April 9th, 2013
10:03 AM ET

Why China’s leaders should worry about climate change

By Global Public Square staff

China's rivers have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. First they found thousands of dead pigs in one river. Then they found hundreds of dead ducks in another. And now, entire rivers are going missing. Thousands of them in fact. A new survey has found that China has 28,000 fewer rivers than previously thought. They've been built-upon, overused, and drying up. The study comes from no less an authority than China's Ministry of Water Resources and the National Bureau of Statistics.

Something else has also gone missing in China: clean air. A study out last week shows how air pollution in China led to 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010. A separate study by China's Academy of Environmental Planning found that in the same year, 2010, environmental degradation cost the country $230 billion dollars.

Beijing has tended to address these kinds of issues but never at the expense of slowing down growth in any way. China's leaders seem to feel that issues of pollution and climate change, while troubling, are long-term trends, not immediate threats. The Chinese Communist Party's overriding priority remains growth – and of course its own strength and survival.

That's why there’s a report worth recommending for China's leaders. It's a collection of essays called "The Arab Spring and Climate Change."

In a preface, the Princeton academic Anne-Marie Slaughter makes clear that one can't say climate change caused the Arab Spring. That's too simplistic. But there is now enough proof to show that climate change creates stresses that can trigger social revolution.

Consider some facts from the report.

In 2010, climate-driven factors led to a 33 percent drop in wheat production in Russia and a 19 percent drop in Ukraine. Separate climate events in each case led to a 14 percent drop in Canada's wheat output, and a 9 percent drop in Australia's. As a result, wheat prices doubled in the space of seven months.

Note that the world's top nine wheat importers are all in the Middle East. Seven of them saw political protests leading to civilian deaths in 2011. Because of a truly globalized marketplace, a small regional climate event can now have a large global impact.

Again, there's no direct causality. But the links are increasingly clear. Climatic stresses on the environment can lead to shortages of water or food, which in turn can lead to anything from increased prices to disease. And all this, of course, can and does lead to protests.

If there's one thing China's leaders fear most, it is wide scale protest. It is said that thousands of local protests take place in China every year, most of which the state clamps down on. Beijing can trace many of these protests to climate-related stress, pollution, water supplies, and food production problems.

So far they have never become larger challenges to central authority. Of course, protests didn't grow larger in the Arab world until in 2011, when they did.

Perhaps China's leaders can be convinced to find ways of more sustainable growth. It may turn out to be a simple calculation: prevention is often cheaper than the cure.

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Topics: China • Climate • Environment • What in the World?

soundoff (106 Responses)
  1. Pliny

    They are a nation of THIEVES.

    They deserve what they get.

    April 10, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Reply
    • canucken

      And how exactly was this country founded? Your memory or lack of history is astounding. Lets see, lies to the native populations and then an attempt to completely eradicate them. "Manifest Destiny" – whatever that means and the wars to steal the lands from the West. Slave labor, people forcibly taken and used against their will (Slaves!) to build huge parts of this country. Chinese labor used as slave labor to build the west....the list goes on and on.We're no better.

      April 10, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  2. EvinAR

    If republicans had their way, these stories would be coming from the U.S.

    April 10, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  3. Chris

    I would say let's leverage our food and water and have China eliminate our debt to them, have them stop stealing so many plans and patents, and improve their human rights to their own countrymen. That could be a start to helping them to live.

    April 10, 2013 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  4. ernie boomer

    Where are all the left wing nut jobs to protest this? Oh ya they have no balls and are more then likely funded by the same groups that are doing this to China. But at least we have decent environmental laws here.

    April 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  5. Tony

    China is a DISASTER for the environment all around, between the air and water pollution, the toll on African and Asian wildlife because of ancient "remedies" with Rhino Horn and Tiger bones..its just a mess..not to mention human rights issues, cheap labor which hurts our economy etc etc etc...need I go on? How do we fix all this ???

    April 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  6. Guest

    Climate change? China should worry about this?? Can they control the SUN???
    We are entering a 50 year period of cooling, not warming. Clean air is good. China should clean its air and rivers but there is no such thing as global warming and the climate change is to colder summers and colder winters, not warmer. The next 50 years will see much less sun activity. The sun is the #1 factor in temperatures. All creates less man produce 200 billion tons of Co2 a year. Many produced 6 billion. Man is not warming the planet and the planet is getting cooler via less sun activity..

    April 10, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Reply
    • Dawn

      Pollution is man made period.....don't sugar coat it into something like the changes of the planets or the sun. We are polluting this world.

      April 10, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  7. NOAH


    April 10, 2013 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  8. jeff forsythe

    The brutal Chinese Communist Party is not concerned in the slightest about the condition of its country or its people. The same way the Mafia works, the country is divided up amongst the gangsters who lead the Party and they just keep sneaking billions out of the country. it is far too late for the cruel CCP to make amends for its millions of murderous atrocities and soon it will dissolve and all the criminals that have taken part in this heinous crime against humanity and this Earth will have to pay. This is just my understanding, thank you.

    April 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  9. Dawn

    Boycott products made by polluters

    April 10, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Reply
    • boyamidumb

      Dawn, did u use ur computer or tablet or mobile phone to post this?

      April 10, 2013 at 6:17 pm | Reply
  10. boyamidumb

    Adam, you really display your ignorance so readily? The Chinese were civilized before the rest of the world came down out of the tres. In the last 75 years they have achieved more than probably any other country on the planet. Mistakes? A lot of them. But thy are here for a very long time to come and the wheel has again turned in their direction . They learn fast. What other country has taken on the population bomb that is the root of many of the world's problems. The West'stime time of dominance is over for the present . And I cannot say that our reign is something to be proud of. Time for you to practice your Mandarin.

    April 10, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Reply
  11. Anny

    I have come to the conclusion that we all have a little blame global warming and its consequences and guilt even more politicians who do not slow down.


    April 11, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  12. wludwell

    The New Message from God says: "The climates of the world have now been disrupted, which will bring great havoc upon peoples everywhere, disturbing the natural balance to such an extent that it will produce unfavorable conditions for the human family."

    April 18, 2013 at 9:04 pm | Reply
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