Population and environmental

China as we all know is a large country in terms of physical size and also in terms of population. China is about the same size as the United States but with over four times as many people so you know that when we complain about population issues and the resource and environmental issues we have that China must have some serious problems. The physical geography and location of China is a cause of these problems but there should have been someone years ago who realized the restrictions they would face if the land wasn't put to proper use. My goal is to firstly somewhat briefly explain the physical geography of China and its' restrictions and then related the effects of a growing population and the location of the population and relate it to the environmental issues of the country and to determine if any advancements have been made in resource use or awareness.

China's geographic makeup is somewhat unique. It sits at about the same latitude as the United States and is about the same size. Both countries have a large eastern and south eastern seaboard. In the US we have reasonably large amounts of arable land being able to farm in almost any region of our country. The amount of arable land is one eighth the size of the US. One reason behind this is the land makeup. Most of the arable land in China lies in the eastern half. These are the areas where the land, elevation and weather are somewhat reasonable. As you move west the elevations increase in an almost stair-like fashion, the soils become less fertile and the weather does not permit reasonable living or farming conditions. It is much too cold and dry in the northwest to farm with any real productivity. The high mountains that prevent any moisture from entering make it cold and dry. The north contains desert like regions. The geography leads to the high density of population in the east which means that everyone is trying to exploit the same parts of land and eventually that land will not be able to endure anymore. In relation to arable land are the rivers in terms of importance to the country. The areas around the rivers are home a large amount of population as well due to the importance of this supply to farm land and all forms of life in general.

When looking at population, China has realized that its boom from 800 million citizens to about 1.3 billion in the matter of a few decades was a problem. They realized that the farm lands and natural resources would not be able to sustain these kinds of increases without severe negative effects taking place. In 1979 the Chinese government took action to attempt to slow the population growth rate by enacting the One-child policy in hopes of lowering family sizes. It has worked so far as birthrates have dropped from "over 3 births per woman in 1980 to about 1.8 in 2008. The Chinese government estimates that it has three to four-hundred million fewer people in 2008 due to the one-child policy" (Holley). The large Chinese population has led to the belief that rapid urban and industrial development is needed to sustain these growths. The problems that come with this development are those of industrial waste, pollution, and degradation of the natural resources. The rapid increase in development led o a massive increase in energy consumption which is primarily led by coal plants which leads to a great deal of air and often water pollution. "Water pollution is a source of health problems across the country, and air pollution causes up to 1,750,000 premature deaths each year" (WWF). While pollution is a huge problem, I first want to take a deeper look at the natural resource use/degradation as I feel this issue is in direct relation to the pollution issues.

Chinas natural resources have taken a hit over the years due to the strains of the ever growing population. Deforestation has for years been a huge problem. As population increases, a country will need to exploit its resources and wood is no exception. Woods is used for construction, especially in the lower poverty areas of the country. With so many people needing to be housed its use is high. The real problem with deforesting is the impact that is has on the soils and surrounding water sources. Without the root systems of trees and the protection from winds, the land will break down and erode. "In the past 40 years, land in China affected by soil erosion has increased from 1.16 million km2 to 1.53 million km2" (Datong) . The Loess Plateau and eastern region are those most affected by this. The forestation issue has been noticed by the government in recent years and steps have been taken towards reforestation and protection although the qualities of some of the woods being planted aren't of high quality. But still the problem of soil erosion still exists. "Nationwide, 5 billion tons of soil is eroded each year, resulting in a loss of organic matter equal to twice the national production of chemical fertilizers" (World Bank). The Yellow river has seen a drastic increase in its silt load. The sedimentation not only decreases the quality of soils and ability to grow high quality crops which are needed to support the nation but it also affects the water reservoirs. Thousands of water reservoirs have been built since the 50's but increased soil erosion has caused annual sedimentation levels to rise so much that storage capacity has decreased by at least 10 percent. Sedimentation resulting from soil erosion also adversely affects hydroelectric output, availability of irrigation water, flood control potential, and the availability of navigable waterways not to mention causing a rise in the level of the Yellow rivers river bed which make it very susceptible to flooding. Over forestation isn't the only problem as farming has caused issues.

With approximately on 10% cultivatable land, China faces the issue of having to provide food for so many with so little room to do it when compared to most other nations. "Soil quality in China is approximately 27 percent high fertility, 38 percent moderate fertility, and 35 percent low fertility" (Datong). Fertility levels are under constant downward pressure as a result of insufficient inputs coupled with persistent efforts to achieve high yields. Areas most affected by deteriorating fertility are those already considered impoverished. When you try to over-farm any land there will be a decline in the quality and staying power of that soil. But in China's case they don't have much of a choice seeing as how there isn't much high quality land to farm. Processes of agricultural restructuring, rural industrialization, and rapid urbanization since the 1990s have given rise to a new trend of massive farmland loss for the benefits of market farming and non-agricultural developments. The urban development that was at one time so strongly pushed by the government took over the areas of land with the highest fertility. In recent years steps towards reclamation of have been enforced at loss was cut by almost 2/3. Newly reclaimed low-graded farmland in environmentally fragile frontier regions has never been able to compensate for the loss of fertile land in the southeastern part of the country. Remaining farmlands are also suffering from pollution and soil erosion. According to statistics, one-sixth of China's total arable lands are polluted by heavy metals, and more than 40 percent are degenerated due to erosion and desertification. China has a problem with desertification in general as is consumes an area greater than that occupied by farmland. Urbanization is also behind some of the problems in China.

Urbanization in China has led to degradation or complete loss of land as well as pollution increases. Looking first at the effects on the land, from the 50's to the 80's, "loss of cultivated land in China declined by an average of 538,000 ha per year" (EnvCh). The main contributors to this decline were rural and urban construction projects, cropland conversion into forest plantations and pastures, and natural disasters. In 1985 "approximately 100,000 ha of farmland was lost to housing projects, while in 1986 the figure was 85,000 ha" (EnvCh). Furthermore, the impact is not limited only to rural areas; construction has caused urban farmland loss as well. The land lost is combined with the land broken down by the deforestation mentioned earlier and the resulting siltation as well as pollution from the mining of metals with by-products often ending up in waterways. Add to that the pollution from the coal burned the construction of the cities and to keep them powered and you have some major environmental problems. Alarmed by the worsening land situation, the Chinese government has tightened its control over land conversion for construction purposes in recent years. Meanwhile, most of the large-scale ecological restoration efforts in the country's west are nearing completion. The pace of land loss is therefore predicted to slow in the coming years.

The pollution problems in China affect the air, water and the soil. China is the World's 3rd largest consumer of coal and oil, but "much of its energy producing and using equipment is both inefficient and highly polluting" (World Bank). As a result, China experiences severe urban air pollution that has a significant impact throughout the region. It is also the World's second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to reduce dependency on coal as a main source of power have been made in the form of dams and wind power. The Three Gorges dam is one example that was built to power a large population. There were negative side effects to its construction such as the relocation of a large population and the loss of arable land due to the land flooded behind the dam. Siltation has also been seen as a problem with the dam. But it was an idea with the future improvement of the country in mind and when you have up to 760,000 people die prematurely each year in China because of air and water pollution you have to take a chance. The implementation of wind turbines is a very clear alternative energy although it takes a great deal of them to match the output of a dam the size of the Three Gorges. In the case of the water, The World Health Organization recently estimated "that nearly 100,000 people die annually from water pollution-related illnesses in China, and 75 percent of disease comes from water quality issues" (Geping, 1994). Chemical spills have been known to occur in Chinas river systems. It has been estimated that 70 percent of China's lake and rivers are polluted. Water availability and quality continues to be a critical problem, particularly in northern China, and the situation is likely to deteriorate over the next decade, especially in the rivers north of the Yangtze. "In order to resolve the conflicting claims for water and other natural resources there is a need for both technical progress and improvements in institutional, administrative and regulatory arrangements" (Datong).

China has many problems facing the environment in which it resides. Yes the population of this country greatly exceeds that of almost every other country and only has an area the size of the US with which to hold that population, but that is no excuse for the environmental condition of the country. Knowing that there aren't large amounts of arable land for which to grow on and support the population, they made what may have been a mistake in overemphasizing the importance of urbanization and moving from the country to the coast. This move destroyed the high quality soil of the costal lands and pulled people away from faming in the interior. The 3 Gorges Dam, although helping with lowering the dependency on coal also destroyed a good deal of farmable land and caused other issue around the rivers which it dammed. I'm not trying to say that China hasn't recognized the problems they are facing. I just feel that the problems they face now are more to do with the actions they have taken in the past than solely being due to the population size. They simply didn't adapt well enough. But actions are slowly taking place in response to the potentially dire conditions. Government measures to address pollution, including industrial water and air pollution (mainly from state-owned enterprises), have achieved significant results but enforcement of regulations have been applied strongly enough and pollution in smaller urban areas is still a problem (World Bank). Improving energy efficiency and accelerating the development and application of new and renewable energy and clean coal technologies are therefore very urgent sustainable development and environmental priorities. Thanks to large investments in tree plantation and shelterbelt development and a natural forest logging ban, China has successfully turned the tide of formerly rapid deforestation. More need to be done to improve the water conditions which are the backbone of any civilization. I feel that the Chinese government has recognized the problems they and are making improvement based on the knowledge they have. It will take a little more effort and careful planning than they've had in the past and it will take time to see the turnaround in the environment around them. Positive advancement is in the future for China just as it is in many countries around the world as we are all starting to realize the world cannot sustain itself under the current conditions we have put it in.


  • Datong, Ning. An Assessment of the Economic Losses Resulting from Various Forms of Environmental Degradation in China. <http://www.library.utoronto.ca/pcs/state/chinaeco/land.htm>.
  • Geping, Ou. Population and the Environment in China. Lynne Rienner Publications, 1994.
  • Holley, Anna. "Urbanization and Population Growth-Impact on China." 2006. World Food Prize. 11 October 2009 <http://www.worldfoodprize.org/assets/YouthInstitute/06proceedings/NewtonHS.pdf>.
  • Pemental, David. "IMPACT OF POPULATION GROWTH ON FOOD SUPPLIES AND ENVIRONMENT." 9 February 1996. 11 October 2009 .
  • The Wold Bank. <http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/EASTASIAPACIFICEXT/EXTEAPREGTOPENVIRONMENT/0,,contentMDK:20266322~menuPK:537827~pagePK:34004173~piPK:34003707~theSitePK:502886,00.html#nrm>.
  • Various. Geography of Contemporary China. UCLA-C.C. Fan, 2009.
  • Veeck, Gregory. China's Geography. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.
  • Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environment_of_China>.
  • WWF. <http://www.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/china/environmental_problems_china/>.

Please be aware that the free essay that you were just reading was not written by us. This essay, and all of the others available to view on the website, were provided to us by students in exchange for services that we offer. This relationship helps our students to get an even better deal while also contributing to the biggest free essay resource in the UK!