The Great Wall of China Isn’t Visible From Space, Pollution Is

Credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

To witness first-hand the ever-evolving results of China’s massive economic growth over the last 30+ years is an impressive and simultaneously nerve-wrecking sight. They build buildings at an unfathomable rate, bestowing cities with a super-ability of transformation, constantly condensed into shorter and shorter periods of time. They are among nations investing aggressively in infrastructure, including clean energy, and are producing the greatest farm output of any country in the world. They are also bearing the consequences of their rapid development, particularly and most noticeably in the form of hazardous air quality. Coupled with and compounded by the challenges of climate change, China’s mitigation actions to limit or decrease CO2 emissions thus far have proved insufficient.

The graph below offers a stark contrast between the top two producers of CO2 emissions in the world–China and the U.S..

Though the current situation is grim and hard to swallow, China can and has taken action to cut back on CO2 emissions, including increasing investment in renewable energy from wind turbines and setting a target to generate “15% of energy needs through renewable energy by 2020.” China is also home to the city of Rizhao, a city of roughly three million in Shandong Province, which has been recognized by the United Nations for its habitable environs and, more notably, for its dedication to clean energy generation through large scale solar panel adoption “Rizhao has effectively reduced its energy consumption by 30 percent and achieved annual CO2 savings of 52,860 tonnes from solar water heaters.” (-WFC) 

By providing incentives to residents and educating the public of the benefits of solar power generation, plus the favorable market conditions for consumers seeing a decrease in solar panel prices, the people of Rizhao embraced renewable energy. This success story doesn’t have to remain an isolated exemplar. To take greater steps towards mitigation, China should continue to invest in clean energy solutions, provide incentives for consumers themselves to invest in renewable energy at home, and provide subsidies for clean energy industries. Enforcing stricter regulations for emissions and continuing to focus on decreased coal production will not only aid in improving conditions for those residing in the middle country, it will also assist in turning down the heat worldwide.

Climate change is a battle every single living thing will be impacted by and a challenge we all must tackle through making conscientious decisions about how we consume. China’s scale never ceases to shock me; it is a place unlike any other with a significant contribution of consumers capable of making decisions with widely felt consequences, for better or worse.

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