Ever since Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up policy, which emphasized on rapid industrialization and decentralization, China experienced an economic miracle, ranking 2nd in GDP in the world and lifting millions out of poverty. However, this GDP-above-all rationale which radically improved China’s economy has dealt a huge blow to the environment. For instance, the heavy exploitation of land and natural resources, as well as the reliance on fossil fuels for electricity generation are one of the few sources contributing to China’s environmental destruction. Since the scope of environmental pollution is too large for practical concerns, I shall only be evaluating the impact of air pollution on China’s development in this essay, as air pollution is one of the most dangerous and controversial type of pollution occurring nowadays in China.
Owing to the combustion of coal and malpractices of the heavy industry, air pollution has been ever worsening in China ever since the Reform and Opening Up, however it seems to have worsened drastically for the past decade. For example, smog, a weather phenomenon involving a dense layer of dust suspended in air (mainly PM2.5 and SO2), is bringing disastrous effects to many eastern cities in China, and the problem was brought to light when even the capital, Beijing, succumbed to the heavy smog. According to lecture readings, a mere 22/522 cities in China have good air quality with 55 having seriously unacceptable air quality . Air pollution problem in China has caused various negative impacts to health, economic development and social development.
Firstly, in terms of health implications, severe air pollution has led to deterioration in general health and thus an increased burden on China’s public health system. In fact, air pollution has caused 1.58 million deaths in China in 2016 alone , coming second in the world after India. Air pollution is now the 4th most common cause of death in the world, with 6.1 million deaths in 2016 attributed to air pollution, since it causes serious illnesses like cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Polluted air contains substances such as sulphur dioxide and PM 2.5 suspended particulates, accumulate in the respiratory tract or enter the bloodstream, either as an irritant inducing heart and lung diseases, or even as a carcinogen to induce cancer, resulting in death or affecting child development due to prolonged exposure. Air pollution has also cast doubts on China’s public health system. According to the World Bank, the health expenditure resulted from air pollution accounted for 2% of China’s GDP, mainly because of increased usage of emergency visits in acute cardiopulmonary conditions, which is on the rise partly due to air pollution (as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, etc) . This expenditure is projected to rise as more and more people gradually become sick, forcing the government to allocate more resources into public healthcare. Should China fail to reduce pollution and prevent air pollution-associated illnesses, a huge sum would have to be paid to address public health problems in curing the population.
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