Environmental Problems in China


In the era of globalization, the concept of environmental issues has never been as relevant. In its essence, an environmental issue is a harmful effect on the biophysical environment caused by human activities. Moreover, the global biophysical environment is constantly changing, and as it changes, there is a high need for possessing knowledge about different problems surrounding it. While there are many examples of environmental problems around the world, this essay will focus on environmental issues in China and discuss how the example of this country applies to the entire world.

Current Environmental Issues

First, it is important to mention the biggest environmental problems present in the world as a whole. Pollution of water, soil, and the air are one of the largest issues currently since it will take millions of years to restore nature to its primary condition. As globalization moves forward, the number of industrial facilities and motor vehicles increases with each year, polluting the atmosphere. Oil spills, acid rains, and industrial waste also pollute the planet to a large degree. Climate change is another tremendous problem that currently has no specific solutions. Human practices such as the emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere cause the rise in temperature of the water and the surface of the Earth that in turn influence the melting of ice caps and sea levels rises. Moreover, the explosion of the population causes a shortage of natural resources as well as the damage of food through unethical practices such as the usage of chemical fertilizers. While the list of current global environmental problems is endless, the key problems allow for a better understanding of the disastrous state that the planet is in currently.

Environmental Destruction in China

When discussing environmental problems in China, one may assert that the country is the epitome of what environmental issues stand for on a global scale. Despite the assertions that environmental problems such as climate change were a Chinese hoax, the government of the country is currently putting extra effort into communicating its climate change challenges to the world and making sure that the problem does not go unnoticed (Wong, 2016). The environmental crisis is China can be considered as ‘payment’ for the rapid industrialization and economic rise that encouraged the country to abandon the principles of environmentalism to sustain growth and expand the manufacturing capabilities. The creation of plants that lead to emissions of carbon into the atmosphere is what made China one of the largest sources of carbon emissions on the planet (Albert & Xu, 2016), with the quality of air failing to meet the global standards for health.

Because of the air pollution and poor quality of water, the life expectancy of the population living north of the Huai River is 5.5 years lower compared to the population living south of the river (Albert & Xu, 2016). Scarcity and water contamination significantly affect the deterioration of the land while the environmental degradation of the country is currently posing a great challenge of undermining economic and social growth. Moreover, the environmental instability harmed the position of China in the international arena as well as put the domestic stability in danger due to the dissatisfaction of the population. However, in the recent decade, the Chinese authorities have been more determined to implement radical changes in order to prevent the degradation of the environment from progressing further. The example of China can be applied to the rest of the world since many countries forget about the importance of environmental sustainability for the sake of economic growth, which often leads to consequences that may be impossible to overturn.

Despite the fact that the main causes of environmental problems in China are the acceleration of the economic growth and the devastation of the natural resources, the core of the environmental problems in the country can be traced back centuries ago. The leaders of the Chinese dynasties used to exploit the natural resources in order to develop the Chinese economy; this often led to natural disasters, as mentioned by Elizabeth Economy (2010) in her book The river runs back: The environmental challenge to China’s future. According to her, the current environmental problems surrounding China did not only result from choices in terms of policies but also from the overall approaches, attitudes towards the issue of environmentalism, as well as institutionalized exhaustion of the natural resources (Economy, 2010).

Only in the 1970’s China began its way towards establishing institutions to control the natural conditions and enforce policies to prevent environmental problems from occurring. Despite this, the environmental policies are still being enforced at the local level (Albert & Xu, 2016) so that the officials have an opportunity to prioritize the economic objectives of the country over the concerns about the environmental problems. Therefore, while the government communicated some vague goals as to the improvement of China’s ecology, actual changes will only be possible when the policies will address the bureaucratic structures and revisit the state-market relations (Albert & Xu, 2016).

Price of Environmental Damage

As mentioned in Climate Disruption: The Movie (2016), natural disasters such as exhaustion of natural resources, pollution, and overpopulation may contribute to the extinction of humans by 2030. While such a prospect seems far-fetched, the current state of affairs with regards to the global environment suggests that extinction is possible if the global community does not take action. If to review the current situation in China in greater detail, one may find that the country is on the verge of a massive ecological disaster. For example, in January 2012 the city of Beijing experienced the so-called “airpocalypse” (Albert & Xu, 2016), which was a prolonged bout of severe smog that emitted hazardous particles in the air at the concentration of 40 times higher than WHO allows. Furthermore, the analysis and monitoring of the air quality in Chine showed that up to eighty percent of the populated cities do not meet the national standards for the allowed levels of pollution. To address the country’s air pollution problems, the Asian Development Bank loaned the Chinese government $300 million.

Apart from the poor quality of air, China is also dealing with pollution and depletion of water. This is especially dangerous since the country holds only seven percent of the world’s resources of freshwater, but its population makes up twenty percent of the entire population of the planet (United Nations, 2014). It has been estimated that two-thirds of Chinese cities struggle with water shortages while seventy percent of the entire supply of water is used for agriculture and twenty percent is used in the coal industry, forcing the nation to survive on only ten percent of available freshwater. The lack of appropriate waste removal practices in China caused the pollution of the majority of groundwater supplies while negligent farming, climate change, and overgrazing turned “much of China’s arable land into the desert” (Albert & Xu, 2016, para. 14). Pollution and desertification have significantly undermined the country’s industrial output and prevented it from producing fresh food and drinkable water, which are vital for the survival of the nation.


The current environmental situation in China should become an alarming example for the rest of the world to start taking the issue of environmentalism seriously. The costs of environmental damage are high not only in terms of finance but also regarding the value of human and animal life. The example of China suggests that in a race for economic growth and the expansion of industrial capabilities a country can cause significant damage to the environment and will have to pay the price higher than millions of dollars. Unfortunately, the environmental exhaustion of the planet cannot be fully restored by the introduction of environmental policies or the investment of funds since some natural resources have been depleted to the extent that will not allow for complete renewal. The environmental problems experienced by China today are paying for human greed and the desire to dominate nature through industrialization; however, the time has come for the global community to pay for its action. It has never been as important as now to promote the ideas of environmentalism, support the nature on the legislative level and make a dramatic shift in mindset away from economic growth and toward sustainable practices and the conservation of nature.


Albert, E., & Xu, B. (2016). China’s environmental crisis. Web.

Climate Disruption: The Movie. (2016) [Video file]. Web.

Economy, E. (2010). The river runs back: The environmental challenge to China’s future. Sage House: Cornell University Press.

United Nations. (2014). Water and energy sustainability: Information brief. Web.

Wong, E. (2016). Trump has called climate change a Chinese Hoax. Beijing says it is anything but. Web.

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