Over 50 Chinese cities are sinking into the ground because of the continuous subsidence of the soil. The excessive consumption of ground water is to blame. As its result, under many Chinese cities, including Beijing, the world’s largest underground funnels have formed. But there are other environmental problems in the country.
In China lakes are evaporating, rivers are drying out, 75 percent of forests have been logged. Because of the destruction of the topsoil the land turns into desert sand that invades cities and even neighboring countries. The country is paying for the unprecedented pace of economic development and a passion for unbridled consumption.
“When I first arrived in Shanghai in 1986, there were only a few high-rise buildings. 20 years later their number grew to 4,000, nearly twice as many as in New York. The area of the construction of offices and residential buildings in Beijing is now equal to the area of three Manhattans.” This is a description from the book of Dr. Karl Gerth, professor of modern Chinese history at Oxford University, As China Goes, So Goes the World.
The comparison with the United States is not accidental: China strives with all its might to “catch up and outrun America,” at least in terms of consumption. In some areas it has already succeeded. Steel and meat consumption is twice higher than in the United States. The consumption of grain and coal is close to these indicators. The Chinese want to live by the American standards, but can you blame them? What will be the consequences of China’s runaway growth?
If the number of cars per capita reaches the U.S. levels here, the Chinese will have to asphalt the area nearly equal to the area of the existing cultivated land. The country’s demand for oil will exceed the volume of the world output, Karl Gerth warned.
In his book, a chapter is devoted to the environmental issues in contemporary China. Their scale is no less impressive than all the other changes in the country over the past twenty years. For example, the increased demand for meat and wool led to the emergence of huge herds of cows, goats and sheep. As a result, the Chinese plains destroyed huge areas of grass. The top layer of soil is loosened, and the dirt is turning to dust and sand. Only in Beijing every year half a million tons of sand is applied. In recent years, the desert swallowed up thousands of settlements.
In fact, China has become the world’s top exporter of dust – tens of millions of tons of dust and soot from China are carried by air currents in the Korea and Japan each year, and even reach the west coast of the United States, says Karl Gerth. Even more frightening in its consequences is the situation with the consumption of water. In March, the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources of the PRC issued a report stating that under more than 50 Chinese cities a permanent subsidence of soil has been registered. Particularly serious is the situation in large cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Hangzhou, Xian.
This process did not begin yesterday, for example, Shanghai in 100 years sank by 3 meters, but in recent years the process has greatly accelerated. Over the past 30 years the earth’s surface in the eastern city of Cangzhou City, Hebei Province fell by 2.4 meters. A local hospital that originally had three stories, turned into a two-story building – part of the building just fell underground. Bridges and railroads are getting destroyed, and cracks appear on houses.
For example, Shanghai has already spent $12 billion to repair the cracked walls, strengthening the foundations and road repairs. Experts name excessive consumption of groundwater the main reason for sinking under the ground. Each year, the country requires more water – for the industry, agriculture and domestic use. 85 percent of the arable lands of the northern China is in need of irrigation, but to get to the water, farmers have to drill wells 300 meters deep.
Karl Gerth mentioned a very impressive fact: over the past 20 years in Hebei Province surrounding Beijing, out of thousands of lakes only a few dozen are left. The water in the rivers is often polluted. Only in the Yangtze – the largest river of Asia – China drops billions of tons of untreated sewage. The price of the Chinese goods is relatively low – including at the expense of neglecting environmental regulations. But the real price that residents pay for the expansion of the global market is immeasurably higher.
For example, today in China one can buy a few cashmere sweaters for $100. In the rest of the world they are much more expensive. The production of one cashmere wool product requires two to three goats. If the number of pastures in China as nearly the same as in the United States, the cattle population is 10 million heads larger, and the number of sheep and goats is larger by 400 million.
As rightly observed by Karl Gerth, millions of cows and goats calmly munching on the grass is not a pastoral, but a thriller. Following the country’s fertile lands, forests are disappearing as well: the growth of exports of wood products has led to the destruction of 75 percent of the forests. The government is trying to limit trees cutting, and these measures make the Chinese look for wood abroad and buy illegally felled timber, mostly from Russia.
All the environmental disasters that China is now experiencing are a direct concern of Russia. Representatives from the Chinese Ministry of Environment have already openly said that in the next decade in China there will be over 150 million environmental migrants or refugees. Where will this army of hungry Chinese immigrants rush? Karl Gerth has no doubt that in Siberia.
In addition to the desert increasing each year by four thousand square kilometers, Chinese cities are threatened by landfills. Around Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing there are no less than seven thousand landfills. 70 percent of all computers and other office equipment discarded in the world emerge in China, where local people – mostly children – are trying to extract valuable metals from them.
Some cities on the border with Hong Kong have turned into the areas of discarded electronics. The findings made by Karl Gerth are pessimistic. The global economy is waiting for China’s future growth. But few people think where this growth leads. After all, China is not an isolated system, and hence its environmental problems one way or another affect the rest of the world.
The scientist doubts that the existing problems in the country will be solved by democracy and openness. China is successfully “eating” its own future. So far it is unclear what could stop this process.
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