Amidst all of the predictions of China’s inevitable world domination, most China experts agree that it could all be undone by the country’s horrifying environmental problems. Which can be hard to understand: Could a country’s economy really be destroyed by polluted land? In a word, yes. And this chart by designer Damien Woon is a good illustration of why:
Woon’s map appears to be a redrawn version of a chart by The New York Times, and it reveals that a stunning swath of China is threatened by water shortages — which might be the most immediate threat, since without water, economic growth is impossible. (To give some gentle examples: Who’d want to move to Beijing in 2050 if they couldn’t afford to bathe? And how do you feed hundreds of millions more if your arable land is shrinking and your water is gone?) Additionally, deserts are growing, acid rain falls across the land, and tens of millions of people suffer with air quality 2-3 times worse than L.A. Is the country starting to sound post-apocalyptic yet?
And what’s not on the chart is even scarier, as The New York Times reported in a mammoth series, “Choking on Growth.” Pollution appears to kill hundreds of thousands of Chinese a year; the only greater cause of death is smoking. In 2004, China attempted to calculate a “green GDP,” — subtracting environmental costs from overall GDP — and apparently, the results were so threatening politically that the effort was summarily squashed. Protests and riots over degraded farmland are now commonplace.
So when you see news of China’s tremendous investments in green energy, just remember: They have no choice. It’s either find a sustainable path, or suffer from a catastrophe on a scale that dwarfs anything in world history.