale of the Gulf spill is so much greater, it is being tackled with professional equipment and armies of volunteers. The response to the Dalian spill suffers from poor co-ordination and equipment, and suggests that the recovery for the fishing and tourism industries in the area is likely to be just as arduous as for the people of Louisiana.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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The SATs strike: why parents are taking their children out of school to protest against exams

Parents are keeping their children away from school to highlight the dangers of “over testing” young pupils.

My heart is beating fast and I feel sick. I force myself to eat some chocolate because someone said it might help. I take a deep breath and open the door…

The hall is silent except for the occasional cough and the shuffling of chairs. The stench of nervous sweat lingers in the air.

“Turn over your papers, you may begin.”

I look at the clock and I am filled with panic. I feel like I might pass out. I pick up my pen but my palms are so sweaty it is hard to grip it properly. I want to cry. I want to scream, and I really need the toilet.

This was how I felt before every GCSE exam I took. I was 16. This was also how I felt before taking my driving test, aged 22, and my journalism training (NCTJ) exams when I was 24.

Being tested makes most of us feel anxious. After all, we have just one chance to get stuff right. To remember everything we have learned in a short space of time. To recall facts and figures under pressure; to avoid failure.

Even the most academic of adults can find being in an exam situation stressful, so it’s not hard to imagine how a young child about to sit their Year 2 SATs must feel.

Today thousands of parents are keeping their kids off school in protest at these tough new national tests. They are risking fines, prosecution and possible jail time for breach of government rules. By yesterday morning, more than 37,000 people had signed a petition backing the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign and I was one of them.

I have a daughter in reception class who will be just six years old when she sits her SATs. These little ones are barely out of pull-up pants and now they are expected to take formal exams! What next? Babies taught while they are in the womb? Toddlers sitting spelling tests?

Infants have fragile self-esteem. A blow to their confidence at such an impressionable age can affect them way into adulthood. We need to build them up not tear them down. We need to ensure they enjoy school, not dread it. Anxiety and fear are not conducive to learning. It is like throwing books at their heads as a way of teaching them to read. It will not work. They are not machines. They need to want to learn.

When did we stop treating children like children? Maybe David Cameron would be happier if we just stopped reproducing all together. After all, what use to the economy are these pesky kids with their tiny brains and individual emotional needs? Running around all happy and carefree, selfishly enjoying their childhood without any regard to government statistics or national targets.

Year 2 SATs, along with proposals for a longer school day and calls for baseline reception assessments (thankfully now dropped) are just further proof that the government do not have our children’s best interests at heart. It also shows a distinct lack of common sense. It doesn’t take a PhD in education to comprehend that a child is far more likely to thrive in a calm, supportive and enjoyable environment. Learning should be fun. The value in learning through play seems to be largely underestimated.

The UK already has a far lower school starting age than many other countries, and in my opinion, we are already forcing them into a formal learning environment way too soon.

With mental health illness rates among British children already on the rise, it is about time our kids were put first. The government needs to stop “throwing books at heads” and start listening to teachers and parents about what is best for the children.

Emily-Jane Clark is a freelance journalist, mother-of-two and creator of stolensleep.com, a humorous antithesis to baby advice.