Over the last 40 years, hundreds of millions of people in China have escaped poverty as this enormous nation urbanized and became a manufacturing powerhouse fueled by cheap coal and cheap labor. But this development strategy has imposed enormous environmental costs on the Chinese people. Air pollution levels have soared, rural areas face severe water pollution and food safety continues to be a major concern.
China’s growth strategy also has international consequences. Air pollution from China travels east to Japan, Taiwan and South Korea and across the Pacific to the U.S. west coast. And China’s heavy use of fossil fuel has made it the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, raising the risk of severe climate change.
The Chinese people are well aware of how pollution is eroding their quality of life. The Weibo blogging platform, China’s version of Twitter, features daily discussions about the nation’s environmental challenges. And in Chinese cities, residents are demanding cleaner conditions through their words and their spending choices.