How China’s Pollution Crisis Relates to Global Sustainability, and the Possibility of a Solution

Cancer villages. A major city’s water supply strewn with thousands of pig carcasses. These may sound like plot developments from some Hollywood environmental apocalypse thriller, but they’re real. China’s environmental problems have been front and center in the news media lately. The government actively denies most reports of environmental mayhem as air and water pollution skyrockets. China’s rapid expansion, rarely checked by government oversight (although granted government support), has resulted in a myriad of public-private enterprises, primarily in the area of industrial manufacturing, as anyone who has ever checked the “Made in” label on most any of their possessions knows. With more capital accruing, the Chinese can then themselves afford to spend money: on house and road construction and various goods of their own. When hundreds of millions of people move to the cities in the largest mass migration in history — with a population the size of the United States’ moving to cities in recent years — the construction efforts are amplified all the more, as are other associated environmental impacts.

This all comes as no surprise. What’s astounding is considering the rate at which the pollution will continue, and how the government will choose to deal with it remains anyone’s guess, although this New York Times article notes China’s new prime minister is acknowledging the pollution. And remember how in January particulate pollution in Beijing broke records, charting 755 out of a supposed maximum of 500?  As an example of how the environmental woes will only grow, forecasts say the number of passenger cars will more than triple to 400 million by 2030. Vehicles already account for almost a quarter of particulate emissions, and the rapidly expanding coal power industry takes the cake for double that. As the Chinese consumers themselves become more wealthy, they’ll start to consume their own country’s goods in greater numbers, providing hundreds of millions of new costumers for manufactured goods. 3.2 million people already die each year from air pollution; one wonders where that number will be at a decade from now.  Continue reading