The environmental price of China’s success

The global economic downturn impacted the economies of many nations.

The surging Chinese economy hit a few bumps but has continued to produce at an annual growth rate of almost ten per cent.

This constant industrial expansion bears consequences. In the United States we are concerned about trade deficits with China. The Chinese have acquired massive quantities of US Government securities. Their military is expanding and China is having territorial disputes with other nations in the region.

Chinese demand for raw materials and energy resources is increasing exponentially. Their seemingly insatiable acquisitive drive to obtain natural resources to power and supply industries and a more prosperous citizenry is a force that is causing ongoing and rapidly accelerating environmental devastation.

In “The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise is Threatening Our Natural World” Craig Simons details some of the environmental catastrophes that are taking place in China and elsewhere. Simons, the former Asia bureau chief for the Cox Newspapers, provides hard numbers to document the scope of the situation we are facing.

The author writes: “what we are only beginning to grasp, however, are the great environmental costs of China’s manufacturing success. The problems that are obvious across China — millions of pollution-related deaths, plunging water tables, the eradication of wildlife — are beginning to stretch far beyond its borders to reshape the physical

planet: the air we breathe, the health of the oceans and last remaining tracts of untouched forests, the diversity of plants and animals, the climates that shape where and how we live — the very metabolism of our rapidly crowding world.”

China has become the largest consumer of coal on the planet. Over three decades China’s coal consumption has increased from 550 million tons annually to 3.5 billion tons. Carbon dioxide emissions from China doubled over an eight year period. And some people wonder why the ancient glaciers are melting away.

The population of China was 1.3 billion two years ago. It continues to rise. The average income of a Chinese citizen is still quite low by our standards, about four thousand dollars a year. But those income figures are rising too and the people of China seek the same amenities that we do, cars, air conditioning, nice apartments.

Most of the forests in Southeast Asia have been cut down. Russian forests are quickly following suit. The Chinese are acquiring as much tropical timber as they can. Simons states that “nearly half of all the tropical logs, which is traded for use in paper, passes through a Chinese port.”

And as millions of upwardly mobile Chinese consumers are improving their lifestyles 90 percent of the wood that is being imported into China is now being used for residential construction. The Chinese are merely emulating our own model for American consumerism. That’s their right isn’t it?

This timely books examines these core consumer issues. Readers are presented with the situations now under way. The author suggests some steps that could be taken to avert a potentially catastrophic chain of events from unfolding. This is a valuable and insightful book.

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