Beginning in the 18th century, the
world has undergone incredible growth in economic development and
industrialization. This growth has in turn fueled increased consumption and has
resulted in heavy pollution and environmental degradation. There is no clearer
examples of this causational relationship than the United States and China.
Boasting the two largest economies in the world, together the US and China are
responsible for emitting nearly fifty-percent of the planet’s carbon dioxide
emissions (Horn, 2013). While China has overtaken the US as the largest CO2
polluter in 2006, the US far surpasses China in pollution per capita.
While no country has been able to
escape the environmental impacts of industrialization, the rapid growth and
speed of China’s rise to a global superpower has been unparalleled, as has been
the environmental ramifications. Beginning in 1979, China implemented economic
reforms and trade liberalizations that have since placed China among the
world’s fastest-growing economies. According to the Chinese government, the
economy 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 energy
consumption. Coal provides 70% of the energy utilized in China (Nova, 2004).
According to International Energy Statistics, China produces and consumes as
much coal as the rest of the world combined, with 49% of the World’s coal
consumption. This is nearly four times as much as the United States, the second
largest consumer of coal at 11% (U.S., 2014). The unchecked burning of coal
leads to a variety of environmental issues including air pollution, carbon
dioxide 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 find
seven out of the world’s 10 most polluted cities (Nova, 2004). While the United
States only constitutes about 5% of the global population, our consumption far
surpasses any other national per capita, and consumes a total of 23% of its
energy. Other countries with large environmental footprints include Qatar,
Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Denmark, with a countries affluence being a
strong indicator of resource consumption (Kahn, 2007).
In China’s relentless pursuit of economic
growth and development, environmental policies and protection fell to the
wayside (Nova, 2004). Wang Jinn, one of China’s leading environmental
researchers put it best, “It is a very awkward situation for the country
because our greatest achievement is our greatest burden” (Kahn, 2007).
Historically, China has had little success with implementing environmental
laws, due to the fear that doing so will come at the expense of economic
growth. Furthermore, in cases of industrialization, traditionally countries do
not become concerned with their environmental impact until after their
economies have matured and their citizens demand such changes. In Communist
China, there is little tolerance for such protests and dissent (Nova, 2004).
Consumption across the world is at a
crisis level, and as China and other countries continue to develop and
experience economic growth, this issue is likely to rise. Unless environmental
policies are put in place to protect the environment, industrialization will
continue to cause environmental degradation and further contribute to global
warming. Furthermore, consumer behavior in developed nations also needs to be
curbed, as it far exceeds sustainability.