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China’s Environmental Crisis: Causes and Effects

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 3632 words Published: 30th Jul 2019

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          China’s environment has suffered serious consequences due to the rapid growth and development occurring over the last few decades. As China began to emerge as a leader in the global market its infrastructure transformed to accommodate the transition. As a result, China’s natural environment was and has continued to be neglected. The people of China are now dealing with the fallout of the unregulated rapid urbanization that has made them into the world power they see today. First, I will discuss how industrialization effects pollution and creates potential health hazards. Second, the paper will focus on how the population in China affects the environment. Thirdly, I will analyze the governments environmental policies and examine the issues with the current regulations. In conclusion, I will debate whether the development of China is more important than the ecosystem around it.

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            In 1978, an open-door policy was established in China in response to an economic recession. This policy allowed for foreign investment in China from the Western World and sparked an enormous amount of economic growth and removal of people from poverty (Zhang, Z. 2013). Throughout this course of development China valued industry and manufacturing over the environment. China has had the world’s fastest growing economy for nearly thirty years which has resulted in them becoming the world’s largest manufacturing economy. Additionally, since 2009, China has become the largest exporter and second largest importer of goods (Bo Tang. 2015). China’s acceptance of globalization has propelled them towards a higher level of international influence and power. In recent years, China’s Going Global policies had only increased their development, further expanding on efforts to diversify the market and receive raw materials.

China’s level of production requires massive amounts of energy and gas, resulting in an immense distribution of greenhouse gases and carbon. In China, widespread accounts of air pollution and water pollution are frequently reported. In a recent account, due to levels of pollution, the climate in China is changing and water and soil area, which accounts for around forty percent of total surface area, have disappeared and eroded into desert sand. From 1990 to 2004 China experienced six-hundred and thirty-six percent growth, this was further accompanied by a thirty-six percent increase in total waste water discharge and a hundred and seventy-eight percent increase in gas emission (Dongyong, Z. 2007). The correlation between the levels of production and the negative impact on the environment are obvious. These factors combined can leave lasting effects on the environment and thus, multiple health risks.

China’s industrialization has improved the standard of living for the entirety of the country and has helped life millions of people out of poverty. However, the risk of serious health issues has only continued to rise due to pollutants caused by industrialization: these only grow increasing more dangerous and more common as China develops. Environmental issues, such as unclean drinking water and difficult to breath air, produce many negative health outcomes. A thick light grey smog has formed in some parts of China due to the toxins in the air making it difficult to breathe. The Environmental Protection Agency reported that small particles in the air from pollutants are the reason for a large number cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in China (Kira, Matus. 2012). According to the Berkeley Earth report, 1.6 million people die each year in China from air pollution related illnesses. Air pollution is mainly produced by coal, automobiles, and industrial dust. The air the people of China are breathing could be endangering their lives and put further economic development at risk if the smog permits.

The environmental weakness of China has come to affect an industry that has been dominated by the country for years. Contaminated water supply has caused fish in regions of China to die off or become inedible due to high counts of toxins. Consuming the contaminated fish can lead to heightened risk of various other diseases, such as cancer. China produces around seventy percent of farmed fish in the world. Often fish farmers will keep pesticides, fish waste, and veterinary drugs in their waters without treatment and discharge the contaminants into open water, increasing amounts of toxic water (Mark Wang. 2008). Many waterways near one of the largest ports in Fuqing, China have been shut down after the discovery of heavy metals such as lead, mercury, copper and even oil in the water. Dongzhang Reservoir, a source of water for hundreds of thousands of people, was denoted as unfit for the human body by the government (Xu, H. 2002). If China is not careful many more natural sources will be destroyed and damaged beyond repair.

China is infamous for their air pollution and water pollution, a neglected environmental element subjected to pollution is the soil. In a recent study, it was found that the Chinese food supply is at risk: one-fifth of the land in China is polluted with chemicals such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic. The chemicals are known for promoting cancer and have developed “cancer villages”.  Cancer villages are communities near industrial plants and areas of high production that face high death rates due to the pollution or effects of the industrial plants. Often the residents get sick by drinking contaminated water or eating food grown in contaminated soil. China needs to produce as much food as possible due to their high population therefore farmers use as much land as possible even if it is near mines or industrial plants (Liu, L. 2010). As China’s population grows more and more people will be effected by the large amounts of natural resource pollution.

A major contributing factor to the large amounts of pollution in China is the extremely high numbers in population. China’s population is the largest in the world according to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) it totals to over 1.3 billion people. This amounts to around one-fifth of the entire world’s population. The population of China was not always this large but as the country developed and the standard of living increased due to modernization, a boom in the population occurred. In the 1950’s China’s population was around 500 million and in the early 1980’s the population doubled to one billion. The Chinese government was aware of their dangerously high numbers and developed a policy to slow down their population growth rate. The one-child policy was introduced in 1979, it was the government’s attempt to control the population size, by restricting urban families from having more than one child. Only families in high populated areas were subjected to the policy and there was no penalty for having twins. To have more than one child a family would have to be willing to pay a tax to the government (Feng, W. 2013).

The one-child policy was extremely contentious. Many scholars have argued the benefits as well as the negative consequences due to the policy and hypothesized the future effects. Much of the discussion has centered around the positive impact the policy has made on the environment, but as a social issue has caused much controversy and debate (Saka, A. 2014). In 2016, China has changed the policy to include two children per household. Many people fear that the already massive use of energy and resources used by China will increase at a faster rate due to presumably more people. The sustainability of China is being put into question (Lancet, T. 2013). As the population grows in urban areas the government of China must combat the growth by enforcing more environmental policies.

The size of China’s population is beginning to pose a threat for forestation. The deforestation rate in China is around 1.2 percent, in 1984 forest land in China was 12 percent then in 1988 it dropped rapidly to 8.4 percent. Researchers attribute this to the spike in population and the growing need for cooking and heating fuel. In rural areas, 60 million cubic meters of wood are used each year to produce heat in households and for cooking. A result of the deforestation scientists in China are have noticed rivers drying up and the climate changing (Li, J. 1990). The wildlife in China are anguishing; because of deforestation, many habits are being destroyed for the use of production. The change in the land is disrupting the flow of nutrients thus making it increasingly difficult for animals to survive (Zhai, D. 2015). The Chinese government needs to implement stricter laws and policies to reduce the harm created by the large population size.

Nevertheless, the large population of China is realizing the damage development is causing the environment and are taking the initiative to fix it. The population is suffering the backlash from big industries polluting their communities breathing air and drinking water. Due to the country’s severe environmental conditions many people have become distraught and are now gaining more knowledge of legal environmental laws to combat the industry (Xie, L. 2011). Non-Government Organizations (NGO) are being established across the nation to hold companies accountable on behalf of the people. The internet is another tool the population is fighting industry by spreading awareness on a global-scale of the issues China is facing. Many issues dealing with environmental degradation are because of the large size of China’s population however, the responsiveness of the citizens is helping China move in a better direction towards a more ecofriendly future (Wu, F. 2013). It is now up to the branches of government in China to change their ideals of production.

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            Many of the environmental issues China is currently facing can be attributed to the lax environmental policies the government enforces. Around the time of China’s rapid development, China created a foundation for environmental protection called the Environmental Protection Law. This law was derived from regulations in the United States, the central government has very specific guidelines but the supervising of the industries is up to the discretion of the local officials. The law frequently stresses pollution and remains focused on preventing further harm to the environment as well as protocol on how to discharge waste. At the time, the local government favored the rapid production and growth of industry and ignored the law. Over time, the negative environment issues expanded further until the problem could not be ignored. Amounting pressures from foreign nations and the health of the population forced the national government to combat the environmental crisis (Kuntao, L., & Wenzeng, L. 2004).

            The Chinese government has been more proactive in recent years in terms of preventing further pollution and have since revised the Environmental Protection Law. This is the first revision to the law since 1989 and offers the most severe punishments to large polluters. The current law, active as of 2015, gives more power to governmental environment agencies. They can enforce stricter penalties and halt production if a company breaks the law. Company executives will also face extreme punishment, such as a 15-day jail sentencing, and fines are not limited to any dollar amount. In the past, local governments have not enforced the national environmental regulations in favor of production, the has been addressed: they will be disciplined for not enforcing the law (Falk, R. L., & Wee, J. 2015). The people of China are also encouraged to recycle and practice other means of environmental friendly protection. China’s central government has made it clear that dealing with pollution is the number one priority.

            China is financially dedicated to trying their best to fix the pollution that is haunting their country. They have issued an initiative called the Five-Year Plan that will map out the future of the country’s economic spending, society, and environmental rehabilitation from 2016 until 2021. The plan will increase investment towards the treatment of environmental pollution, they have even surpassed the U.S. to have the highest investment in renewable resources. The previous focus of the nation was solely on the production of goods and establishing themselves as a powerhouse in the foreign market. The new plan recognizes that to raise the standard of living and encourage growth in the economy they must improve the quality of the environment. Some specific goals include a reduction if industry gas emissions, greater control over air pollution, and the increased use of electricity and natural gas instead of coal. The Five-Year Plan comes as a major development after already decreasing numbers in some categories of pollution and waste discharge as of 2014; however, China is mindful that even though the numbers are declining they are still amongst the worst of any nation (Li, S., Wang, H., & He, J. 2016).

            Foreign nations have noticed the struggle China faces in dealing with such intense environmental issues and are willing to combat the problems together. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the United States’ governmental agency that protects the environment and enforces related laws. They have been in collaboration with China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) for over three decades. The role of the EPA is to lend experience and help support China with their environmental initiatives and priorities. The MEP has only around 600 full time staffers compared to the EPA’s 6000 (EPA. 2017). According to the EPA, China has placed a strong framework for environmental law but the next focus should be on unifying the local and central government. Multiple programs between MEP and the EPA are in place such as climate change, improving air quality, and getting clean water.

China has emerged as a world leader throughout the last 40 years due to rapid economic development. A serious trade-off occurred between development and the protection of the environment due to unregulated urbanization. China chose to focus on establishing production and the manufacturing industry, at the cost of the surrounding ecosystem. Today, the large amount of pollution has resulted in devastating health effects for the people of China and as a result, The Republic of China must spend billions each year to repair the damaged it caused (Albert, E., & Xu, B. 2014, Feb). The consequences of no regulation or enforcement by the government has made China the number one polluter in the world. Combined with the population boom in the 1980’s China must use huge amounts of gas, coal, and energy each year to maintain the consumption of the people. Due to the excessive production and emission of poisonous gases in the air the people of China have developed a variety of illnesses and have faced significant climate change.

 However, the development of China was extremely beneficial for the people of China to a certain extent; significant improvement in the standard of living, doubling the age of life expectancy and staggering drops in absolute poverty amongst the people prove that the surge in China’s excessive production had positive effects as well (Sinding, S. W. 2009). The continuous overproduction is at the cost of the environment. The pressure of foreign nations and the people have made it apparent that the environmental issues grew too large to ignore. Throughout the 2000’s China has switched focus from industry to environmental reform while still maintaining high levels of production and growth. This transition is necessary to sustain an essential balance for the future of China.


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