China Being Submerged in Sand: Desertification Spreads 1,300 Square Miles Per Year

china desertification photo

photo: Josh Chin

Many TreeHugger readers probably know the now-familiar sobering statistics regarding the nature of China’s economic rise and its toll on the environment: 14,000 new cars on the roads each day, 52,000 miles of roadways under construction, 70% of electricity generated from coal, a new coal-fired electric plant coming online nearly every week; 75% of China’s urban residents breathe polluted air which kills 750,000 people annually; 20% of water used in in urban China lost to leaky pipes. Grim stuff even with the best of spin.

But what really caught my eye in a recent article on is the spread of desertification, aquifer depletion and general land degradation in the country:An Area of Rhode Island Consumed Annually

Cities such as Shanghai and Tianjin have sunk six feet over the past decade and a half as precious underground water reserves are drawn down, causing skyscrapers to tilt and encouraging coastal flooding.

Yet tilting skyscrapers are the least of the cities' concerns. In Beijing, factories, buildings and underground pipelines have all been destroyed by the plundering of underground aquifers and the resultant land subsidence.


Today, China -- which is roughly the same size as the United States -- is almost one-quarter desert, and the desert is advancing at more than 1,300 square miles, approximately the size of the state of Rhode Island, each year.

Entire villages in China's north have been lost, submerged in sand by the encroaching desert. The country's State Forestry Administration estimates that desertification affects 400 million Chinese, many of whom lose the ability to farm their land or graze their animals and join the ranks of the tens of millions of internal environmental refugees, who often migrate to the big cities in search of new homes and jobs.

The original article, Economic Miracle, Environmental Disaster, just goes on describing (as you can take from the title) the laundry list of environmental woes that China has caused in its headlong emulation of the worst of Western capitalism and growthmania.

We Need a New Meaning for ‘Developed’, a New Measurement of Wealth
While far too many of its citizens (as well as the poor throughout the world) can genuinely benefit from economic growth, the means by which this growth is being achieved in China—as well as how it was done previously in the United States and Europe—namely by wholesale destruction of natural capital is simply an unsustainable option.

Though often argued that once China lifts itself out of poverty it can then turn to protecting its environment, at the current rates of degradation there will be no environment left worth protecting by the time its growth fetish is satisfied. Its high time that the meaning of the phrase ‘developed country’, as well as the means by which this development is achieved, gets reevaluated by all nations.

Photos at:
China, Desertification, Pollution
China’s Green Walls Losing the Battle Against Encroaching Deserts
China Issues World’s First ‘Green GDP’: Pollution Cost $64 Billion in 2004 (At Least)
China Celebrates Status As No. 1 Polluter, and Other Doublespeak

Related Content on