Some economists predict that during this year, China will surpass Japan to become the second largest economy on earth, behind only the United States. While China continues to propel itself forward in technological and infrastructure advances, they have faced a series or recent natural disasters that some economists believe are deadly, man-made consequences of favoring economic growth over environmental protection. Perhaps they should improve the environment and see how their economy changes.
A recent landslide triggered by heavy rains have claimed the lives of 337 people in Zhouqu County, located in the Gansu province of China. Prior to this incident floods have claimed the lives of at least 1,072 people in China this year. These floods have affected over 140 million Chinese citizens, destroying more than 1 million homes and causing economic losses estimated at almost $31 billion.
Much of the landslide and flooding issues in the Zhouqu County are blamed on over logging affecting a reduce in vegetation that can prevent landslides along with multi-story buildings being constructed too close to rivers.
Excerpt from USA Today Article:
Profits and gross domestic product goals drive local governments and businesses, and “protecting the ecological environment cannot bring them visible profits in the short term,” Jiang said. “Some local governments will consider environmental problems seriously only if the central government intervenes.”
The Chinese public seems to share such sentiment. Before the latest incident, 82.4% of people polled by China Youth Daily believed the recent floods were caused by human neglect. More than 50% said China lacked a long-term plan for flood prevention.
On top of flooding, China recently has suffered water pollution incidents, including a major oil spill. Water is “perhaps the most serious environmental challenge to China’s development,” said analyst Ma Jun, who runs a database recording water pollution in China. “Our economic development is still dependent on the expansion of resource- and pollution-intensive industries.”
Especially at county levels, China’s environmental ministry is understaffed, underpaid and under-equipped, Ma said. “They are hamstrung by local officials who are keen to see GDP growth and put it ahead of environmental protection,” he said. “It will take time to strengthen enforcement, but we can’t wait, our environment can’t wait.”
As part of efforts to improve the environment and meet energy-efficiency targets, China on Sunday ordered the closing of 2,087 steel and cement mills and other factories with low energy efficiency, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
In recent years, China has discussed concepts such as “Green GDP” and the idea of evaluating officials not solely on GDP growth but also using ecological indicators, “but it hasn’t happened yet,” Wen Bo said. “Those who promote unsustainable development and short-term economic growth get promoted and push aside the ecological agenda,” he said. “We need a serious review of what happened this summer. Conserving the natural environment is an investment in your own national assets.”
While the ideal formula on how to balance economic growth while protecting the environment will continue to evolve. It is a positive step that leading nations are recognizing the effort needs to be made now to reach the goal of fostering economic growth while sustaining a healthy environment for its citizens and the earth. With China’s recent closing of over 2,000 facilities with low energy efficiency, it will be interesting to see if LEED standards are continually integrated into the building industry for new construction. After all, this is one of the best ways to meet energy-efficiency targets and improve the environment.