This text is based on a lecture by Sissy Tu to Concerned Students Oslo. She is currently stuying economics at University of Oslo as an exchange student from Beijing, China. In the discussion afterwards she also explained some of the circumstances of daily life at a Chinese University. Unlike at the University of Oslo, and other Norwegian universities, students are not encouraged to engage themselves in idealistic extra-curricular activities. She suggested this as one of the main causes to a general lack of environmental engagement in her home country.
China is one of the biggest countries in the world and is experiencing near to an exponential population growth. Their gross domestic product (GDP), a measurement of a country’s wealth, is the second largest in the world. Their GDP per capita on the other hand was stationary untill it started to grow ecponentially in 2004. It is however less than one 10th of the Norwegian GDP per catipta; this shows first how many people that has to share the wealth in China compared to many other countries, and simoultaneously how limited the financial resources of the average Chinese is.
Due to its industrialization China has a multitude of environmental issues. The issue of airpollution is one of the most visible ones, and maybe the most infamous too. It is extremely severe in the many giant cities all ofer China, Beijing being one of the most affected. It has dangerous health effects. The pollution is more severe in wintertime, and there is a general lack of governmental regulations. The pollution had a peak in January 2013 with an 20-30% increase of respitory illnesses. One of the key issues is regarding the PM2,5 particles. These particles are smaller than 2,5 micrometres, and are so small they can penetrate into the lungs and cause cancer.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) was held in Beijing November 2014. In anticipation of this conference, the Chinese government imposed strict regulations; facotries and industrial plants were temporarily closed and more than 11 million vehicles were forced to avoid central Beijing. This resulted in a clear blue sky above Beijing – a miracle for many! To remove the haze and compat the health damages it chauses is therefore not impossible.
The daily situation in most Chinese cities is completely different. A haze consisting of mainly of concrete dust and smoke from coal fires are blocking the view to the blue sky. The active component to this pollution is for instance the buring of fuel; China alone uses more coal than the rest of the world togheter. Coal is used in agriculture and in industry. A large problem is that the coal used is sub-standard compared to the coal used in other countries. Further the transportation-sector is active in the haze-production, i.e. The compustion from vehicles.
There is also a ‘development’ component which Sissy uses to descripe the result of the recent economic development in China. Whereas many western countries launched their industrial revolution in the late 18-houndreds. The UK started regulating the use of coal shortly after when the environmental impacts were noticed. At this point and untill the 1970s, China was involved in wars and was ruled by harsh economical and cultural politics. The concept of market economy was first introduced in 1978. The economy had previously been regulated by a scheeme of planned economy under the communist regime. At this point the population was dependent on rations to buy food. All of Chinas economical development has therefore happened in a period of 30-some years.
Consequences of this transition from state-lead planning economy and marked economy has for instance been the existence of “zombie-companies”. This is companies that are not sustainable economically, but that state continues to invest money in. This is especailly in the industrial sector of heavy industry. It is estimated that these state investments consitute 2 billion $US. Another isssue is that the oil-companies are in chare of the environmental protection comissions. Another consequence of such a rapid economic growth, is the exchaustion of natural resources.
Economic growth (Y) is ruled by investments (I) + consumption (C) + net export (E). The chinese economy is an investment-led eonomy, with approximately 45% of the GDP growth is from investment. In comparison 20% of the increase in Norway’s economy is due to investment.
As shown, China has a large difference between GDP and GDP per capita. The situation right now in the domestic chinese marked is la lack of demand and thus an overcapacity of produce. In the microscope perspective, this leads to the prices decreasing, and further salaries decreasing as a result. Investment without increased buying-capacity does not result in an economic gain. In the macroperspective, the same economy leads to the exploitation of the environment. Leading from this, another problem with the chinese industry is the lof efficiency despite high investment. The eficciency is estimated to be 32% lower than in other developed countries.
The ultimate question is whether there are any solutions to this issue. The objective should be a sustainable economical development, thus a more efficient industry. So far China has had an extensive growth, which means that the increase of the quantity of output has been dependent on the expansion of the quantity of inputs. Intensive growth is when you use the same amount of input to create a greater output, thus using the same amount of resources, but more effective. This transition from an extensive growth to an intensive one is dependent on technology. In the chinese industrial sector a trend shifting from mass-production to development of technology is visible. Further, a shift to service-based industries (in stead of primary and ssecondary industries – industries based on the harvesting of natural resources and manufacturing products from such) is favorable to the environment.
The environment is categorized as a rival resource, without being excludable. This means that the environment is a “common resource” that up untill now has been free for anyone to use. What we currently are experiencing is that the natural resources on the planet are not infinite. To include this in the economy, many environmentalists have suggested a tax on emissions to introduce a “fee” on the usage of natural resources.
The question remains however, if the Chinese people cares enough about the environment to push for these changes. Due to the cultural revolutions, most intelectuals were killed or forced to flee. This has lead to a lack of higher education in China, and thus the country does not have the same amount of educational institutions as many other countries. The chinese government exercices a large level of control, and freedom of organization is restricted. Is is therefore difficult for people to gather and put pressure on the government. There exists some laws to protect the environment, but these are not in use. The oil companies are exercising a heavy influence on chinese politics, and strengthening the environmental laws is therefore difficult.
Sissy suggest to open up to more power to the market. This could be the end to the “zombie”-companies, and help to intensify the industry to become more efficient in the usage of natural resources. As china is rebuilding its educational institutions, a shift towards technology instead of heavy-industry is also feacible. Lastly, the development will hopefully inspire towards more environmental focus among the population. As the chinese people are noticing the changes and damages to the environment, like the haze, political pressure and hopefully changes hopefully will happen.
This text is written by Åse Rustad Kvisberg, Leader of Concerned Students Oslo.