Monday, November 12, 2007

Another Chinese environmental horror story

Hardly a day goes by without one of the British broadsheets doing the old "in depth" article on the state of tne environment in China. They are worse than second rate bloggers (like this one) for recycling stories.

In fact this is just a rehash of the Elizabeth Economy article that we posted many weeks ago.

Economics of the Environment in China update

However, these articles always make good reading for any dismal scientist as they show nicely how economics may destroy the planet eventually and how economics may be the only thing that can save it.

Toxic cost of China’s success [Times]

China’s environmental problems are mounting. Water pollution and water scarcity are burdening the economy, rising levels of air pollution are endangering the health of millions of Chinese, and much of the country’s land is rapidly turning into desert.

How many times have we read, or have I written, a variation on that paragraph? There is nothing new in this article but some interesting statistics are worth pulling out.

China’s ministry of public health is sounding the alarm. In a survey of 30 cities and 78 counties released in the spring, the ministry blamed worsening air and water pollution for dramatic increases in the incidence of cancer throughout the country: a 19% rise in urban areas and a 23% rise in rural areas since 2005. All along China’s major rivers, villages report skyrocketing rates of diarrhoeal diseases, cancer, tumours, leukaemia and stunted growth.

As economists we would like to control for other things - has China just become better at diagnosing these illnesses? Are more people going to the doctors that previously because (1) there is better education, (2), people can now afford to go to the doctors.

The unsustainability of the current situation is summed up as:

Clearly, something has got to give. The costs of inaction to China’s economy, public health and international reputation are growing. And the government is well aware of the increasing potential for environmental protest to ignite broader social unrest.


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