Image: Haldini via Flickr/CC BY-SA
China is beginning to see the costs of its rapid march towards industrialization -- the heavy industry, coal-fired power plants, and numerous factories have so saturated the air with pollution that cancer is officially now the number one cause of death. Nearly 25% of deaths in China are now attributed to cancer. The Earth Policy Institute gleaned as much from China's own Ministry of Health -- and tragically but unsurprisingly, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in China. EPI reports:
As is common with many countries as they industrialize, the usual plagues of poverty--infectious diseases and high infant mortality--have given way to diseases more often associated with affluence, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. While this might be expected in China's richer cities, where bicycles are fast being traded in for cars and meat consumption is climbing, it also holds true in rural areas. In fact, reports from the countryside reveal a dangerous epidemic of "cancer villages" linked to pollution from some of the very industries propelling China's explosive economy. By pursuing economic growth above all else, China is sacrificing the health of its people, ultimately risking future prosperity.And the number one contributor to that deadly pollution? You get three guesses, and here's a hint. It's also the number one contributor to global climate change. Yep, it's coal, which China burns at a pace that left even the US in the dust some time ago.
Dirty air is associated with not only a number of cancers, but also heart disease, stroke, and respiratory disease, which together account for over 80 percent of deaths countrywide.
Again, EPI explains that "According to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the burning of coal is responsible for 70 percent of the emissions of soot that clouds out the sun in so much of China; 85 percent of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain and smog; and 67 percent of nitrogen oxide, a precursor to harmful ground level ozone. Coal burning is also a major emitter of carcinogens and mercury, a potent neurotoxin."
In other words, coal is literally killing China. As has been noted thousands of times before, the greatest crisis China faces as it becomes an increasingly industrialized, consumption-oriented nation is that of its environment. Air quality is ghastly, lakes once full of fresh water have been turned toxic, and the population is suffering. That recent, massive investments in clean technology indicate China is maneuvering to clean up its act down the line is hardly a consolation -- but at least there are signs that change is in motion.
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