China's pollution nightmare is now everyone's pollution nightmare
The environmental disaster springs largely from its emulation of the American way of life – so let's set a better example.
The emergence of China as a dominant economic power is an epochal event, occasioning the most massive and rapid redistribution of the earth's resources in human history. The country has also become a ravenous consumer. Its appetite for raw materials drives up international commodity prices and shipping rates while its middle class, projected to jump to 700 million by 2020, is learning the gratifications of consumerism.
The catch is that China has become not just the world's manufacturer but its despoiler, on a scale as monumental as its economic expansion. A fourth of the country is now desert. More than three-fourths of its forests have disappeared. Each year, uncontrollable underground fires, sometimes triggered by lightning or mining accidents, consume 200 million tons of coal, contributing massively to global warming. A miasma of lead, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other elements of coal-burning and car exhaust hovers over most Chinese cities.
Meanwhile, roughly 70 percent of the world's discarded computers and electronic equipment ends up in China, where it is scavenged for usable parts and then abandoned, polluting soil and groundwater with toxic metals. If unchecked, such devastation will not just put an abrupt end to China's economic growth, but, in concert with other environmentally heedless nations (in particular, the US, India, and Brazil), will cause mortal havoc in societies and ecosystems throughout the world.
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