Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
into people's handkerchiefs comes out black, there is not much debate about how horrible
the urban air quality is. 4
China now has the dubious distinction of being home to sixteen of the world's twenty
most-polluted cities, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and mounting economic losses
from health problems, lost worker productivity, and infrastructural damage (Economy
2007, 2004). Beyond its borders, there are significant global implications to China's eco-
nomic rise. In 2007, China surpassed the United States to officially become the world's
largest emitter of carbon dioxide (Vidal and Adam 2007).
These aggregate figures, although dismal, mask several important facts about China's
ergy consumption is still below the global average (Liu 2012:19). With a population of 1.3
billion serving as a denominator in the equation, China's per capita emissions of pollutants
and greenhouse gases are on a par with many lower-middle-income countries; the United
States, meanwhile, remains in first place in terms of per capita emissions. Moreover, cent-
ral policy decisions that support investment in cleaner production have improved energy
efficiency for many of the nation's worst polluters in large-scale industries such as iron and
steel production (Managi and Kaneko 2009). Non-point-source pollution from automobiles
is becoming a greater concern, a trend that will likely continue as car ownership becomes a
hallmark of membership in the middle class in China.
Second, China's manufacturing sector is export oriented, geared toward serving con-
sumer demand in global markets, primarily in the West. That means that low labor costs
and lax environmental enforcement, long China's twin comparative advantages in the glob-
al economy, make it “rational” for foreign corporations and even small companies to loc-
ate their dirtiest facilities in China. Although pollution may be a daily fact of life for most
Chinese citizens, the economic impetus comes largely from consumer demand in countries
with a much higher standard of living. It is a global problem driven by the externalization
of environmental costs from Western countries to developing nations, including China.
Finally, the distribution of energy consumption, both in geographic terms and in so-
cioeconomic terms, is highly uneven. These days the standard of living in cosmopolitan
cities such as Beijing and Shanghai is not appreciably different from that in New York or
London. I wrote early drafts of this topic in a 110-square-meter apartment located in an
upper-middle-class residential complex in northwest Beijing. Like my neighbors, I had re-
liable hot water, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a high-speed Internet connection, and
a television set that was probably larger than I really needed. I can't help comparing this
where I have conducted most of my fieldwork on rural development and where per capita
energy consumption is only about one-third that of the nation's cities. In rural Yunnan, for
example, many villagers lack access to indoor plumbing and have only one or two electric
lightbulbs by which to see at night. Many areas have “leapfrogged” previous generations of
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