China – Growth at Any Cost? Part I

By | October 23, 2021

The Chinese economy has grown by about 10 percent annually since 1980. The growth has lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. The downside of the rapid growth is large social and regional differences as well as enormous environmental problems. The problems have become so great that the Chinese have reacted in recent years. Countless demonstrations, videos and statements on the internet testify to this. This article will address the environmental issues.

  • What environmental problems is China struggling with?
  • How are economic growth and environmental problems related?
  • Does cleaning technology help?
  • What are the Chinese doing to reduce environmental problems?

2: Nine million bikes in Beijing?

Katie Melua sang a few years ago that there are 9 million bicycles in Beijing. They are not to be seen now. In the past , bicycles dominated the street scene in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Large areas were set aside for bicycle lanes along the avenues, and the bicycle lanes were full of cyclists. When the traffic lights changed to green at the major intersections, hundreds of cyclists started pedaling. There were occasional cars.

Today , the traffic is characterized by motorists – with a few cyclists in between. The bike lanes are filled with cars. The few cyclists who remain sneak between motorized vehicles while being honked at from all sides. They constantly have to dodge cars that turn right on red without taking into account the cyclists’ green. In a paradoxical maneuver, the authorities in Beijing have recently introduced public bicycle lending of the same type as in Oslo and other European cities. The purpose is to get more people to cycle and fewer to use a car.

The history of bicycles in Beijing illustrates many aspects of economic growth in China. Being a cyclist in the country has never really been a romantic experience for anyone other than the summer tourists. In Beijing, the winter weather can be freezing for long periods and uncomfortable for cyclists. Even if some people cycle to work or school in Norway, the large mass of cyclists in China was a sign that people had no other choice – it is a sign of poverty . Economic growth has made it possible for the Chinese to take a car and bus to work while the bicycle is at home.

But the economic growth in the form of many more cars and buses has also brought pollution. The people of Beijing really noticed the pollution a few months ago. Then the air became full of tiny pollutant particles, which penetrate deep into the lungs and destroy health. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the concentration of tiny particles should not be higher than 25 . In January 2013, the concentration in Beijing was almost 1000! This is the concrete background for bicycles now being put on loan: the pollution is literally suffocating the city of millions.

3: Economic growth has a front and a back

The history of bicycles in Beijing illustrates that economic growth has a front and a back. The front page consists of people becoming less poor, and some becoming wealthy. Between 400 and 600 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty since 1980. That is fantastic. Economic growth in China has thus been around 10 per cent a year from 1978 until today.

That is, China today produces about 28 times as much goods and services as it did then. 28 times as much! The population has risen somewhat, but still this is a considerable increase for every Chinese. The flip side of economic growth consists of environmental problems and other problems that arise.

4: Chinese environmental problems

According to HANDBAGPICKS, China’s greenhouse gas emissions are by far the largest in the world. The BP Statistical Review of World Energy is a good source to find out how big they are. According to BP, China’s energy – related emissions in 2012 were 60 percent higher than emissions in the US and 30 percent higher than the total emissions in what is called Europe and Eurasia. Eurasia includes Russia. Emissions were five times higher than in India, a country with almost as many people as China. China’s emissions per person have also become large – they are on a par with emissions per person in the EU, although they have some way to go before they reach emissions per person in the US.

Greenhouse gas emissions are special because they destroy the whole world – they have global consequences. Most other environmental problems affect nationally or regionally . The most important example of national and regional environmental problems is probably emissions of tiny particles of the type that hit Beijing in the winter of 2013. These emissions are measured by the indicator PM2.5, particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. One micrometer is one thousandth of a millimeter and the particles are so small that they can only be seen under electronic microscopes.

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