Assessing China’s Pollution

March 29, 2017

China has a very serious pollution problem that is causing many problems for its citizens, and for others in the world. Over the past few years China has become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. In 2014 alone, China was responsible for 27 percent of the global emissions. The air quality in China has become so bad that citizens have come to refer to it as an “airpocalypse”. This pollution is having serious effects on the people. As a result of a 2015 red alert for severe population, schools were closed, outdoor construction was stopped, and factory manufacturing was stopped. In that year, 80 percent of China’s cities failed the national small-particle pollution standards. What is causing the growth of pollution? According to Marc Lallanilla, writer of the article “China’s Top 6 Environmental Concerns,” the problems that are accelerating and intensifying China’s pollution are: air pollution, water pollution, desertification, biodiversity, population growth, and cancer villages.

The air pollution in China has become such a severe issue that the pollution is clearly visible simply by looking at the skyline. A pollution rating of 300 is set as the limit of what should not be passed because any higher would be too dangerous to breath. According to the US Embassy of Beijing, the pollution rating in Beijing has passed 300 and has gone as high as 886. It has stopped being unusual for the pollution rating to be above 500. Much of the air pollution is caused by the millions of cars in China and the many manufacturing factories. It has been reported that China burns roughly 47 percent of the world’s coal.

               Another major problem is China’s water pollution. The water pollution in China is so drastic that some rivers, such as the Huangpu River, have dead pigs floating through the water. In January of 2013 there was a chemical accident that leaked benzene, a known cancer-causing agent, into the Huangpu River. Approximately 20 people were hospitalized due to the polluted water. Water should not be the cause of harm to people. The residents in the area were forced to have their drinking water delivered by firetrucks to insure their safety. The water pollution is not just affecting those who need drinking water, it also affects factories and farmland. One quarter of China’s water is too dangerous to be used for industrial purposes. Even the water that China relies on for irrigating their farmlands is 90 percent polluted.

Desertification is the third point of problem in China. Desertification is the destruction of vegetative land that results in landscapes with ruined soil. It is usually caused by dust-storms, muddy rivers, and eroded topsoil. Approximately 1 million square miles of China’s farmland is under desertification. 1 million square miles is about one-quarter of the country’s land surface and is spread across 18 provinces. This loss of workable land has forced farmers to leave their agricultural lifestyle behind.

The fourth major problem in China is its biodiversity. Due to deforestation and desertification there was exponential habitat loss for many species in China. This habitat loss resulted in a drop of biodiversity. Lack of biodiversity can quickly lead to the extinction of a species. Animals such as Pandas are struggling to survive as their habitats are quickly disappearing. These animals could be helped if the amount of deforestation and desertification was brought down.

The fifth issue affecting China’s environment is population growth. China’s population is growing rapidly in spite of the “one-child” policy. A large concern that environmental advocates have for China is the growing affluence of China’s middle class. The middle class is adopting western consuming habits and buying more red meat, cars, and liquor. These items used to be seen as luxuries, but now have become normal for middle class families. With more people buying these items there is more manufacturing happening to make the items, creating more pollution and health risks.

Finally, the sixth and final environmental issue in China is the presence of “cancer villages”. There are multiple towns and villages that have been dubbed as “cancer villages” because these towns are so polluted that merely living in them is a risk of getting cancer. The river that flows through Shangba is filled with cadmium and zinc, both known to cause cancer. This river changes colors from white to orange due to varying types of industrial effluent. A farmer from Shangba, He Shuncai, reported the severities of the population, "All the fish died, even chickens and ducks that drank from the river died. If you put your leg in the water, you'll get rashes and a terrible itch. Last year alone, six people in our village died from cancer and they were in their 30s and 40s." There were many chemicals and heavy metals that have been banned in other countries but are still found throughout China. The first official admission of China’s pollution problems was reported a few years ago saying that there are “some serious cases of health and social problems like the emergence of cancer villages in individual regions.” That report was a step in the right direction, but If we want to make the world a safer, healthier place, then we must address all six of these issues.