The pollution in China is ever on the increase, primarily due to the rapid industrialization of the country in the last decade. As a result, health related problems among the Chinese people are rising. Therefore China needs to act now if it wants to secure the future of its people and the entire planet.
China is a land of 1.3 billion people and is presently the third largest economy in the world. In the last decade or so, China has gone through an economic boom which continues even today. The dramatic economic changes are positive in most aspects, as it’s changing the lifestyle and improving the standard of living of all its citizens. However, there are a few negative aspects of this rapid economic progress. The biggest negative effect of this economic progress is pollution and environmental degradation. One of the characteristics of pollution is that it knows no political or economic boundaries. Hence, pollution affects not only China’s citizens, but its neighboring countries and the world as well.
According to the World Bank, sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities belong to China. This paints a gloomy picture of China’s present environmental condition. Some experts believed that the speedy transition of China’s agrarian economy to industrial economy would cause such a situation. A few decades ago, several Chinese people used to travel short distances by bicycle, but now bicycles are replaced by motorcycles and automobiles. This is just one example which demonstrates how the Chinese are turning away from eco-friendly lifestyles and economy. The factories, power plants and industries are on the increase throughout China and so are the industrial wastes. The industrialization process has now gathered a momentum in China, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to check the pollution levels in industries by the Chinese government. In 2007, China became the world’s top-most emitter of carbon-dioxide in the world, surpassing the US. As we know, carbon-dioxide contributes to the Greenhouse Effect and global warming. Therefore, China’s rising pollution is indeed affecting people from all around the world.
China is known as the “Factory of the World”. The need has now arrived for China to build more effective frameworks which will reduce pollution in factories and industries to a great extent. Cook has stated that “exposure to air pollution leads to increased mortality rate” (132). The private sector undertakings and non-governmental organizations have to be more responsible, since the pollution problem is spilling to the neighboring countries. That’s why countries such as Japan are assisting China’s industrial development with valuable financial and technological inputs, which would help China in protecting the environment.
The air pollution levels in China’s industrial cities and areas are very high. The primary contributor to air pollution in industrial centers is coal smoke. Since more than 70% of China’s electricity is generated by coal smoke, the concentration of coal smoke in China’s atmosphere is comparatively bigger than other industrial areas of the world. The air in China particularly is filled with sulfur-dioxide particulates and greenhouse gases. As a consequence, a number of regions in China experience acid rains. It’s estimated that around 30% of China’s enormous landmass experiences acid rains. What’s more, the acid rain is having a disastrous impact on the agricultural sector. DisasterRelief.org has warned that the acid rain problem may eventually damage more than10% of China’s land area. Not only that, Disaster.Releif.org has stated that China might already be experiencing a 3% decline in forestry and crop production.
China’s policy of generating electricity to feed the growing electricity demands of its emerging cities is faulty, according to many experts. About seven million tonnes of coal are burned by the power plants in China and unfortunately, most of this coal is of inferior quality. Furthermore, the coal burning plants of China are located near the rivers. The pollutants of the power plants are released in the river, which helps to curb pollution temporarily, but in the long run it causes more pollution. The rising pollution levels in China have a number of consequences for its people and for the economy. The most important consequence of them all is health related issues for the Chinese people. Diseases such as cancer, diarrhea and respiratory problems are on the rise. The World Bank has stated that around 450,000 people have died due to respiratory problems or drinking contaminated water in China in the last couple of years. The water supplies in China can become unsuitable to drink and the crop yields can go down drastically. In fact, this has become a reality now. The people of China are now waking up to the problem of air and water pollution. Earlier it was assumed that pollution is the price to pay for economic progress. But through awareness by international organizations and media, the Chinese people are convinced they can continue with their economic progress without polluting the environment. The pollution is not limited to the urban and industrial areas, but has permeated the countryside too. The Chinese farmers are protesting against the unrestrained economic growth, whose effects are spoiling the crops and polluting the water, eventually leading to lower crop yields for the farmers. In 2005, it was reported that the mass incidents or public protests in the countryside had risen almost 29%.
The cities are not far behind, as far as protests against environmental pollution are concerned. A number of petitions have been launched against industrial development projects by the people of the cities. One such example of a protest is the Xiamen incident of 2007. Xiamen is a coastal city located in the Chinese province of Fujian. After the people of the region came to know that the Xiamen city administrators were about to develop a chemical plant in the region without taking adequate environmental protection measures, the people organized a huge demonstration. This demonstration finally forced the Xiamen government to drop the project. The number of citizen mobilizations against controversial industrial developments is on the increase, showing the citizens have started to play an active role in protecting and preserving the environment of China for future generations.
There are several causes for the current pollution problem in China. Among them, there is a handful which needs to be mentioned. First of all, the Chinese government has put a ceiling on the gasoline prices. This means that other goods in China can have variable prices, but gasoline prices will always remain cheap. As we know, burning excessive gasoline pollutes the atmosphere, and because gasoline is comparatively cheap, the Chinese are using up too much gasoline, thereby polluting the atmosphere. The second problem is excessive use of shipping by the Chinese economy. The Chinese goods are cheap and have a huge demand in all parts of the world. The transportation of these goods requires ships and thus, the fuel consumption of these ships cause more pollution in the water as well as the atmosphere. The third problem of China is the dangerous levels of aerosol. The topography of Asia has a number of deserts. The deserts and arid regions facilitate the accumulation of natural as well as man-made aerosols. The deforestation of Chinese forests has added to the aerosol accumulation in China’s atmosphere. In fact, China is one of the worst hit by the aerosol problem. Ho has stated that “China is experiencing a very high level of aerosol pollution”. (58).
Another one of the pollutants in China are the plastic bags. These bags are petroleum based products and millions of Chinese people everyday use these bags for shopping and other activities. The problem with these bags is that they are not bio-degradable, causing more pollution to the environment by contaminating the soil. This kind of pollution is called White Pollution and that’s why the Chinese government has banned the use of plastic bags since 2008, in the wake of the Beijing Olympic Games.
The rising price of oil in the Chinese market is yet another cause for the Chinese pollution ordeal. Although the price of gasoline is cheap, the prices of oil and electricity have continued to climb. This prevents industries to use oil or electricity to power their plants, and they utilize coal instead. The byproducts of coal cause much more pollution than any other form of energy. The changing need for transportation in the country is causing pollution in China as well. The rural workforce is now migrating to the cities for jobs, and this is putting extra pressure on the transportation system. The environment in the city is finding it hard to support the sudden rise of urban population. The effect is pollution, the average PM10 level in Beijing for the year 2006 was 141 (Greenhalgh and Winkler 254).
The government of China has been successful in controlling a lot of issues in China; it seems the only issue the government failed to control was pollution. The government is very lenient with the factories and industries in China. Even if the factories do pollute the air and water, the government fines them minimally, instead of coming down with a heavy hand. But now, the Chinese government has come up with a revised plan. They are planning to introduce a trade system which is followed in the United States. The system of pollution credits will be introduced, in which companies would be able to trade with another company with the help of their pollution credit. So a company which is causing pollution would not receive the credits and hence would require purchasing the credits. In this way, the companies and manufacturing units would curtail their harmful emissions, hope the Chinese government.
Probably the biggest reason of this present pollution in China has been the rapid growth of the Chinese economy. This sudden switch to an industrial and extremely commercial economy has caused the pollution that China is experiencing today. The factories and skyscrapers are being built at an amazing pace, and cities are expanding and are also getting modernized. The environmentally friendly mode of transport in form of the bicycle is being substituted by cars and two wheelers. As a result, the country with the largest population in the world is unintentionally causing this record amount of pollution, and since China occupies a large section of the world’s landmass, the world is experiencing the ramification of China’s excessive pollution.
The pollution level in China is creating havoc on the health of the Chinese people. The children in a few of China’s cities have a blood lead level of 80%, which is shocking, since this level usually harms mental development. The Chinese government loses about $4 billion each year because of water pollution. The pollution level in the water of China paints a disappointing picture as well. According to Economy, the primary causes for water pollution in China are municipal wastes such as sewage, detergents and organic wastes, agricultural wastes such as fertilizers and pesticides and industrial wastes like thermal wastes, chemicals and other organic wastes (69). The hazardous heavy metals, toxic waste and nutrients are making the freshwater unsuitable for most purposes. The Straszheim Global Advisor states that China has more than 10,000 bodies of water which are completely toxic and dangerous. The polluted water in turn, creates lots of health problems for the people. Diseases such as dysentery and cholera which are basically waterborne, are affecting more and more Chinese people. The cities are growing and so is the requirement for water. The industrial requirement for water in 1995 was about 50 billion tons which is projected to rise to almost 300 billion tons in 2030.
But it’s not too late to change. The Chinese government and the people have now taken the threat of pollution very seriously and have taken a few important steps. The New World Eco-industrial Park has been opened in Qingdao, which specializes in recycling and detoxifying materials such as electric home appliances. Numerous people are playing a proactive role in saving their environment. In 2002, a group of over a thousand people filed a lawsuit in Ningde against a chemical plant. As a result, the factory had to pay compensation to the group. The Chinese government has now integrated environment friendly measures in its current Five Year Plan. The government plans to cut the sulfur-dioxide emission by 10% by the year 2010. Moreover, the environment protection unit of China has now been given a ministry, helping the environment protection board of China to gain more power (Edmonds 103)
The major concern for the Chinese government at the moment is to balance economic growth and job creation with environmental protection. The Chinese government, the business houses as well as the Chinese citizens are pulling up their socks and attempting to save the environment. Once China succeeds in creating a long-term plan which assists in economic development as well as ecological development, the people of China and the world can breathe a sigh of relief.
Cook, Ian. Green China. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2007. Print.
Economy, Elizabeth. The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s Future. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005. Print.
Edmonds, Richard. Patterns of China’s Lost Harmony. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2007.Print
Ho, Mun.Clearing the Air: The Health and Economic Damages of Air Pollution in China. United States: The MIT Press, 2007. Print.
Greenhalgh, Susan and Winkler, Adwin. Governing China’s Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics. Chicago: Stanford University Press, 2005. Print.