Free Custom «Socioeconomic Costs of Environmental Pollution in China» Essay Sample

Free Custom «Socioeconomic Costs of Environmental Pollution in China» Essay Sample

China has demonstrated exuberant – astonishing, even – economic growth in the last several decades. Its GDP has grown from $202 billion in 1980 to about $11.8 trillion today. China has recently overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy and is poised to surpass the US in the nearest future. Yet, the growth of industrial activity underlying China’s economic miracle brings both positive and negative results to the country. Indeed, China’s rapid industrialization is fraught with detrimental effects on its environment. Being the largest CO2 emitter in the world, China faces ecological perdition in the form of polluted air and contaminated water. It, in turn, has a debilitating effect on public health in the country. To cite just one example, life expectancy in the industrial center of China north of the Huai River is 5.5 years lower than in the largely undeveloped China’s south (Albert & Hu 1). Realizing the magnitude of the problem, ordinary Chinese citizens express their dissatisfaction. As a result, social stability in the country is unsettled. Importantly, the socioeconomic costs of environmental pollution in China range further than that. The current paper will explore the socioeconomic toll that environmental pollution has taken on China, focusing on deteriorating public health, social unrest and declining economic productivity. In addition, it will make some recommendations that could help improve the situation. Overall, while the socioeconomic effects of environmental pollution in China are appalling, it is possible to overcome them.


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Before proceeding with the discussion of the socioeconomic effects of environmental pollution in China, it is necessary to look at the scope of the problem first. The problem of environmental degradation in China has attracted the interest of environmentalists, political commentators and laypersons in recent years. Yet, Albert and Hu argue that “the roots of its environmental problem stretch back centuries” (1). Elizabeth Economy also agrees with this point, adding that “China’s current environmental situation is the result not only of policy choices made today but also of attitudes, approaches, and institutions that have evolved over centuries” (2011, 15). During the Maoist era in the mid-20th century, China’s environmental situation was already fragile, even though the country had not yet embarked on the path of industrialization. The nonchalance of Mao and his henchmen largely contributed to China’s environmental degradation. Albert and Hu state that the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping failed to salvage China’s environment (1). Indeed, a barrage of alarmist commentaries regarding China’s environmental problems indicates that Xiaoping’s ecological reforms were ineffective in their basic function.

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As the Xiaoping administration dabbled with reforms, the problem of environmental pollution in China continued to escalate. What is more, the reinvigorated economic growth in the country under the stewardship of Deng Xiaoping only increased the strain on its environment. In addition, for Xiaoping’s successors, economic growth has taken precedence over environmental sustainability. As a result, the situation surrounding environmental pollution in China is alarming today. Owing to economic growth, there are about 154 million cars on the roads of China, up from 27 million in 2004 (Albert & Hu 1). Likewise, Albert and Hu explain, China is rapidly urbanizing in response to economic development, which puts further pressure on the country’s environment. However, the greatest problem, of course, is China’s excessive reliance on coal. Indeed, because the country accounts for about 50% of the world’s coal consumption, it is also the largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet (Albert & Hu 1). Importantly, China’s industry contaminates not only its air, but also its water. Albert and Hu explain that groundwater supplies in over 60% of China’s major cities were either bad or very bad in 2014, while over a quarter of “China’s key rivers are unfit for human contact” (1). Due to the fact that China’s economy continues to grow, albeit at a slower pace than a decade ago, the odds are that the country’s environmental situation will also continue to worsen. It will amplify the already existing socioeconomic costs.

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Given that the links between economic and social issues are often hard to separate in environmental contexts, the socioeconomic costs of environmental pollution in China will be discussed collectively rather than in isolation. The impact of environmental degradation on public health seems to be the most threatening one. Indeed, 300 Chinese cities fared poorly in the air-quality standard measurements conducted by Greenpeace in 2015. Of these 300 cities, Shanghai, Beijing, Xian and Hong Kong acquitted themselves worse than others. The thick smog that commonly enwraps these cities to the point of no visibility is, in fact, a concentration of lethal PM2.5 particles – that is, miniscule particles that have aerodynamic diameter of less than 2.5 microns. Kim explains that PM2.5 particles can reach the alveoli, “damaging the human respiratory system, causing heart disease, bronchitis, asthma, lung cancer and a series of diseases, even increasing people’s premature death risk” (1418). In addition, unsafe drinking water is the result of a broad range of health issues in China, including an estimated 11% of digestive system cancers (Albert & Hu 1). The exact breakdown of all these conditions in China’s vast environmentally inflicted death toll is unknown. However, the combined death toll is apparently ominous. According to the estimates by Rohde and Muller of Berkley Earth, as many as 4,400 Chinese people die every day from breathing toxic air, amounting to 1.6 million casualties of contaminated air annually (11). Greenpeace specialists explain that China’s largest cities and townships, particularly, need to tackle PM2.5 levels to ensure sustainable development:

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Supposing if the four cities [Shanghai, Beijing, Xian and Hong Kong] effectively controlled PM2.5 levels and had met WHO air quality guidelines in 2012, the number of premature deaths would have decreased by at least 81%, while the economic benefits of reducing these premature deaths in the four cities would amount to 875 million USD (“Reduce Air Pollution” 1).

It may sound as a tautology, but economic losses constitute the second largest socioeconomic cost of environmental pollution in China. Paradoxically, environmental catastrophe in China is not only a side-effect of the country’s positive economic performance, but also a factor that stultifies further economic development. Albert and Hu explain that the economic cost of environmental pollution in China varies between 3% and 10% of the country’s GDP annually (1). $875 million calculated by Greenpeace also falls within this range. Such unexpectedly high costs are primarily driven by the decreased productivity, as plants in the industrial centers stand idle on the days when air quality is particularly bad. Part of the budget is used to cover medical expenses associated with the treatment of people whose illnesses are caused by ecological degradation in the country. Similarly, the country loses capital incomes, because environmental problems frighten off potential tourists. There is also no perspective for the development of the outdoor recreation sectors due to the same reason.

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Another economic effect of China’s ecological perdition is the destruction of the hitherto fecund lands. According to Albert and Hu, as many as one million square miles of the country’s landmass are swiftly turning into a desert, “affecting more than 400 million people” (1). In addition to desertification, an estimated 16% of China’s soil is contaminated (Wu & Zhu 28-31). A large rice-growing province of Hunan, for example, has land that is saturated with heavy metals (Brimblecombe, Hara, Houle, & Novak 160). As a corollary of this, Chinese peasants often have poor and unsafe harvests, while those dwelling in the cities do not have enough and reliable food supply. Contaminated food subsequently contributes to the morbidity levels across the country.

Chinese people have a dawning realization that the country’s environmental problems have important ramifications for their economic and social welfare. Even though the Chinese ministries tend to distort, obfuscate or otherwise misreport sensitive statistics, it is difficult to hide the truth, especially when Chinese cities are rank with toxic fumes. Fleeing environmental degradation in their regions, Elizabeth Economy explains, an estimated 20 to 30 million Chinese relocated to other parts of the country in the 1990s alone (2003, 1). As environmental degradation in China is unabated, the peasants continue to displace. In a sense, environmental degradation has been one of the main drivers of urbanization in China. Importantly, the droves of forced migrants who come to the cities increase the strain on amenities and take away jobs from urban citizens. As a result, tensions erupt within communities.

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While some supinely observe the man-induced degradation of China’s ecology, others prefer to take a more virile approach to the problem. Elizabeth Economy cites an example of a massive demonstration of farmers against the construction of the Three Gorges Dam that diverted water from their lands (2003, 1). Albert and Hu explain that the number of “abrupt environmental incidents” increased to 712 cases in 2013, which represents a 31% uptick from 2012 (1). The Chinese government lashes at the first murmurs of dissent, but as the frequency of environmental protests grows, it realizes the need to tackle the problem to avoid further social ferment and the bruising of its credibility.

Thus, realizing the baneful socioeconomic impact of environmental pollution, China has recently launched a war on it. To this end, it has capped coal use, rolled out new technologies, and embarked on the expansion of its renewable energy sector, seeking to tame the energy of the sun and wind. Much to its credit, the government has also imposed stringent new laws that penalize the polluters. It has even more imaginative solutions on the anvil, including carbon-tracking satellites designed to track and curtail carbon emissions (Chen 1) and mist cannons designed to disperse smog particles (Shi 1). At the same time, however, the country’s leadership is trying to conceal information about the scope of the country’s environmental problems from the populace (Levin 1). Hence, it is important that the government should permit greater public access to air quality and water quality readings. Likewise, because the bulk of China’s pollutants, such as soot, sulphur dioxide and other air pollutants, are mainly the products of burning coal, it is imperative to decrease the coal consumption in China. New sources of electricity generation would lessen the strain on the country’s fragile environment.

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In conclusion, this paper has shown that China’s environmental degradation is taking heavy toll on its socioeconomic conditions. An estimated 1.6 million Chinese die annually because of the diseases caused by contaminated air and water. Likewise, commentators reckon that environmental pollution dents, either directly or indirectly, China’s GDP from 3% to 10% annually. In addition to lost economic opportunities and deteriorating public health, environmental problems in China disrupt the social situation in the country, forcing millions to relocate and others to organize protests. However, this paper has also shown that, while the socioeconomic effects of environmental pollution in China are appalling, the country’s leadership can successfully mitigate them. In addition to the measures it has already initiated, it needs to permit greater public access to air quality and water quality readings and to commence a more decisive transition to renewable and environmentally friendly sources of energy. In case the Chinese leadership does these, it will manage to minimize the socioeconomic costs of environmental pollution.

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