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POLI 338 - Edmonds: The Environment in the People's Republic of China 50 Years On.doc

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McGill University
Political Science
POLI 338
Juan Wang

Edmonds – The Environment in the People's Republic of China 50 Years On − must remember doubling of China's population over past half century − also China's rapid economic growth − greater environmental awareness and increased openness − realization that environment can be tool of international diplomacy − increasing importance of environmental protection − overall, China still has not done enough to maintain environmental quality − at time of this article, lacking 'green' transport The Early Years − 1950s: focused on reconstruction and economic growth − view of the times: humans should exploit resources and can conquer nature if armed with Mao Zedong thought − also marked first nature reserve and conservation laws − exploitation accelerated during Great Leap Forward; similarly under Cultural Revolution Birth of Environmental Consciousness − first concerns came through international contact, after PRC sent delegation to first UN Conference on the Human Environment − created national environmental protection organ in 1973 − success in integrated pest management and biogas in 1970s, though largely for economic rather than ecological reasons − saw slide when decollectivization incentivized unsustainable exploitation − Environmental Protection Law in 1979; 'harmonious development' (xietiao fazhan) − implementation fell short − strengthened energy on environmentalism front, but always held back by priority for economic growth Resource Shortages Versus Pollution Resource degradation Most threatening environmental problem is reduction in natural resources. − shrinking of cropland, though slower levels − water shortages, particularly in north China − not likely to be major crisis in short term − reduced vegetation cover; leads to flooding − gap between law and practice − soil erosion − soil fertility dropping, as farmers leave fields fallow for shorter periods to maximize output Nature Conservation − stagnated until legal framework in late 1980s − some species recovering; others remain low or are decreasing − nature reserve officials expected to maximize income from reserve lands, which compromises conservation efforts Pollution − seven major river systems considered badly polluted in 1997 − progress in water pollution control offset by new pollution sources − sulphur dioxide doubled between 1982 and 1997 − all major Chinese city centres have sulphur dioxide exceeding legal limits − tied to dependence on coal − coal as percentage of energy has declined; coal in amount has increased dramatically − energy development strategy “has been more rational” − major issue for future of nuclear power will be whether active anti- nuclear movement will develop − most efforts at renewables goes into hydro-power − dams could lead to own problems − other renewables receiving limited attention − no large-scale use of solar − move away from rail since 1980s toward automobiles has sacrificed air
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