China Eats the World

The last empire, by the numbers

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Per-capita income in China is less than 1/10 of America’s and its per-capita greenhouse gas emission is less than 1/5 of ours. But if 1.3 billion Chinese were to consume at the level Americans do, we’d need several more Earths. China’s effect on world resources, quantified:

China is

  • The world’s largest consumer of coal, grain, fertilizer, cell phones, refrigerators, and televisions
  • The leading importer of iron ore, steel, copper, tin, zinc, aluminum, and nickel
  • The top producer of coal, steel, cement, and 10 kinds of metal
  • The No. 1 importer of illegally logged wood
  • The third-largest producer of cars after Japan and the United States; by 2015, it could be the world’s largest car producer. By 2020, there could be 130 million cars on its roads, compared to 33 million now.

More Facts

  • China produces half of the world’s cameras, 1/3 of its television sets, and 1/3 of all the planet’s garbage.
  • There are towns in China that make 60% of the world’s button supply, 1/2 of all silk neckties, and 1/2 of all fireworks.
  • China uses half of the world’s steel and concrete and will probably construct half of the world’s new buildings over the next decade.
  • Some Chinese factories can fit as many as 200,000 workers.
  • China used 2.5 billion tons of coal in 2006, more than the next three highest-consuming nations—Russia, India, and the United States—combined.
  • It has more than 2,000 coal-fired power plants and puts a new one into operation every 4 to 7 days.
  • Between 2003 and 2006, worldwide coal consumption increased as much as it did in the 23 years before that. China was responsible for 90% of the increase.
  • China became the world’s top carbon dioxide emitter in 2006, overtaking the United States.
  • Russia is China’s largest timber supplier; half of all logging there is illegal. In Indonesia, another timber supplier to China, up to 80% of all logging takes place illegally.
  • 90% of all wood products made in China are consumed in the country, including 45 billion pairs of wooden chopsticks each year.
  • The value of China’s timber-product exports exceeds $17 billion. About 40 percent go to the United States.
  • More than 3/4 of China’s forests have disappeared; 1/4 of the country’s land mass is now desert.
  • Until recently, China was losing a Rhode Island-sized parcel of land to desertification each year.
  • 80% of the Himalayan glaciers that feed Chinese rivers could melt by 2035.
  • In 2005, China’s sulfur-dioxide emissions were nearly twice those of the United States.
  • Acid rain caused by air pollution now affects 1/3 of China’s land.
  • Each year, at least 400,000 Chinese die prematurely of air-pollution-linked respiratory illnesses or diseases.
  • A quarter of a million people die because of motor-vehicle traffic each year—6 times as many as in the United States, even though Americans have 18 times as many cars.
  • Of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, 16 are in China.
  • Half of China’s population—600 to 700 million people—drinks water contaminated with human and animal waste. A billion tons of untreated sewage is dumped into the Yangtze each year.
  • 4/5 of China’s rivers are too polluted to support fish.
  • The Mi Yun reservoir, Beijing’s last remaining reliable source of drinking water, has dropped more than 50 feet since 1993.
  • Overuse of groundwater has caused land subsidence that cost Shanghai alone $12.9 billion in economic losses.
  • Dust storms used to occur once a year. Now, they happen at least 20 times a year.
  • Chinese dust storms can cause haziness and boost particulate matter in the United States, all the way over to Maine.
  • In 2001, a huge Chinese storm dumped 50,000 metric tons of dust on the United States. That’s 2.5 times as much as what U.S. sources produce in a typical day.
  • Currently, up to 36 percent of man-made mercury emissions settling on America originated in Asia.
  • Particulate matter from Asia accounts for nearly half of California’s annual pollution limit.
  • Environmental damage reportedly costs China 10 percent of its GDP. Pollution-related death and disability heath care costs alone are estimated at up to 4 percent of GDP.
  • In 2005, there were 50,000 pollution-related disputes and protests in China.
  • China’s middle class is expected to jump from 100 million people today to 700 million people by 2020.

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HERE ARE THE FACTS:

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As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

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