Will Pollution Kill China’s Growth?

June 29, 2015 by Douglas A. McIntyre

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Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says that pollution will measurably cripple China’s growth. His new book, “Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower,” is filled with warnings about a number of reasons the People’s Republic’s economy will reach the edge of failure soon. His opinion on the matter is one of many. However, his place as a key member of the executive branch and a former head of Goldman Sachs gives his argument special weight.

According to Bloomberg, Paulson recently said during his book tour:

China’s leaders are serious about tackling environmental problems yet could be overwhelmed as hundreds of millions more people flock to cities in coming decades.

China’s leaders “care about climate change and they understand it and are seriously working on it — that’s the good news,” Paulson said Thursday during an event in Seattle. “The bad news is they’ve taken all kinds of actions, but they’ve been blown away by the explosive, breakneck growth.”

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While the gravity of his argument is powerful, it comes later than many others. The film “Under the Dome” highlighted the depth of the pollution problem. After being downloaded from the Internet tens of millions of times, it disappeared.

The China National Environmental Monitoring Center has issued warnings several times in the past year that air pollution reached dangerous levels.

The problem is at least as severe in terms of China’s rivers and land. China’s own Xinhua News Agency recently reported:

The vast swathes of polluted land and contaminated ground water caused by decades of reckless development has left its mark on China: This is a threat that can no longer be ignored.

Officially, 16 percent of China’s soil and nearly 20 percent of farmland is polluted, however, ecologists warn, this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

While China’s central government has said repeatedly it will address the problem, there is scant evidence that car traffic in large cities is throttled permanently, and polluting factories cannot all be shuttered without extreme damage to China’s economy. For the time being, the trouble is largely being unaddressed.

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