Chapter 5: The thirsty dragon
When China opened its doors for the 2008 Olympic Games the world was exposed to the booming metropolis of Beijing – showcased with posh sport palaces, temples, and hotels. People also witnessed what seemed to be an environmentally friendly city. In preparation for the Olympics, China spent US$17 billion implementing green improvement schemes, such as adding thousands of natural gas buses, closing factories, seeding clouds, and planting trees across the city (United Nations 2009). They also diverted more than 150 million cubic meters (40 billion gallons) of water from the Yellow River to help hydrate the drought-stricken capital during the games (Platt 2008). When perspectives are brought into focus, however, the picture is much different. Despite what was seen at the Olympics, the People’s Republic of China is facing enormous environmental challenges. Chinese Environment Minister Zhou Shengxian wrote, “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the deterioration of the environment have become serious bottlenecks constraining economic and social development” (quoted in Jacobs 2011). Respiratory and heart diseases related to air pollution are the leading cause of death in China. And about 40 percent of the water in the country’s river systems is unfit for human consumption. In addition, desertification is sweeping across the country, with the total desert area increasing by about 1000 square miles a year (World Wildlife Foundation 2011).
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