China’s pollution crisis

Hello everyone,

when we made some research on the pollution crisis in China this afternoon, I discovered a  very interesting serie of articles, videos and interactive graphics on the website of The New York Times. It has 10 parts and illustrates quiet well how everything is related one to the other- pollution, water&food supply, health problems, employement, quality of life, profits,… This series of articles really made me aware of how complex and complicated the whole pollution problem is.  Maybe it is this complexity which prevents governments from acting. They don’t know where and how to begin, without creating devastating side effects in another field.  I will give you a short and very simlpified example:

  • if Chinese government interdicts farmers to use antibiotics for their fishes, water will be cleaner, but: fishes will be less resistant to diseases and therefore die more often                                                    -> decrease of fish, that farmers can sell -> decrease of the farmer’s income -> increase of poverty  -> shortage of food supply -> hunger -> people dying from hunger                                                                                              -> increase of food imports -> increase of prices/costs -> decrease                                                     of Chinese GDP 

It think, that this example illustrates quiet well, how difficult it may be is for the Chinese government to introduce new environmental laws and to make sure that they are really implemented. They have to balance between social, economic and environmental aspects and be clear about their priorities. Furthermore the fatc, that pollution is a closed circle problem, doesn’t make it easier for governments to react. I  give you another short example of what I mean with “closed circle problem”:

  • pollution of rivers -> fishstocks in danger -> fisherman add antibitics and other chemicals to the water in order to make the fishes be more resistant to water pollution and eat or sell them -> the rivers get even more polluted -> fishstocks in danger –> and so one

Despite all these difficulties, I see light at the end of the road and I think that the Chinese government is able to turn China around to a more sustainable road of economic growth and social welfare. I would probably only recommand them to take into account all the different aspects of pollution mentionned in the NYT articles and video clips, when they implement new laws or regulations.

Bye, Sarah



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Posted in government policy, pollution
3 comments on “China’s pollution crisis
  1. ninapau says:

    The link is really interesting. China has really environmental problems on such a scale we can nearly not imagine. But I am not that confident as Sarah concerning the capacity of the Chinese government to turn around things. If this would be the only problem of China and the government would have a little bit more experience concerning sustainable development (as Lin has mentioned today, the first law has been made in 1989), I would have been more optimistic. But besides the environmental problem, China suffers from a big poverty, which increases the problem (look for example: ( Furthermore, they have serious political problems (corruption, also due to the political system; human rights, international relations to Europe, Tibet,…). Additionnally, they are facing a big transition period. The industrialization will be accompanied by unemployment which represents another big problem. In Wuhan I saw 20 workers to repair one hole in a street. Imaging rising salaries in the future and the enhanced use of machines, this won’t be possible any more.
    As Mr. Williams already said it in the course today, it is impossible that China will turn round the situation alone. They need the support from the Western countries. I really hope, that a lot of succesful cooperations will be established to avoid a catastrophe.

    PS: It is worse than a “closed-circle problem”. It’s a spiral which accelerates every day. Besides, the complexity is not an excuse not to act. Except concerning China, nobody would believe that it is the complexity of the problem which hinders the Chinese government to act. It is not a question of more or less antibiotica. It’s a question of investment in research and development to replace the antibiotica with sustainable solutions, meaning more natural products.

  2. hyagi says:

    China’s environmental crisis is not a story which started recently. There are many kinds of pollutions such as photochemical smog, dried rivers, grasslands which became desert. Environmental pollution is getting more serious with explosive increases in energy consumption.

    Accordning to another article in NYT, only 1% of 560 million people who live in cities can breathe fresh and safety air! In Beijing, the density of minute dust in air reaches 141 micrograms which is equivalent to almost 3 times of the European standard (50 micrograms). One-third of main rivers in china are “the fifth grade river” which is not usable in agriculture. And the amount of available water per capita is one-fifth of U.S. and more than 600millions people suffer from lack of drinking water.

    On the other hand, according to the World Bank’s report in 2007, 350,000 to 400,000 people die every year due to air pollution.

    I think that there is structural problem in the background of such phenomena. One of them is related to the way of power generation. Two-third of China’s power generation depend on the coals whose deposits are abundant, and old-type power station is the mainstream, not latest ones which have high effciency in energy.

    China’s government sweeps aside voices from foreing countries which demand the environmental regulation concerning emission of greenhouse gas because the government is considering that the cause of global warming is delieved from developed countries. IEA(International Energy Association) estimates that China will be the biggest country which exhausts greenhouse gas in the world.

    From this viewpoint, developed countries have to show leadership and be a model for China. Also, I think that manufacturing companies in developed countries should promote technical transfers to China (e.g technology in saving energy and disposal of industrial scraps…)

    See you tomorrow,


  3. jeremy says:

    Although it might be fair to say that US power is on the wane, the fact remains that so long as sustainable development continues to be a side-show in the US rather than an issue that takes centre stage, no country elsewhere in the world is going to take drastic action — least of all China.

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