Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Running into environmental limits

Political power depends upon political stability. Political stability depends upon economic growth. Economic growth depends upon adequate resources. What happens if the resources aren't adequate?

All dried up: Northern China is running out of water, but the government’s remedies are potentially disastrous
CHINA endures choking smog, mass destruction of habitats and food poisoned with heavy metals. But ask an environmentalist what is the country’s biggest problem, and the answer is always the same. “Water is the worst,” says Wang Tao, of the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre in Beijing…

The country uses 600 billion cubic metres (21,200 billion cubic feet) of water a year, or about 400 cubic metres a person—one-quarter of what the average American uses and less than half the international definition of water stress.

The national average hides an even more alarming regional disparity. Four-fifths of China’s water is in the south, notably the Yangzi river basin. Half the people and two-thirds of the farmland are in the north, including the Yellow River basin. Beijing has the sort of water scarcity usually associated with Saudi Arabia: just 100 cubic metres per person a year. The water table under the capital has dropped by 300 metres (nearly 1,000 feet) since the 1970s.

China is using up water at an unsustainable rate. Thanks to overuse, rivers simply disappear… As if that were not bad enough, China is polluting what little water it has left…

In 2009 the World Bank put the overall cost of China’s water crisis at 2.3% of GDP, mostly reflecting damage to health. Water shortages also imperil plans to expand energy production, threatening economic growth…

Rather than making sensible and eminently doable reforms in pricing and water conservation, China is focusing on increasing supplies. For decades the country has been ruled by engineers, many of them hydraulic engineers (including the previous president, Hu Jintao). Partly as a result, Communist leaders have reacted to water problems by building engineering projects on a mind-boggling scale…
The best known such project is… the South-North Water Diversion Project, it will link the Yangzi with the Yellow River, taking water from the humid south to the parched north. When finished, 3,000km of tunnels and canals…

The environmental damage could be immense. The Yangzi river is already seriously polluted…

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