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e-Journal

 

China and the Path to Environmental Sustainability
(Released August 2007)

 
  by Ethan Goffman  

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In conjunction with its huge population, China's soaring economy, with the energy and resources it consumes and the pollution it produces, is causing unprecedented environmental strain. Because Chinese industry is relatively energy-inefficient and high-polluting, the stress is all the greater.

In many ways, the Chinese experiment in free market economics has been an enormous success, compressing into a few decades growth comparable to what many countries took centuries to achieve. As Flavin and Gardner explain, "since embarking on economic reforms two decades ago, China's economy has averaged a remarkable 9.5 percent growth rate, doubling in the last decade alone" (3).
Chinese workers in factory
DC coreless motor production in China
Such rapid growth, however, generates a ravenous demand for new energy and materials, particularly when not connected to more efficient resource use: "As China becomes wealthier and more populous, demand for energy-using products and services, including appliances, space heating and cooling, personal and freight transportation, and all the intermediate industrial products needed to produce them, will continue to grow. This presents a fundamental challenge, since, without changes in energy efficiency and energy supply structure, economic growth will drive up energy demand and consequently pollution" (Zhu, 28).

Indeed, China has followed a traditional path of resource-intensive growth, dependent on heavy industry and negligent regarding social and environmental aspects. With its huge population and rapid growth, this has led to tremendous environmental disruption, so that, "over the past 20 years China's economic explosion has created an ecological implosion. Environmental degradation is costing the country nearly 9 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP)" (Turner & Zhi 153). Environmental costs, that is, turn into economic costs, as an unhealthy society cannot work as efficiently as a healthy one, a problem which China has just begun to face seriously.

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