China's unfettered environmental abuses

China Chinese environmental pollution

Rapid industrialization characterized by carbon-intensive industries and uncontrolled rise in pollution levels has led to a severe environmental crisis threatening the health and livelihood of millions globally.

The air and water quality in urban China has become highly polluted, with China becoming world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. The business model followed by Chinese industries is coming at a cost to its consumers and the environment. In the quest to produce cheaper products to keep their exports high, the industries are producing more CO2 for every dollar of goods.

As per studies, industries in China are marked by archaic manufacturing processes with heavy reliance on non-renewable energy sources like coal, with China accounting for 50 percent of global coal consumption.

It is pertinent to note that such means of production not only cause negative externalities for the environment quality of China but also for the globe. Moreover, China has been called out for notoriously using the “developing country” tag when it comes to reducing
greenhouse gas emissions, despite being the highest greenhouse gas emitter.

Excess fertilizer use has led to contamination of water bodies with harmful metals like mercury and cadmium. Experts have often blamed rapid industrialization and lack of investment in water treatment for water pollution and drinking water scarcity.

The rural population has been the worst sufferers, as they are more prone to consuming water contaminated with excreta, arsenic, fluorine, and sulfates. Again, the problem stems from their economic growth models, where cheaper goods are manufactured at the cost of the environment and human health. Rampant corruption and poor enforcement of policies facilitate the uncontrolled discharge of waste water into water bodies every day, leading to a rise in cancer villages in China.

Again, rapid urbanization in China is taking place at the cost of rural regions15. Urban centrism in China has led to rising environmental inequalities and adverse health outcomes in rural China. Rural areas suffer from the transfer of pollution from urban areas, tourism, and village enterprises, leading to more number of deaths due to pollution-induced diseases in rural areas than in urban areas.

Over the last few years, with more information dissemination, global consciousness has risen against the health and environmental hazards of cheaper Chinese products1718. Authors and researchers have been voicing their concerns about the use of seemingly cheap Chinese products, which are turning out to be costly to our health and nature. Fine particulates from manufacturing and power plants not only contribute to poisonous air but are also perniciously responsible for human lives.

Though the government has occasionally expressed its commitment to combat pollution, it has often taken a backseat in the light of economic growth. When there is a need to decouple economic growth from degradation, the government shows its firm belief in what is called
the “environmental Kuznets curve”, which implies that high levels of economic growth improve environmental quality20.

This obsession with growth for better future economic prospects has compelled the leadership to ignore the current cost of growth borne by the people and the ecosystem. As per WHO, air pollution leads to 2 million deaths in China every year.

Despite the casualties, the environmentally unsustainable growth process unabashedly continues in China. This is because of the lack of a pro-environment democratic setup in the country. Environmental activists are often arrested on the grounds of creating unnecessary trouble. Chinese growth model has no space for criticism or dissent in their environmental discourse. For that matter, there is no discourse, only diktats.

In terms of Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, environmentalism in China is not about raising your voice against the government and its rabid growth agenda, it is about showing loyalty by meekly providing suggestions and cooperation to the government. Alternatively, one may choose to exit the system or cease their voice.

The recent episode of extreme heat and massive floods in China has also not been enough to motivate the government to mend its ways. Instead, much to activists displeasure, the Chinese government put its environmental authoritarianism on pompous display24. Instead of allowing for discourse and public awareness on climate change in the wake of recent extreme weather conditions in China, the government uses media to strengthen the political narrative that exuberates and condones the leadership and condemns the West for not taking responsibility.

Despite the clear evidence, the Chinese government continues to censor its criticism of environment-related issues and acts oblivious to the linkages between rising emissions, extreme weather, and deteriorating health conditions in the country.

Xi Lao is a freelance journalist based in Taiwan.

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This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor

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