Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
best farmland, rice farming, raw sewage, SO2, Environmental degradation
Environmental degradation is a concern throughout China. Feeding and housing the country’s huge population, which grows by more than 12 million people each year, strain already limited land and water resources. Economic growth also fuels increased demand for those resources.
Among the country’s most serious environmental challenges is the decline of arable farmland. As the population and economy have grown, the demand for new houses, commercial buildings, transportation arteries, factories, and other land uses associated with modernization has caused rapid urban growth. Typically, cities are located in the middle of the best farmland, which is being consumed by urban growth. Population and economic growth also have reduced the habitat for China’s wild animals and native flora. Even areas that were previously inaccessible and remote are now threatened.
Water quality, pollution, and access are also serious environmental issues. In the north and northwest most farmland is irrigated, and in the south, rice farming requires perennial irrigation. As streams become increasingly polluted with pesticides, herbicides, raw sewage, and industrial and urban effluent, the use of irrigation waters becomes ever more problematic. Urban water supplies can be treated to remove solid materials and to kill germs, but other toxic materials may become health threats.
Air pollution is also an increasingly serious problem. Coal supplies nearly three-quarters of China’s energy, but the process of burning coal produces carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and other environmentally harmful emissions. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that collects in the Earth’s atmosphere and traps heat. Sulfur dioxide mixes with moisture in the atmosphere and forms acid rain, which eventually falls to Earth, damaging crops, forests, and streams.
China is installing pollution control devices in some of the largest power and industrial plants. Investing in cleaning up energy supplies and production processes makes economic sense, because the improvements will permit China to consume energy much more efficiently. A decline in China’s huge population would also help reduce China’s pollution problems because there would be less demand for food, energy, and housing. Government policies, particularly those since the late 1970s, have promoted smaller families, and the population growth rate has declined, but the total population will continue to grow for at least the next generation.
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