China’s industrialisation has created winners and losers. Great economic growth has been matched by the rising pollution of land, water and air, says Crispin Tickell. But can the country now leapfrog over the mistakes of others?
]The industrial revolution came relatively late to China, and its effects have been most marked in the last 40 years. More perhaps than elsewhere, and certainly in a shorter time span, it has profoundly affected the Chinese relationship with the natural environment. With greater political stability, mass development, mass production, mass consumption, mass transport and mass discharge of wastes have transformed China.
As in nineteenth-century Britain, industrialisation in China has created winners and losers, with rising pollution of land, water and air. The population of China has greatly increased, as populations did elsewhere in such circumstances: between 1953 and 2001 it doubled to 1.3 billion, and the urban population tripled in size to almost 500 million. Increase in the number of households has risen by 3.5% a year since 1990. According to Chinese sources, in the 10 years between 1990 and 2001 the consumption of petroleum increased by 100%, that of natural gas by 92%, steel by 143%, copper by 189%, and aluminium by 380%. The transport network of road, rail and air facilities expanded many times and the demand for water, energy and food rose steeply. In the words of the World Watch Institute of Washington DC, “It is as if all of Europe, Russia and North and South America were simultaneously to undertake a century’s worth of economic development in a few decades.” [Full Text]