Why China is heading for environmental catastrophe – MoneyWeek

Thestreetsemptied,theairportclosed,thetrafficslowedtoacrawl。

Peoplewithrespiratoryproblemsstruggledforbreathasamonsterstruckthewind-dusttempestknownasFengChenbaotheyellowdragon。

FengChenbaowasoncebelievedtobeaportentofchaosunderheavenintheMiddleKingdom–signallingtheprospectoffamine,pestilenceandanarchy。

Andtoday,Chineseagricultureisindeedfacingthemotherofallcrises。

Alethalcombinationofglobalwarming,drought,recklessfarmingpractices,andmassirrigationhasturnedvastswathesoflandintosaltywastelandsanddesert。

Chinascrises:toxicsandstorms

EveryyearbetweenMarchandJune,Beijingregularlysuffersfromthe‘yellowouts’ofFengChenbao。

ThesehugeplumesoftoxicgritarebornintheGobidesertduringthedryandwindyseason。

Theyformachockingpallastheypickupheavymetalparticlesandcarcinogens,suchasdioxins,astheypassoverChina’sindustrialregions。

Eachspring,theyhurlmillionsoftonnesofsandnotjustatChinabutatNorthandSouthKoreaandJapanaswell。

Indeed,theKoreanEnvironmentalInstituteputsthedamagecausedinKoreaaloneatnearly$5bnayear,andreckonsnearly2millionpeoplebecomeillduringthesandstormseason。

ThestormsdonotstopinEastAsiathough。

TheyoftenmakeitallthewayacrossthePacifictothewesternUnitedStates,andhavebeenknowntomakeitasfarastheAtlantic–travellingafullhalfwayaroundtheworld。

Thisisnowatremendousproblem。

AccordingtotheUnitedNationsEnvironmentProtectionProgrammetherearenowfivetimesasmanytoxicsandstormsblowingacrossnortheastAsiaeachSpringthanwasthecaseinthe1950s,andit’sworseningfurtherwithincreasingdesertificationinChina。

Intotal,athirdoftheworld’sarablelandisalreadybeingaffected。

Chinascrises:desertification

WhyisChinaturningtodesert?

Theprocessisnothingnewinitself。

Inthe4thcenturyBCthephilosopherMenciuswroteaboutitanditshumancauses,includingtreecuttingandover-grazing。

ButtherateatwhichChinaandIndiaaregrowingrapidlycreateshugeproblemsforglobalagriculture。

Itiswidelyknownthatpoorpeopleincreasetheirconsumptionofmeatatagreaterratewitheachincreaseinincome。

Thisputsincreasingdemandsonarableland。

Cowsbredformeataremuchhungrierandthirstierthanthegrainthatgoesintobreadorrice。

AccordingtotheBBC,akilogramofgrain-fedbeefneedsatleast15cubicmetresofwater。

Akilooflambfromasheepfedongrassneeds10cubicmetres。

Bycomparison,akiloofcerealsneedsonlyfrom0。

4to3cubicmetres。

Butittakes12kilosofgrainforeachkilooffeedlotbeef。

Soitisnotenoughtoproduceincrementallymorefoodforeachnewpersonontheplanet。

Theworldmustnowproduceexponentiallymorefoodforeachnewpersonbecauseofincreasingwealthinthedevelopingworld。

Sofar,thesolutionhasbeentheso-called“greenrevolution”。

Increasinglysophisticatedfertilisersandmoreproductivestrainsofcrophaveenabledtheworld’sfarmerstokeeppacewithitsincreasingpopulation。

However,atbase,thegreenrevolutionhasreliedonover-useofscarcewaterresourcestogrowcropsonalreadydryland。

Chinascrises:drought

Icantstressenoughtheriskofdroughtthedevelopingworldfaces。

Iftheworld’swaterwerecompressedintoasinglegallon,only4ounceswouldbefresh。

Ofthat,onlytwodropswouldbeeasilyaccessibleandonlyoneofwhichwouldbeforhumanuse。

Fromthatsingledrop,morethan90%goestoagricultureandindustry。

Whatsmore,newstrainsofwheatandmaizemayimprovecropyields,buttheyarealotthirstierthanoldervarieties。

Thatsincreasinglycounter-productiveasmuchoftheworldturnsaridasaresultofclimatechange。

Thesecropsaresupportedbyirrigationsourcedfromnon-replaceableundergroundwaterreservoirsalongsidethewidespreaduseofnewdamprojects。

Thisishavingadireeffectonglobalwatersupplies,yieldingyetanothersourceofglobalandgeopoliticaldisruptionandcrisis。

Sothespectreofaglobalwatershortageofbiblicalproportionsisduelesstoleakypipesandover-useofgardenhosesthantothegreenrevolution。

Forexample,theSaudishavespentover£20bnpumpingwaterfromanundergroundreservoirtosupplyamillionhectaresoflandinthedeserttogrowwheat。

Foreverytonneofwheatgrown,thegovernmentsupplies3000cubicmetresofwater–oroverthreetimesthenormforwheatcultivation。

Anditallcomesfromwellsthatarenotbeingreplenishedbyrainfall。

Athirdofallirrigationsystemsacrosstheworldusesuchundergroundwater。

Yetwhiletheseone-offsourcesarepumpeddry,farmersinIndia’srainstarvedGujaratregioninsistonraisingdairyherdssotheycanuse2,000litresofwatertoproduceonelitreofmilk!

AgriculturalcrisisinChinaandelsewhere

Inshort,theworld’sagriculturalsystemisbeginningtowarp,threateningtheglobaltradingmechanismandraisingthespectreofwidespreadfamine。

Since1984worldgrainproduction,forexample,hasfailedtokeeppacewithworldpopulationgrowth。

Inthespaceof20yearsit’sfallenfrom343kgsperpersonto303kgs。

Meanwhile,astartling12millionhectares(30macres)offarmlandbecomesun-farmable–anarearoughlyhalfthesizeoftheUK。

FewthinkofChinaasadesertnationbutthat’swhatit’sbecoming。

AccordingtotheChineseMinistryofScienceandTechnologyjust7%ofChina’slandmassisnowsupposedtofeedafifthoftheworld’spopulation。

ThearablelandisconcentratedneartheeastcoastastheGobidesertencroachesfromthenorthwest。

AndaGreatMarchEastreminiscentofMao’sforcedLongMarchcouldbeginastheruralpoorinvadethecitiesoftheEastandSouthcitiesthatarealreadycreakingastheytrytocopewiththecurrentinfluxofpeoplefromthecountry。

ThereareundercoverreportsoftensofthousandsofprotestsintheChinesecountryside,wheremanyimpoverishedandincreasinglydesperatefarmersspendmoretimeclearingawaysandthanfarming。

Theyareunabletoscratchaliving。

Somelocalofficialsarehiringgangsofthugstoquelltheseprotests。

ThereisnearpanicinofficialcirclesinChina,andnotjustbecausetheseduststormsandpollutioningeneralmay‘blot’outtheshowcaseOlympicsin2008。

Thereloomsthemuchmoreseriousprospectofchaosunderheaven。

ByMichaelOrmeforTheDailyReckoning。

YoucanreadmorefromMichaelandmanyothersatwww。

dailyreckoning。

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