In the last two decades, the air pollution in China has increased substantially. The lack of good air quality is especially prominent in the more urban, industrialized areas of China. Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian warned, “If China meant to quadruple the size of its economy over 20 years without more damage, it would have to become more efficient in resource use. Otherwise, there would be a painful price to pay” (BBC News).
The topic of air pollution is not a new concern to the world; however, the effects of air pollution, especially to the hundred of thousands of people directly or indirectly harmed by the side effects of “bad air,” should be of grave concern. According to the Ministry of Health, air pollution has made cancer the leading cost of death in China. Air pollution not only affects the people, but also the quality of fresh water, produce, and other natural resources. These kinds of environmental outcomes may seem erratic in other countries but unfortunately, it has become the norm in China.
In fact, air pollution in China since the 1980’s has gotten so bad that many of the industrialized areas in Beijing and Shanghai rarely see the sun but rather clouds of smoke and fog. China, with its infamous reputation of becoming a global economic powerhouse, is ironically becoming its own downfall. In the midst of their tremendous economic and industrial growth, the energy outputs to support this growth are reaching an all-time high which means there is more residue of coal and fuel burning released in the atmosphere.
In order to understand the extent of pollution in China, one must understand the environmental, social, and political aspects of it. Currently, China is the leading nation in terms of population. Even though China has approximately 1. 3 billion people living in its territory, the dangerous effects that pollution has taken upon the population is still of high concern although many people and government officials choose to not talk about it in order to not cause more burden on the already stressed country. According to the World’s Resource Institute, “respiratory disease is the number one cause of death in China” (World’s Resources Institute).
In some regions, especially the major industrial zones in Hebei Province, rates of chronic lung disease are at least five times higher than the rest of the country. Even the women who do not smoke cigarettes and are living around those areas have the highest rates of lung cancer globally that pertains to the population of women who do not smoke (World’s Resources Institute). It is estimated that annual premature deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution were likely to reach 380,000 in 2010 and 550,000 in 2020 (BBC News).
With these potential outcomes that are doubling every decade, China will face even more problems if these environmental issues are not dealt with now. In addition to air population, there is also the concern of water pollution which coincides with the big cycle of environmental distress. In addition, many people who live near concentrated areas of pollution do not know how to protect themselves well because they are unaware of the long term effects of inhaling the air and drinking the water. Nearly half of China’s population consumes drinking water contaminated with animal and human waste and acidic rain and erosion.
While there has been an overall decline in mortality from infectious diseases, diarrheal diseases and viral hepatitis, both associated with fecal pollution of water, are the leading infectious diseases in China (World’s Resources Institute). Because of contaminated, polluted water, China has the highest liver and stomach cancer deaths in the world. While the government is preoccupied with wanting to censor all this preventable chaos, many more people are becoming ill and dying from the lack of clean resources. Water pollution has become an intricate part of the problem as well.
Many of the main rivers flowing through China have been the target for dumpsites for years. Because of its mass and distance, many people do not think twice when they dump their small amount of trash or waste inside the water; however, if twenty thousand other people are having the same exact justification, then it now becomes an environmental safety hazard as well as a social problem. As a result, it is estimated that three-quarters of the rivers running through Chinese cities are so polluted that they cannot be used for drinking or fishing. Even the infamous Yellow River is suffering from man-made environmental problems.
Once the country’s second biggest source of fresh water, the river is now so polluted that almost 70% is hazardous to drink; moreover, because the river has been the target for over-exploitation for many years, the water tends to dry up before it reaches the sea for almost a third of the year. According to the World Health Organization, reports estimate that diseases triggered by indoor and outdoor air pollution kill 656,000 Chinese citizens each year and polluted drinking water kills another 95,600 (Platt). The majority of the air pollution in China is generated by the burning of coal and fuel oil in order to generate electric power.
They do not have that much hydropower, power that comes from the energy of massive moving water, to help with demand and supply and, therefore, rely on the burning of coal. Coal is a natural resource that is abundant in amount but requires a lot of manpower and miners to obtain it every year. Because of its population and carrying capacity, China burns more coal to produce electricity than the U. S. , Europe and Japan combined. Air pollution and acid rain, which comes from the coal residue evaporating in the form of smoke into the atmosphere, is killing people.
In addition to chemical and industrial factories producing all this dirtiness into the air, vehicles of transportation also add to this pollution epidemic. In the 1990s, the number of vehicles on roads increased very rapidly, especially in medium-sized and large cities. In Beijing, the number of vehicles increased by a factor of 4, from 0. 5 million in 1990 to 2 million in 2002. In addition, the emission factor, the amount of pollution emitted by one car, in China is much higher than in developed countries because China has much lower emissions standards for automobiles (The Chinese Academy).
Thus, the drastic rise in the number of vehicles and rapid development of industries in cities has led to worsening air quality, particularly higher concentrations of nitrogen oxides. The burning of poor quality fuel only adds to urban air pollution. Considering the amounts of traffic that the more urban, centralized cities deal with on a constant basis, the amount of fuel being burned into the atmosphere is reaching tremendous heights. Over the years, the government had implemented their own ways of dealing with the pollution problem as well as progressing social development.
Embarrassed by the repercussions of industrialization and urbanization, China’s environmental agency insisted that the health statistics be removed from the published version of media reports because the government did not wish to cause social instability. According to Spiegel Online International, in 2007 the Chinese government put pressure on the World Bank to take potentially damaging statistics out of a report on pollution in China (Spiegel Online International). Reportedly, the World Bank reluctantly agreed to the demand of the Chinese government and this report about pollution was never published.
Many people did not believe the Chinese government undergone such secretive endeavors to “protect them but rather it was just the Communist’s instinctive response to every case of bad news – to cover it as much as possible. The Chinese government often has had a hard time prioritizing pressing issues at hand and, therefore, chooses to suppress it until the issue starts developing more and then reaches the attention of foreign countries. This kind of pattern has affected the Chinese government for many years now because of its lack of aggression towards personal, current issues.
In terms of the environmental issues, China’s model of pollution compared to that of the United States and Europe is worse because the density of its population is greater and people do not know how to protect themselves properly from the essential tools of life, water and air. Because of China’s reputation as being one of the leading nations in fast economic growth, the government places economic growth before any other problem the nation might have. Some may say, the country is addicted to fast growth and instances of progression.
Having a strong, solid economy would place China on the map as a great superpower and can very well earn them the respect and recognition from every other nation. If China starts to slow down their industrial development and economic growth at all, the effects would be social instability, the potential to lose foreign business and trading partners, and takes away China’s hard-earned reputation. Slowing down production to solve such insignificant problems may be a stretch for the Chinese government; however, the threat of pollution is very much real and staggering, which in the long run, would affect the economy in a negative way.
With the amount of health-related issues due to the environment, health care costs have climbed sharply. The lack of clean water has affected the farming and crop industry tremendously. The amounts of high energy-dependent industries create greater need for imported coal and fuel; therefore, the environmental problems gradually get harder and more expensive to address the longer they remain unresolved.
According to National Geographic, the rate in which this pollution is harming women and hildren would have a great effect on the next generation of China’s leaders, especially with the many recorded incidents of birth defects and brain damage that pregnant women are inhaling everyday of their lives. The pollution in China is not just a current problem but an issue that can surely affect the future of China extensively. In recent years, the Chinese government have been striving to address these environmental issues and making reforms to reverse some of the effects.
The government has set goals in order to reduce the emission of fuel and to conserve energy by reducing the level of energy that industries use as well as slowing down the demand for coals. Taking ideas from the United States, China has set to develop alternative methods of energy such as solar power. Yet most of the government’s targets for energy efficiency, as well as improving air and water quality, have not been reached. Although there are many targets and goals set forth by the government to fix this “pollution problem,” no real concrete actions has taken effect.
China’s lack of fundamental changes towards conservation and energy-efficient ways has resulted in no real progression. China refused to invest a lot of money and tax reforms to reach their supposed targeted goals. Even many bureaucratic leaders and city officials often do not invest their money and efforts into closing down factories and industries because that would hurt their local economies. In a way, the government reflects a dog-eat-dog world where everyone chooses to look out for themselves in order to prosper the most.
In attempts to stick to their original goals, China began to explore the idea of the Green G. D. P in the mid 2000’s. The Green G. D. P was “an effort to create an environmental yardstick for evaluating the performance of every official in China…it recalculated gross domestic product, or “G. D. P. ,” to reflect the cost of pollution” (BBC News). In other words, this was a way to calculate the financial loss that pollution has had on the economy and for the government to adjust their expenditures in such a way to reflect a better G. D. P.
However, the calculations for some provinces in China reach staggering amounts that was unrealistic for the Chinese government to adjust because if they did, their growth rate for certain areas would be zero which means the overall economy would decline. Because of the failing numbers of the Green G. D. P for China’s economy, the government pulled out of the project in 2007. The failed success of Green GDP for the Chinese government pushed the progression of environmental friendliness preservation back because of the financial and economic issues that arose from partaking in the Green G.
D. P (New York Times). One such issue that China struggles with is realizing that any attempt or unrealistic goal set forth to fix the environment problem will always be met with many obstacles and resistance. Such unfortunate issues are part of the reason why China is reluctant in fixing their environmental problems and plays a role in the still on-going pollution issue today. In 2011, Toyota Motor announced that they will be making low-emission cars in China.
Because China has the biggest market for cars, Toyota Motor wanted to get into that market in an environmentally friendly way. Along with having the biggest market for cars, China also has the biggest market for pollution. China was keen on welcoming the foreign aid of car expenditures to their market because of its emphasis on producing low-emission cars in the country. As China attempts to work towards its pollution problems after many failed efforts, the people foresee this as a positive business venture on both the Japanese and Chinese because it benefits both sides.
Japan would create a bigger market for themselves in East Asia and China will be on the road of becoming more green and energy-efficient, a problem that they have been facing for decades. All and all, it is safe to say that China as well as every other country around the world recognizes that the amount of pollution has increased tremendously. China has played a huge part in the matter because of its massive industrialization and urbanization that attributes to their fast economic growth.
Although there are many Chinese officials and leaders out there who fail to see the correlation between air pollution and long-term health and social effects, the growth of air pollution is not going away. Although there are very few studies attributing the socio-economic class, population size, and demographics to the growth of air pollution, the presence of air pollution affects everybody. There is, indeed, a major correlation between air pollution and increased mortality; therefore, China strived to undergo many environmental-friendly programs.
In short, there is sufficient evidence that exposure to outdoor air pollution is a health hazard in China. The importance of these increased health risks is greater than in developed countries because air pollution in China is at much higher levels and because the Chinese population accounts for more than one-fourth of the world’s total population. Future research will need to clarify the lifetime course of air pollution effects, examine the relevance of long-term exposures, understand alternative methods, and finding correlations between air pollution and health hazards for the Chinese population.
Presently, Chinese needs to find a way to efficiently reduce pollution and increase air quality and find a way for industries to be properly monitored. This will enable the people and the Chinese government to be aware of the trends and consequences of air pollution, so they can determine how to remedy the situation in the future.