The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a mighty engine of population growth, food production, and economic power. Since 1950, China’s population has more than doubled to 1.3 billion people and life expectancy has greatly increased. Once known for famines, China is now the world leader in many categories of food production including wheat, fruit, and meat. The PRC is the world’s second largest economy— behind only the United States. China is already number one in many industrial factors, such as energy consumption, coal burning, and steel production, and some Chinese leaders want to expand the economy by 400 percent in the next ten years. This new wealth comes with a high price. Many government officials, scholars, and citizens are concerned about China’s worsening environment. American experts are writing of “environmental refugees” and “environmental disaster” in describing one of the “world’s worst environments.”1 Satellite images show massive air pollution over China, and if the situation does not improve, the legitimacy of the central government may be jeopardized. Population growth, an increase in food production, and industrial expansion come with astounding environmental challenges and surprising responses.
China’s Environmental Challenges