Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

China's growth and the environment
Whilst the world watches China's phenomenal growth over the past decade, there is a sneaky suspicion that it's also watching an environmental time-bomb. Chinese politicians view environmental awareness as a Western or capitalist weakness and have spared little thought for their impact on the world's environment.

A Greenpeace report published yesterday outlines some of the Chinese environmental threats:

1. China is now by far the world's biggest driver of rainforest destruction

2. The Chinese are firmly on course to overtake the Americans as the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, and thus become the biggest contributors to global warming and the destabilisation of the climate

3. The growth of China's carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years will dwarf any cuts in CO2 that the rest of the world can make

4. On current trends, China will by 2031 be consuming 99 million barrels of oil per day. Total world production today is only 84 million bpd

5. Acid rain is falling on one-third of the country

6. Half of the water in its seven largest rivers is "completely useless"

7. Five of the 10 most polluted cities worldwide are in China

8. China - growing at nearly 10% a year - already consumes more grain, meat, coal and steel than the United States

According to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC, the leading American environmental analyst, if growth continues at 8 per cent a year, by 2031 China's population, likely to be 1.45 billion on current UN predictions, will have an income per person equivalent to that of the US today. He said:

"China's grain consumption will then be two-thirds of the current grain consumption for the entire world. If it consumes oil at the same rate as the US today, the Chinese will be consuming 99 million barrels a day - and the whole world is currently producing 84 million barrels a day, and will probably not produce much more.

"If it consumes paper at the same rate we do, it will consume twice as much paper as the world is now producing. There go the world's forests. If the Chinese then have three cars for every four people - as the US does today - they would have a fleet of 1.1 billion cars, compared to the current world fleet of 800 million. They would have to pave over an area equivalent to the area they have planted with rice today, just to drive and park them."

The only realistic pressure that can be placed on China relates to threats of boycotting trade, but with the size of the Chinese trade with Western countries, this is a highly unlikely option for capitalist leaders. The Chinese are in a boom phase were diplomatic pressure is unlikely to sway them either, and it seems as though the world is on a collision course with Chinese consumption.