China is well ahead of all other countries in terms of its concentration of industries and resulting environmental impact. It is the leading exporter of goods and leading importer of raw materials and scrap. It is not surprising, then, that China has a larger carbon footprint than all other countries, having surpassed the United States a few years ago.
China’s appetite for energy causes them to be the biggest importer of oil and natural gas. Some is used by the large population, but the majority of this imported fuel is directed toward industrial use. It is still cheaper to use coal-fired plants which are the biggest individual emitters of carbon.
The high level of energy consumption is not surprising given that China is the number one manufacturer of all industrial goods. It has a voracious appetite for raw materials, even importing enormous quantities of scrap to recycle for materials. This import has its own carbon footprint. If recycling were accomplished near to where the scrap was trashed, then the environmental costs would be far lower.
China still doesn’t have a very high rate of car use compared to its billion-plus population; however, it still has millions of cars on the road. Furthermore, China’s manufacturers require many heavy trucks to move goods out and raw materials in. The combination of heavy trucks, constant construction, and personal vehicles results in a high level of CO2 pollution just from vehicles. Furthermore, they have a reach across the globe, which includes trucking, heavy machinery and industrial stacks. This means that they have increased carbon footprints in other countries, countries with governments that can’t or won’t stop Chinese pollution.
When the Chinese held the Olympics in 2008, there was an outcry over the pollution there. The Chinese government focused efforts on moving the biggest polluters out of Beijing. They also spent billions to reduce pollution in other ways. As the Olympics grew near, the government exercised its authoritarian muscle by stopping car and truck travel. The World Health Organization was still concerned days away from the opening of the games. The games proceeded despite the environmental hazards. Reduced by China’s standards, the smog was still dense, and athletes and fans felt the effects of the pollution.
What should we do about China’s big carbon footprint? Many concerned scientists have remarked that the U.S. and Europe may restrict their own carbon emissions but the effects will be minimal until these same countries restrict imports from China. Exports create carbon emissions and pollution in China. There is a large carbon footprint due to international air travel that supports Chinese export trade and overseas investments.
China has no incentive to shut down its energy-using, pollution-generating industrial complex. They have a huge population and must find a way to employ them all.
On the one hand, it is easier for the international political powers to deal with China since it administers both the government and the Chinese corporations. On the other hand, as long as the country is dominated by an oppressive government, the people of China cannot affect a change from within. True democratic reforms are needed before a green movement can sprout.
Guest article by Allison, a fun-loving, adventurous being. She is a recent biomedical anthropologist with a keen interest in the environment and renewable energy research. Between her travels, she likes to guest blog about recent events and post on her blog, Musings of a Curious Mind.
Image By IsaacMao