China’s economy is the fastest growing on the planet and the country has recently topped the list for the world’s largest market. Many other nations, including the United States, are keeping a close eye on how China handles such rapid economic growth, both from a political and socioeconomc perspective, and although China’s economy has recently been slowing down, there’s no doubt this supergiant will continue growing in the long term. How environmentally sustainable is this expansion, however, is another story.
As with any economic boom, there comes the all-too-common disregard for the natural environment. Citizens are more often concerned with individuality and gaining money in high growth periods than in protecting rivers, air and natural landscapes from encroaching development and pollution. China is also particularly large, both in sheer landmass and population, making environmental regulation a challenge given the disconnect between local and central governments. Poor oversight and inadequate safeguards are also all too common, even if environmental concerns are pressing.
In many respects, China has had the unique opportunity to entirely avoid the industrial revolution pitfalls that followed other developing nations and instead opt for a progressive, clean energy economy. However, fossil fuels remain cheap and abundant and unfortunately still dominate the traditional power landscape. China, in fact, has just recently surpassed the United States as the biggest emitter of CO2.
Consider cars as well. Today, only approximately 3% of the total Chinese population owns a car (compare this to 80% in the U.S.), yet when you multiply that out by the population in China, which is currently about 1.35 billion, that comes out to a little over 40,000,000 cars! For comparison sake, the current U.S. population is roughly 311 million. If the Chinese continue to follow America’s lead, there’s simply no way the planet will be able to sustain this level of resource extraction and pollution. The planet is already showing serious signs of climate change in an era when we should be discouraging individual car ownership by increasing car sharing models and quality public transportation.
In response to rapid national expansion and environmental damage, many Chinese are ramping up efforts to combat pollution and loss of biodiversity through NGOs and local activism, although the Chinese government keeps a close watch on any activity that threatens national authority. Luckily, today, Chinese environmentalists don’t draw quite as much attention as other activists and Chinese NGOs like Green Camel Bell and Green Watershed continue to operate despite general political oversight. Subsequently, through increased awareness, social media and organized activism, the Chinese environmental movement is rapidly gaining momentum.
Much like the U.S, which saw its own environmental movement spring up in the 1970s in response to mounting pollution from industrial waste, China will also likely see its NGOs and citizen activist groups create an important niche for themselves in the fabric of a changing economy and society. Their presence will be increasingly critical as China continues to grow and dominate the global market, thereby creating more pollution in a world already facing the boundaries of extreme climate collapse.
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