A World Unknown will be a two part series about how environmental change may affect geopolitics. See Part II here!
We start in China – the country that could turn into the next Syria in the coming decades.
First time I went to China, I lived in Shanghai. It was a strange time; full of me trying to figure out how to use squat toilets, getting used to my food looking at me, and – of course – the pollution.
However, the second time I went to China, I was an environmental researcher. It was a much more depressing time.
Look to the picture to the right. This is Yuncheng; a city I visited as a researcher. It was a boring little town where simply being not-ethnically-Chinese made you an instant walking tourist attraction for the citizens (though it was only ‘little’ by Chinese standards, since it actually had 5+ million people living in it). Little would you know, but there is a Mountain Range mere miles away. Rather than being ‘fog’ as commonly claimed by the the Chinese Communist Party, it is in fact pollution...
.Here’s one: a Chinese coal plant. They have two to three times as many coal plants as the US does.
Would you want to go to this school – literally right next to a coal plant?
China’s addiction to coal isn’t news to anyone. But this maybe: According to a Berkeley Earth, the pollution kills 4,400 people a day, thus around 1.6 million people in China per year. That is the equivalent to the USA losing the entire population of Idaho every single year.
Whether all of this is new to you, or none of it is, here is a disturbing trend that few know.
This is a Chinese farm, and the caves in the mountain are the houses of the farmers. Yes, they literally live in mud caves. Notice the orangeness of the soil? That’s due to the clay in the soil. This does three things:
A) it makes the soil very fertile, which is good.
B) it makes erosion very easy, and C) it causes the soil to ‘wear out’ quickly.
Case in point, look to the picture below. See the wall of soil and the tilled land? Yeah, that’s mostly caused by erosion due to farming. According to the Guardian, due to erosion China will lose 40% of its breadbasket and 100 million people will lose the land beneath their homes.
Only adding to the burden of soil erosion is desertification. According to The New York Times, since 1975 China has lost 21,000 square miles to their encroaching deserts. This is an area slightly smaller than West Virginia.
However, as bad as all this is, there is still one thing that may top the charts of bad news for China. As reported by McKinsey & Others, China’s aggregate 2030 demand for water will be 818 billion cubic meters, yet their projected supply will only be 619 billion cubic meters. That’s a 200 billion cubic meter (or 52,000,000,000,000 gallon) shortfall – that’s the equivalent of more than half of all Americans no longer having water. It is easy enough to import food, but not so for water. Not even desalination can reasonably solve this coming problem.
So why does this matter? They are on the opposite side of the world from us – so why should we be concerned?
First off, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have a documented history of cruelty, and if a government can be cruel to its own people, then it can easily be cruel to others. For instance, there is a religious group in China called Falun Gong – think of them as the Mormons of Buddhism, they’re peaceful, nice, and are not going to hurt anyone. As of 2016, up to 1.5 million Falun Gong practitioners have been sent to human slaughterhouses to have their organs harvested for the CCP. That’s more than the number of souls lost in Auschwitz (1.1 million). If the CCP are willing to do that to their own people, I hate to see what they do to us or our friends – especially when they start running out of water and soil. If you want to know more about Falun Gong, check out a video here or at the bottom of the page.
If a drought partly caused today’s Syria, then what could running out of water and arable soil do to China? Or what could the cancerous dome of smog do to China? Could China become tomorrow’s Syria? Frightening to imagine.
Think it’s unlikely?
Possibly. Technology could save them, somehow, yet putting blind faith into technology doesn’t always work out. Let’s put their situation into context: imagine the USA, turn all of the great plains into infertile mountains, all of California and the West Coast into a complete desert, take near half of our water away then pollute the rest of our rivers and wells to the point where most are undrinkable, then make three copies of every American and of every coal plant. We can barely get along now as things are; the Chinese would likely not fare much better.
How long do you think China’s stability will last them if their environment collapses? Even if they don’t collapse – what damage could just instability cause? Leave your comments below! Until next time, where we’ll be in Taiwan!
For those interested in learning more about Falun Gong:
For those interested in learning about life under a dome of smog: