Economic growth in China is generally considered a positive sign. However, with this increased industry and prosperity comes a caveat. The price of progress is often at the expense of the environment and health issues for the citizens. China has not escaped these caveats. In a recent public poll, the Chinese public indicated that the issues that are at the top of their concerns are the health of air and water supplies. More people are concerned about air and water quality than then were in 2012 (Pew Research Center). This research will support the thesis that China needs stricter regulation and better enforcement in order to curb this growing problem.

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Air quality is the worst it has ever been in China’s major cities. In January of 2013, air quality in Beijing reached its all time low (Pew Research Center). The Chinese have reached an environmental turning point that plagues every growth nation at some point (“The East is Grey”). The situation in Beijing came to a boiling point when a mass of warm air settled over the city and pushed the smog toward the ground. Public concerns caused many to leave the city to escape.

Water is even a bigger concern than air quality. Water shortages are a normal concern for the North, as a majority of the major waterways is located in the South (“The East is Grey”). The water table has fallen drastically in the North and is now 300 meters lower than it was 20 years ago (“The East is Grey”). This is compounded by an increasing amount of that water which is now unusable for animals and humans due to pollution. Nearly one third of the Yellow River is so polluted that it is unusable (“The East is Grey”). China has plentiful water sources in the South, but many of them are now unfit to drink.

Adding the water problem is the fact that all this industrialization has meant increased demand for electricity. China now has 25,000 dams. Hydropower is a renewable energy source, but it still comes at a cost (Gallagher). These dams create fish migration problems and erosion causes problems with landslides (Gallagher). The availability of power near the dams creates a potential for increased industrial activity in the area and an increase in pollution being dumped into the river. This problem will continue to grow unless something is done to stop it.

Government officials recognize the problem and in June of 2013 met to develop a series of reforms targeted towards cleaning up China’s air and water (“The East is Grey”). They proposed a budget that would devote $275 billion dollars towards environmental clean up over the next five years, but some fear that even this is will not be enough to curb China’s growing environmental problems (“The East is Grey”). A majority of China’s air and water problems are caused by uncontrolled industrial growth. The government has taken a nonchalant stance on environmental issues in the past, placing a greater emphasis on economic concerns. Now they must adopt stricter laws and better enforcement if they wish to provide for sustainable growth in the future. Pollution will eventually halt economic growth by taking a toll on available workforce and natural resources.

The air and water quality problems created by industrialization are familiar to many countries in the industrialized world. Economic growth has meant increased pollution and a bleak outlook for the health and welfare of the Chinese citizens. This research supports the thesis that stricter regulations and enforcement is needed for China to overcome its environmental issues. Efforts by the Government thus far have focused on cleaning up damage that has already occurred. They have been hesitant to introduce measures that have the potential to slow growth. However, unless a comprehensive plan for sustainable growth that takes into consideration the need to lessen the environmental impact, China’s air and water problems are likely to continue to grow faster than the ability to clean them up.

  • Gallagher, Sean. 5 Myths About China and the Environment. September 5, 2013. National
    Geographic. Web. November 13, 2013.
  • Pew Research Center. Environmental Concerns on the Rise in China. Global Attitudes Project. September 19, 2013. Web. November 13, 2013.
  • “The East is Grey”. The Economist. August 10, 2013. Web. November 13, 2013.