A high cost of growth for China

Are the environmental consequences of China’s rapid development a price worth paying?

Photo credit: Lu Feng

Photo credit: Lu Feng

China’s smog has continued to cause havoc, with recent news showing that it has now drifted over to Japan. The smog is caused by PM2.5 particles emitted from factories and older vehicles, and are small enough to pass through your lungs and to other organs, providing serious health risks when inhaled. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “chronic exposure to particles contributes to the risk of developing cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, as well as of lung cancer.”

As the world’s second largest economy, China has fuelled its growth predominately through coal. This has handed them extraordinary growth figures, but at the cost of a grim environmental future which may well lead to restrictions on prospective development. China’s economy has been subject to slower growth in recent months; however it continues to remain stable with recent year on year growth figures of 7.4 per cent. China’s rapid rise to economic dominance in the past decade can be seen through the international community’s dependence on cheap Chinese exports, however this has come at a high price in putting its peoples health at risk.

The environmental and health pressures falling upon China from its media, citizens and foreign press cannot come as a shock. China burns the same amount of coal domestically as the rest of the world put together, a staggering fact that has left numerous cities in China beneath dark, thick smog for weeks now. A recent study from Greenpeace showed that air pollution had caused 8,000 premature deaths in China last year.

The end of January saw the government in Beijing introduce measures in an attempt to reduce the smog; they suspended 30 per cent of government vehicles and closed down 104 factories indefinitely. These measures are only being put in provisionally, and therefore do not address China’s long-term issues.

The discontent and protests may continue to rise amongst the Chinese people, however there are doubts over the government’s supposed attempts to alleviate the problems, with the main fears surrounding the possible negative impacts on future growth.

It seems that if China wish to progress further, they will need to find a cleaner energy source than coal and put more emphasis on its environmental issues.

This is not the first time China’s air quality has come under scrutiny, most memorably before the Beijing Olympics where the air quality wasn’t at its required level 10 days before the games started.

According to the WHO’s, Chinas PM2.5 levels are currently at a staggering 600 micro grams per cubic meter in some places, with the recommended levels a much smaller 25. This fact can only emphasise the scale of the problem that China faces and one that they must aim to solve in the near future.

One comment

  1. I believe China is now actually the largest investor in renewable energy. Their economic growth has massively reduced poverty and hunger in the country; now that people don’t have to worry so much about their day-to-day survival, they can concentrate on campaigning for longer-term health and environmental issues.

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