Social Cost of China’s Boom – Rowan Callick

From the Australian:

Over the past year, I have had to travel out of Xi’an on three occasions, deep into the farmland of province. Once was to talk with farmers about their response to the negotiation of a free trade agreement with Australia. On each occasion, the countryside remained enveloped in a grey fog of pollution, visibility restricted to a couple of hundred metres or so.

I have seen the same shroud in province, too. This is the greatest engine of China’s manufacturing miracle. It is a large area, about 77 per cent the size of Victoria. By no means is it covered in factories, yet I have travelled through the province’s countryside with its rice paddies and banana plantations, by train, bus and taxi, and, as in Shaanxi, never escaped the pollution. It is bad enough to live in cities like that. But how must it feel to be a farmer and still not see the sun or even the sky? [Full text]

The price, though, is more than just aesthetic and psychological. Pollution also has a direct impact on economic capacity, of course. At an apocalyptic level, the more lurid forecasters claim that Beijing will have to be abandoned by the end of the century because of a lack of water, and Shanghai because of rising water levels in part caused by the Three Gorges project.

You develop in an unbridled way, and for every extra dollar you earn, the country pays an extra “X” cents for the cost of increased health problems, for the natural resources used up without being fully priced, for the loss of alternative revenue earners such as tourism or horticulture or fisheries, for the cleaning up of physical waste. [Full text]

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