The ecological problems have had a short but notorious history in China, and a particular aspect of environmental issues, the air pollution, has been a part of a broader global discussion about ecology. The background of pollution issues in China dates back to 1970s when China began its industrial growth. In the late 1990s, numerous transfers of industries, including the technology and whole factories have largely contributed to the ecological problems, although Chinese economy has benefited from these transfers.
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For example, the ThyssenKrupp steel factory, including the large steel mill, has been “dismantled and shipped piece by piece from Germany’s old industrial heartland to Hebei Province, China’s new Ruhr Valley” (Kahn & Landler, 2007, par. 1-5). The air pollution, the number of hard particles and the emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide began to grow rapidly until it began reaching its peaks in the late 2010s.
While the current situation with polluted air and emissions in industrial parts of China can be considered critical, some attempts are already made for normalization, and these steps are becoming a topic for discussion in the public sector and the government, as well. In the year 2004 the most polluted air was in the cities of Northern China provinces, known for their coal industry, which were Linfen, Yangquan, and Datong, while the others were Shizuishan Sanmenxia, Jinchang, Shijiazhuang, Xianyang, Zhuzhou, and Luoyang; Beijing score no.28 in the list of 113 most polluted cities of China (Jize, 2004, par. 1-5).
The citizens in China have long since took notice of the smog in the cities, similar to that of XIX century London when the visibility becomes very low, and the breathing is difficult without a mask. The authorities say that this the catastrophic state of environment results from tripling the number of vehicles in the country in the period between 2005 and 2011. Another reason for pollution peak is the fact that in China, almost two-thirds of electricity is supplied by coal-fired power plants, whose upkeep leaves much to be desired (Pouget, 2015, par. 2-8).
The Chinese officials, however, were reluctant to changes in legislation, claiming that although today China pollutes more than the United States, they should not be forced to take actions on cutting down carbon emissions because of its developing industry and economy. China has also demanded the world’s largest polluter in history, the United States, go first in taking such action (Davenport, 2014, par. 5).
The consequences of air pollution in China are already becoming evident, and not only they are the reason for environmental problems, but also they have a significant influence on the health of Chinese people living in polluted areas. Numerous researches have stated that air pollution had a direct relation to the mortality rate as well as various negative effects on human health. For example, a study conducted by Chen et al. shows that ambient air pollution had an acute effect on daily stroke mortality rates in 8 Chinese cities (Chen et al., 2013).
Another research, involving 17 Chinese cities, also claims that even short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can result in a major increase in daily mortality rate (Chen et al., 2012). Definitely, the health and lives of people living in such cities are being threatened. The most recent article by Rohde and Muller also shows that a map of polluted areas was made available by Chinese scientists:
The greatest pollution occurs in the east, but significant levels are widespread across northern and central China and are not limited to major cities or geologic basins … The observed air pollution is calculated to contribute to 1.6 million deaths/year in China … roughly 17% of all deaths in China. (2015).
The color codes of hazard and the air quality index have been developed to alert people about potentially hazardous emissions and days when these emissions can be most dangerous. Such measures may help people in the immediate vicinity of the polluted area to take care of their health, but according to global standards, they are ludicrous and insufficient.
The government in China takes the issue of environmental protection and decreasing the level of emissions with a degree of skepticism; however, the matter has become pressing over the past few years, and the officials are forced to make decisions on the topic. The new law on environmental protection has come into effect in January 2015, significantly increasing the fines for companies that break the ecological regulations, and seizing the property of such polluters.
Another decisive step had been made recently, in the years 2014-2015, when China claimed to adapt a “new normal” strategy of industrial development and growth, where much consideration is put to ecology and problems of environmental protection. However, this strategy still has much space for improvement, according to the authors of the policy brief on structural change, better growth, and peak emissions in China, Fergus Green and Nicholas Stern. They claim the following:
To reduce its emissions at a rapid rate, post-peak, China will need to deepen its planned reforms in cities and in the energy system, supported by a concerted approach to clean innovation, green finance and fiscal reforms … China’s “new normal” [should] entail a concerted commitment to a continuing and dynamic process of structural transformation and policy reform. (Green & Stern, 2015, p.4-5).
China needs a better understanding of the global processes and policies, encompassing the questions of ecology and the actions on pollution and emissions, and the rapid change of its outdated legislation can become a major step to embracing the global ecological values. The health of people and the sustainability of environment can prove to become the most important things in the future perspective, while the economic growth at all costs may soon become too cost intensive in terms of energy efficiency and overall quality of life.
Although China has become the world’s factory, the polluting industries have blighted its rise of economics. Some economists say that the immense growth rates do not improve the lives of ordinary people, when one considers the inevitable damage to the air, water, soil, and human health. Outdated production equipment needs to be replaced or retrofitted, which will cost a lot if the country truly intends to reduce the emissions and pollution (Kahn & Landler, 2007, par. 7).
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If China gets ready to take the necessary steps, it can also set an example for the whole world on the way to achieve such key goals together, united. While it may be hard to call China a leader of ecological revolution, the actions that have been taken recently by the government and the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, not to fall behind in this race for the future of the environment definitely deserve respect, especially when compared to the attitude shown by China only a decade ago.
Chen, RJ, Huang, W, Wong, CM, Wang, ZS, Thach, TQ, Chen, BH, & Kan, HD. (2012). Short-term Exposure to Sulfur Dioxide and Daily Mortality in 17 Chinese Cities: The China Air Pollution and Health Effects Study (CAPES). Environmental Research, 118: 101-106.
Chen, RJ, Zhang, Y, Yang, CX, Zhao, ZH, Xu, XH, & Kan, HD. (2013). Acute Effect of Ambient Air Pollution on Stroke Mortality in the China Air Pollution and Health Effects Study. Stroke, 44(4): 954-960.
Davenport, C. (2014). Governments Await Obama’s Move on Carbon to Gauge U.S. Climate Efforts. The New York Times. Web.
Green F., & Stern, N. (2015). China’s “new normal”: structural change, better growth, and peak emissions. Policy brief, Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Web.
Jize, Q. (2004). Most polluted cities in China blacklisted. China Daily. Web.
Kahn, J. & Landler, M. (2007). China Grabs West’s Smoke-Spewing Factories. The New York Times. Web.
Pouget, J. (2015). Airpocalypse: This Is How China Looks At Its Red Alert Pollution Peak. Web.
Rohde, R. A., & Muller, R. A. (2015). Air Pollution in China: Mapping of Concentrations and Sources. PLOS ONE, 10(8): e0135749-e0135713.