Discuss how Gao Daya’s diary helps you understand the environmental problems China faces.
Seven year old Gao Daya’s diary compares life in Bejing to that of the forest commenting on the noise as well as the “dirty things in the air that are bad for our health” (U116, Block 4). Presenting Bejing as a microcosm of China, it provides insight to the environmental problems facing a developing nation. Gao directly comments on air pollution from cars, but industry as well is a contributory factor to the poor air quality in China’s major cities. Gao is a keen environmentalist and talks of conserving electricity and water, recycling and reusing (plastic bottles and paper for example) and is resistant to her family having a car.
Rapid economic growth in China over the past 30 years is resulting in some of the problems alluded to in Gao’s diary; social and economic change including urbanisation, consumerism and changes to land use are major contributors to pollution (both air and water), and an increasing population strains resources such as coal for producing electricity, and food production. For some 3000 years, China was a global leader of technology until the centuries old dynasties were replaced by the republican Kuomintang government in 1912, and subsequently by the Communist party under Mao ZheDong – The People’s Republic of China – in 1949, and following years of civil war and unrest China effectively became a third world country. The fourth largest country in the world, China still has the largest population despite millions of deaths through famine caused by Mao’s promotions of economic growth, for example the Cultural Revolution which introduced agricultural collectivism and state takeover of industry. Following Mao’s death in 1976, the situation gradually began to shift and by 1997 a new government was in control which albeit communist by nature operates a strictly controlled market economy. Using the steering, enabling and contesting economic model (Block 5, p.16), China’s GDP (gross domestic product) now averages 10% per year and 65% of the population have been lifted out of poverty. However, huge and rapid development has huge environmental impacts, as Gao’s diary alluded.
Using a relaxed version of the hukou system (U116, p.37), originally a household registration system devised to prevent movement of people between cities and rural areas, the Chinese government has steered migration into cities, which are often clustered according the goods they manufacture. Migrant labour increases economic output and stimulates industrial expansion and associated services. Between the years 1980 - 2000 approximately 268 million people (U116, p**) migrated from the countryside to the cities, urbanising huge areas, and despite earning more money as migrant workers they are paid considerably less than city dwellers and under hukou they lack the same entitlements and access to services. Most migrant workers eventually return home when they have saved enough money for their purposes (U116, DVD), thus ensuring a constant supply of migrant workers, stable urban wage rates and low production costs. Often living in makeshift accommodation the migratory workforce lack basic sanitation, clean water supplies and waste builds up.
As economic growth has enabled urbanisation and consumerism, so has increased use of natural resources produced unwanted outputs. For example, China produced 42,000 cars in 1990 and by 2004, one million, with 16 million on the road; by 2000 they were the main cause of urban air pollution in China (Council on Foreign Relations, 2008). Fossil fuel burning for electricity production, ever increasing with consumer goods and industrial output, adds to air pollution but also causes acid rain and smog problems in China’s cities. Additionally, greenhouse gas emissions have risen so that 54% of global Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions are produced by China (U116, p.45) which has major implications for global climate...
References: Greenpeace (2012) Press Release Greenpeace Report Predicts Widespread Water Crises Caused by China’s Northwestern Coal Power Bases http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/releases/climate-energy/2012/coal-power-water-crisis (Accessed August 2012)
Council on Foreign Relations (2008) Zissis and Bajoria China’s Environmental Crisis http://www.cfr.org/china/chinas-environmental-crisis/p12608 (Accessed August 2012)
The Open University (2009) U116 Environment: journeys through a changing world,’ Block 4, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
The Open University (2009) U116 Environment: journeys through a changing world,’ DVD, Milton Keynes, The Open University.
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