China's Top 6 Environmental Concerns

China is facing several huge environmental crises.

Air pollution

A pollution rating above 300 means the air is unsafe to breathe. Under these conditions, people should stay indoors with an air purifier running and stay still. In Beijing, readings above 500 are common.

Most experts think the air pollution is mainly a result of the coal-burning electrical plants that power China's economic growth. China burns 47 percent of the world's coal.

Water pollution

More than half of China's surface water is so polluted it is not safe to drink, and one-quarter of it is so polluted it cannot be used for industrial purposes. Nearly all the underground water for irrigating farmland is polluted.

Examples of issues:

  • A chemical accident leaked benzene, a known cancer-causing agent, into a river.
  • Another river is black with sludge from a shoe factory.


Much of China has been cleared of forests so that the land could be used for agriculture. Destruction of vegetative land cover results in a landscape defined by bare soil and rock. This is called desertification, and it leads to dust storms, mud-choked rivers, and eroded topsoil.

Desertification causes the loss of land for farming. This has caused farmers to become "eco-migrants," who are forced to leave their homelands because their agricultural lifestyle is no longer an option.


Deforestation and desertification mean that animals lose their natural habitats and biodiversity drops. Huge areas of forest are cleared for farmland, bamboo plantations, timber, and fuel wood.

Endangered animals like pandas struggle to survive. Elephants are killed for ivory, rhinos for their horns, and tigers for their bones. Sharks are hunted for the Chinese delicacy known as shark fin soup.

Cancer villages

China's reckless disregard for environmental and public health has given rise to "cancer villages," entire abandoned towns that are so polluted that simply living there is a cancer risk. Individuals and groups have campaigned desperately to force the government to acknowledge the high rates of cancer in these villages, usually located next to heavy industrial complexes.

Population growth

China still is home to about 1.3 billion people — over one-seventh of the planet's people. China's one-child policy has kept the country's population from growing even larger.

China's middle class is becoming wealthy and adopting Western-style consumer patterns. Red meat, liquor and automobiles were once considered forbidden luxuries. Now more families can now afford them.

Source: China's Top 6 Environmental Concerns
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