Not a week after China’s Ministry of Construction announced it would be reinstating bike lanes lost to the expansion of roads and the construction of buildings, the market gives us an unmistakable sign that the hunger for cars—and hamburgers—won’t be stopped in the old Bicycle Kingdom: McDonald's and the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, or Sinopec, have just announced plans to turn an unspecified number of the 30,000 gasoline service stations that Sinopec operates nationwide into drive-through McDonald’s outlets. The potential of fulfilling this particular American dream in China—the promise of a car in every garage and a milk shake in every cup holder—is of course a double-whammy for the country’s green prospects. First, China’s unprecedented demand for cars—auto sales grew 30 percent last year, to 5.7 million vehicles—helps make the country the second highest producer of greenhouse gases after the United States, and makes it hard to breathe in cities like Beijing. The McDonald's plan comes alongside Sinopec's other big deal this week: it bought a billion-barrel, $3 billion Siberian oil field from a Russian-British venture, sealing access to Russia's huge energy reserves for China’s fuel-hungry economy.
Meanwhile, the rise of Big Macs in China (which is McDonald’s fastest-growing market) will only contribute to more big waistlines in a country already suffering from deadly weight gains. A 2002 study conducted by the government revealed that the number of overweight people had increased by 39 percent and the number of obese increased by 97 percent since 1992; the incidence of hypertension had increased by 31 percent or 70 million cases since 1991 with 160 million people suffering from high blood pressure. And then there’s the problem of all those hamburger wrappers and all that cattle, the overgrazing of which is held responsible for the desert expansion in the north.
This is a good time to mention the upcoming film Fast Food Nation, based on Eric Schlosser’s best-selling book (See the trailer on YouTube). While the film, starring Ethan Hawke, Greg Kinnear and, yes, Avril Lavigne, doesn’t come out until the autumn, McDonald’s and others are already fighting back (link via Hugg).