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ECOLOGICAL PROBLEMS IN CHINA

By Michael Carey (October 7, 2000)
   China is the most densely populated country in the world. The only country that comes close to China is India. As of May 2000, there were 1.2085 billion people in China. Until I took this class I never realized how much we (the western world) are hated by the rest of the world. Many of them see us as the enemy who is trying to keep them in the gutter. The bottom line is that China wants to develop. The question is can the world afford it, and what will be the consequences of the development? One solution is that China should not be allowed, or denied development because the thought is that if they did, it would be a catastrophe. I had a previous professor that said it is just as hot in China as it is here (in Georgia), and how can we say that they cannot have an automobile with an air conditioner? What gives us the right to tell someone that they cannot develop the way we did because if they did, it would destroy the planet? The only reason no one told England they couldn't develop during the Industrial Revolution is because there were no other competitors out there. This is part of the reason China and other developing countries are having such a difficult time. There are simply too many competitors. I feel that China is going to develop, and the rest of the world had better get used to that idea. The focus should be on how they can develop without causing global destruction.

First, we have to look at the starting point of the problem: The population. The population in China has doubled since 1950. It was at this time that the government and the world realized that a major problem was on the horizon, so policies were put into place. The policy that is most famous is the One Child Policy. We have all heard the horrific outcomes of this policy, so I want go into the horrifying facts, except to say that millions of baby girls are being killed because boys are favored more than girls. This policy has been successful, but millions of innocent lives were lost in the process. There were countless articles from major newspapers on the murders. My question is if they value boys more than girls, and they are killing the girls, isn't there going to be a shortage of girls in the near future?

The consequences of development for a country as large as China may be Catastrophic. China's natural resources will be the hardest hit. Pollution is the first topic that comes to mind. China has a high poverty rate, and this leads to contamination of the water. As you know, water is the source of life. I took pictures off the Internet, and it showed how many people share their water with other people and with animals. I found this fascinating because I just read another book for a History class, The Condition of the Working Class in England, by Friedrich Engels. This book talked about how bad living conditions were in the 17th and 18th centuries. Isn't it sad that these living conditions are still taking place in the 21st century? The astounding population of China further destroys the water supply. Pollution of the air as a result of development is another concern of the people. The amount of pollution that would come to the air if China developed factories like the developed world would be unbearable. There are worries about agriculture as well. What will this pollution do to the food supply?

So, what can be done about it? The first solution to be discussed should be the building of the largest dam in the world. Construction of the Three Gorges Dam began in 1997. The dam is being built to divert the Yangtze River. The wall is going to be 600 feet high. The purpose of the dam is to bring Hydropower to the most populated country of the world. Apparently, the event is a realization of a dream that dates back to the early 20th century. The Chinese government feels that the building of the dam is a "great monument in the modernization of our country?(President Jiang Zemin). Upon completion in 2009, the dam will produce a capability of pumping out 18,200 megawatts of electricity from 26 generators, with each equal to a medium sized nuclear reactor. On a side note, I would like to say that only the Nile and Amazon Rivers are longer than the Yangtze.

The Three Gorges Dam has become a very controversial issue in China and around the World. The Chinese government wants to build the dam to ensure China's modernization. The power generated by this water will eliminate much of the pollution in China's air, but at what price? On the surface, it seems like a brilliant plan, but after I researched it further, I found that things might not go very smoothly because although there are many people supporting the project, but there are the same amount if not more people who are opposing it. This could turn out to be a very big problem.

There are two major concerns that people have toward the dam. The first is that of water pollution. I don't see any way that contamination of the water can be avoided. To quote the New York Times, "This will be a cesspool for toxins and human waste" The Chinese government says that they will do everything in their power to ensure safety. Apparently, they haven't been that convincing. Many countries have pulled out of the project. The United States pulled out in 1996 over the concerns of destruction to the environment. This fact helps show how the richer countries try to halt the development of the other countries. Another concern related to the environment is that of the destruction of certain animal life. The gorges serve as homes to many animals, and when the construction takes place, the animals will be forced to flee, or die.

The next concern has to do with geography. In order for the dam to be built, millions of people who live on the Yangtze River are going to be relocated. Many citizens of China say that death will have to come to them before they will give up their homes. There are thousands of protests against this dam. I actually found a petition someone had posted on the Internet that was going to be used for support by those who are opposing the dam. Again, the government says that they will try to make the transition as smooth as possible. In addition to these problems, there will be a huge culture loss with the elimination of the landscape. Chinese artists have been painting pictures of this site for centuries over looking the gorges.

The next plan on development has to do with the importance of sustainable development. The plan is referred to as China's Agenda 21 Plan. China plans to make two changes: One change is a transition from a traditional planned economic system to a socialist market-oriented economic system; and the transition from a resource intensive economic development patters to one which is efficient yet environmentally conscious. In short, this is China's way of sustainable development. This plan was first introduced to the United Nations in 1994. The Chinese government believes this is the best way to ensure a quality environment, and also keep a healthy economy. In addition to the environment, the China Agenda 21 plan also aims at controlling the population. They have already accomplished their 1st goal, which was not to exceed 1.3 billion people by the year 2000. Their next goal is not to exceed 1.4 billion by 2010.

Apparently this plan does not exist only in China. Officials are hoping that China will set a trend, have success with the plan, and that in turn will lead other countries into a Sustainable Direction. China is receiving great praise for its early implementation of the potentially global plan.

Is there a way for China to develop? I honestly do not know. In a perfect world, every country would be equal, but obviously, that perfect world does not exist. First we looked at the size of China's population. The one child policy is nothing but murder in my eyes. There has to be a more moral conscious way of population control. Although there has been some lapse in population growth, I don't know if the goal of Agenda 21 (no more than 1.4 billion in 2010) will be attained. I have to sometimes sit back and realize that we are talking about a country that is not a democracy. The idea of freedom does not exist, so the people do not have a voice in the government. China may continue its success with the implementation of the Agenda 21 plan, but I think that too many things are going against them. As mentioned earlier, when Britain started developing during the Industrial Revolution, there were no other competitors. I just don't know if China can compete on the global market. Last semester I had a geography class, and we had to go home and check where our clothes came from. Not to my surprise, the majority of my clothes came from Asian countries. If this is the only production China is capable of, they are not going to survive. The construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China has also had its share of opposition. There are thousands of protests everyday. Concerns of the environmental effects are causing some investing countries to back out of the project. There has to be some way for China to develop, and also protect the environment. In some ways, I wish the world would just back off and let the countries fend for themselves, but then again, the development of a country like China will greatly effect the rest of the world. Having said that, what if other largely populated countries like India for instance saw China, and they wanted to develop too, could the world survive that development?


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