Roughly 1.43 billion people inhabit China. Since the late 80s, this massive country has been growing economically at an impressive rate, unchecked and unregulated. Industries in China are still in overdrive and the earth is paying a hefty price. Over the last fifteen years, weather patterns have become far more erratic and the China air pollution problem is a significant contributor to these global climate changes. In the following article, we will examine how China's policies have failed to curb these catastrophic effects, what the future holds for the country and ultimately for the world at large.
China's last environmental protection law revision was back in 1989 and since then the country has become far more industrialized as Chinese cities grow at an alarming pace. Major cities like Shanghai and Beijing continue their dominance, but emerging cities like Hangzhou and Chengdu are leaving their imprint on the Earth. China declared a "War on Pollution" in 2014 and has made significant, measurable gains since then. Still, the China air pollution is among the worst in the world and the damage continues despite the gains.
The China Air Pollution Problem
China air pollution kills 1.1 million people prematurely each year in the country and those numbers continue to climb. Not only has this air pollution caused widespread respiratory illnesses each year, but it is also tied to cancer and other serious, long-term conditions. China's pollution issue extends far beyond its borders, and the government is struggling to keep those statistics away from public knowledge both domestically and internationally. The situation has become far too severe to ignore and the time to act is now.
Ground-level ozone generates when nitrogen-oxide and volatile organic compounds merge in a chemical reaction. Both gases and pollutants are emitted by factories, vehicles, and large industries that not only affect human beings but also crops, wildlife, marine life and more. In cities that are extremely congested, ground-level ozone is aggravated by "heat island" effects. "Heat island" occurs during the summer months when temperatures are high and heat radiates off buildings and asphalt even at night. Ground-level ozone becomes far more dangerous and filled with many more pollutants that rise from the ground.
Bronchitis, chronic cough, and congestion are only some respiratory issues that residents of China's major cities experience annually. Reports of grave conditions such as cancer have been rampant over the last decade as have heart attacks and strokes. The list of conditions go on and this issue has gone ignored for decades. Disease is not contained within the country. Neighbors such as Japan are beginning to see a rise in reported cases of pollution-related diseases. Cities like Fukuoka, Japan, close to mainland China, warn their citizens when pollutants rise above dangerous levels. Relations between the two nations remain tense.
Since the country's economic boom, growth and production was the primary focus until, in 2014, the government could no longer ignore the deadly effects. China's GDP has been growing at an average of 9.58% since 1989 and industries within the country are ruthless in their quest for growth. The Chinese government is taking major steps in the war against air pollution but so much damage has been done that it is hard to know if these gains will be enough. The only way now is forward and policies are taking effect, finally ending years of unchecked waste production.
The War Against Air Pollution
Governments around the world understand the impact that China air pollution has on the world and have been scaling up their efforts to help the Chinese government find solutions. Naturally, the process is long and will require all hands on deck but it is the only way to curb the effects that China air pollution is having on weather patterns across the globe. Hurricanes and cyclones are becoming more common each year in various parts of the world and scientists see the correlation between the increase of air pollutants and devastating storms. The world has never been more informed, and this is valuable in the fight against pollution.
This for That
The China air pollution problem has left many without drinking water. It has tainted food and filled the skies with smog. In coastal cities like Tangshan, the growth of industry has brought jobs and stability to an impoverished region. This is exactly why scaling back production is a difficult choice for China's leaders. Besides scaling back production and looking for cleaner fuel alternatives, China has also built a system of nationwide monitors that track PM 2.5 levels. PM 2.5 are tiny combustion particles responsible for various respiratory illnesses and diseases. The government of China has made this information publicly available.
California and other Pacific Coast states have seen their share of dramatic climate changes in the last ten years and this is not by chance. China's air pollutants play a major role in weather patterns that develop over the Pacific Ocean. The density of clouds is increased by pollutants and this leads to cyclones over the Pacific, hotter air in the summer months, and even more rainfall in the northwestern states. The United States government is keeping a close eye on these changes and urging the Chinese government to continue their war against pollution.
Change Is Coming
The cries for change cannot fall on deaf ears any longer and in typical Chinese fashion, the change has been swift. China's P 2.5 levels dropped an entire 54% last year compared to 2016, and 2018's final numbers are expected to prove to be another success for the government of Xi Jinping. Beijing was required to reduce concentrations of fine particulate matter by 25%. In reality, they have managed to reduce it by 35% between 2014 and 2018. These dramatic reductions were thanks in part to spending billions each year in the war against Beijing's pollution.
The Chinese are organized and their system is reaping the rewards of careful planning. Transparency with citizens has helped. It is possible that the next generation of Chinese citizens may look at clearer skies above the towering buildings of their country's largest metropolitan areas. Overall, China has reduced fine particulate matter pollution by 32% between 2014 and 2018. To put these astonishing gains in perspective, it took the United States a dozen years to reduce pollution by these levels. China has shown it is fierce in its dedication to the war on pollution.
The Chinese Anti-Pollution Industry in the World Economy
Nothing is without its drawbacks and sacrifices. China's immense growth has been beneficial not only to the country itself but also to key allies across the globe. Many economies on earth depend on Chinese goods and their swift production. China continues to implement environmental regulations that are scaling back production and hurting the world economy, the situation has become a double-edged sword as employees, employers and even consumers feel the effects. Finding the right balance between environmental reform and industry volume in China's monster economy is something that concerns us all.
Small cities like Tangshan are not the only ones feeling the effects of environmental reform. Just one hundred and eleven miles west of Tangshan, Beijing is also noticing. Environmental reform is costing the Chinese economy a total of 267 billion yuan a year and those numbers are expected to rise. It is no wonder that some government officials want to ignore international pressure and return to full industrial power, with the world watching this is unlikely. The Chinese government will sooner find solutions to aid its key allies and small governments dependent on Chinese goods, there is a delicate balance at play.
China is doing its best to keep things in check and to balance their economy. Clean energy provides the answer to the future of the Chinese economy and it is a natural move forward. As solar panel prices drop and electric vehicle sales boom, China is leading the way towards a cleaner world, their eye already on the prize. Within China, consumers are also focused on anti-pollution gadgets. Sales of air purifiers in China are expected triple between 2011 and 2021, from 3 million to over 9 million sold each year.
China has led the world in electric vehicle sales since 2015. The government is hoping to reach 7 million sales each year by 2025. They have focused on offering subsidies to electric vehicle manufacturers and have also begun restricting sales on fossil fuel vehicles. China's aggressive move towards clean energy affects the economic markets of other major powers who will need to step up their efforts in order to compete. In just a decade, China could be poised to dictate prices on clean energy at a global level, something unthinkable ten or fifteen years ago.
Power to the People
Chinese citizens played an active role in pressuring the government towards this strong campaign and it will be them who push the way forward. The youth in China are becoming more climate-conscious and within a few decades, the China air pollution tales may be just but a distant memory. The world is changing at a rapid pace and China will not be left behind. Education has also played an active role in curbing China air pollution and surely it will be essential to the future of the country. Economies may feel the impact now but the final result may be better than anything anyone expected.
China has come a long way from a country obsessed with immense production at all costs. Governments around the world have praised the efforts of the Chinese government and are looking forward to the changes while mitigating the current effects. The road will be long and there will be a lot of sacrifices along the way but at least the machine is moving in the right direction. The future of the Earth is at stake and China air pollution has been a nemesis of our planet for decades, one soon to be vanquished. Change is in the hands of those who dare to fight and China is doing just that.