The environment of a country can be greatly affected by both the structure and authority of a government system. Read the following passage about China's Environmental Crisis and be prepared to complete a quiz on your readings. (You may keep the reading open as your complete the quiz.)
China's Environmental Crisis (Abridged)
Eleanor Albert and Beina Xu
Council of Foreign Relations
Last updated, January 18, 2016
China’s environmental crisis is one of the most pressing challenges to emerge from the country’s rapid industrialization. Its economic rise, in which GDP grew on average 10 percent each year for more than a decade, has come at the expense of its environment and public health. China is the world’s largest source of carbon emissions, and the air quality of many of its major cities fails to meet international health standards... Severe water contamination and scarcity have compounded land deterioration. Environmental degradation threatens to undermine the country’s growth and exhausts public patience with the pace of reform. It has also bruised China’s international standing and endangered domestic stability as the ruling party faces increasing scrutiny and public discontent. More recently, amid waning economic growth, leaders in Beijing appear more determined to institute changes to stem further degradation.
Experts cite water depletion and pollution as among the country’s biggest environmental challenges. China is home to 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its fresh water sources. Overuse and contamination have produced severe shortages, with nearly 70 percent of the country’s water supplies dedicated to agriculture and and 20 percent of supplies used in the coal industry, according to Choke Point: China, an environmental NGO initiative. Approximately two-thirds of China’s roughly 660 cities suffer from water shortages. Former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has said that water shortages challenge “the very survival of the Chinese nation.”
Industry along China’s major water sources has polluted water supplies: In 2014, groundwater supplies in more than 60 percent of major cities were categorized as “bad to very bad,” and more than a quarter of China’s key rivers are “unfit for human contact.” And lack of waste removal and proper processing has exacerbated problems. Combined with negligent farming practices, overgrazing, and the effects of climate change, the water crisis has turned much of China’s arable land into desert. About 1.05 million square miles of China’s landmass are undergoing desertification, affecting more than 400 million people, according to the deputy head of China’s State Forestry Administration. Water scarcity, pollution, and desertification are reducing China’s ability to sustain its industrial output and produce food and drinkable water for its large population.
Environmental damage has cost China dearly, but the greatest collateral damage for the ruling Communist Party has likely been growing social unrest. Demonstrations have increased as citizens gain awareness of the health threats and means of organized protest (often using social media). In 2013, Chen Jiping, former leading member of the party’s Committee of Political and Legislative Affairs said that environmental issues are a major reason for “mass incidents” in China—unofficial gatherings of one hundred or more that range from peaceful protest to rioting. Environmental protests in rural and urban areas alike—such as those in Guangdong, Shanghai, Ningbo, and Kunming—are increasing in frequency. The number of “abrupt environmental incidents”, including protests, in 2013 rose to 712 cases, a 31 percent uptick from the previous year.
The internet has played a crucial role in allowing citizens to spread information about the environment, placing additional political pressure on the government. In March 2015, Under the Dome, a TED Talk-style documentary on China’s air pollution, went viral, attracting hundreds of thousands of views before internet censors blocked access, and in 2013 the discovery of thousands of dead pigs in the Huangpu river also spread rapidly online. However, experts say the jury is still out on the current government will implement meaningful reforms, which has shown more resolve in cracking down on public dissent than implementing environmental measures.