Beginning in the 18th century, theworld has undergone incredible growth in economic development andindustrialization. This growth has in turn fueled increased consumption and hasresulted in heavy pollution and environmental degradation. There is no clearerexamples of this causational relationship than the United States and China.Boasting the two largest economies in the world, together the US and China areresponsible for emitting nearly fifty-percent of the planet’s carbon dioxideemissions (Horn, 2013). While China has overtaken the US as the largest CO2polluter in 2006, the US far surpasses China in pollution per capita. While no country has been able toescape the environmental impacts of industrialization, the rapid growth andspeed of China’s rise to a global superpower has been unparalleled, as has beenthe environmental ramifications.
Beginning in 1979, China implemented economicreforms and trade liberalizations that have since placed China among theworld’s fastest-growing economies. According to the Chinese government, theeconomy has grown at a rate of eight percent every year for more than 20 years.The average income has quadrupled, and even surpassing that is energyconsumption. Coal provides 70% of the energy utilized in China (Nova, 2004).
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According to International Energy Statistics, China produces and consumes asmuch coal as the rest of the world combined, with 49% of the World’s coalconsumption. This is nearly four times as much as the United States, the secondlargest consumer of coal at 11% (U.S., 2014). The unchecked burning of coalleads to a variety of environmental issues including air pollution, carbondioxide emissions, as well as impacting the land and water (Dahlman, 2015).
This is clearly exemplified in China, where according to the U.N. one can findseven out of the world’s 10 most polluted cities (Nova, 2004). While the UnitedStates only constitutes about 5% of the global population, our consumption farsurpasses any other national per capita, and consumes a total of 23% of itsenergy. Other countries with large environmental footprints include Qatar,Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Denmark, with a countries affluence being astrong indicator of resource consumption (Kahn, 2007).
In China’s relentless pursuit of economicgrowth and development, environmental policies and protection fell to thewayside (Nova, 2004). Wang Jinn, one of China’s leading environmentalresearchers put it best, “It is a very awkward situation for the countrybecause our greatest achievement is our greatest burden” (Kahn, 2007).Historically, China has had little success with implementing environmentallaws, due to the fear that doing so will come at the expense of economicgrowth.
Furthermore, in cases of industrialization, traditionally countries donot become concerned with their environmental impact until after theireconomies have matured and their citizens demand such changes. In CommunistChina, there is little tolerance for such protests and dissent (Nova, 2004). Consumption across the world is at acrisis level, and as China and other countries continue to develop andexperience economic growth, this issue is likely to rise. Unless environmentalpolicies are put in place to protect the environment, industrialization willcontinue to cause environmental degradation and further contribute to globalwarming. Furthermore, consumer behavior in developed nations also needs to becurbed, as it far exceeds sustainability.