China’s need to clean up pollution will slow economic growth

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Pollution.pngPollution is, unfortunately, one of the downsides of industrial development. Luckily for us in the West, it is mostly a distant memory. But as the BBC picture on the left reminds us, Britain was paralysed by ‘smog’ (a lethal mixture of fumes and fog) only 50 years ago in December 1962.

Now it is Beijing’s turn, as the Financial Times picture on the right shows. As the paper writes, it has been “a winter of terrible pollution in Beijing“. Levels of the most toxic types of smog reached 40 times that recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Whilst a new joint study between the WHO and leading universities found that “outside air pollution contributed to 1.2m premature deaths in China in 2010, almost 40% of the global total”.

Unsurprisingly, pollution has therefore shot up the government’s agenda in recent months. It is a major factor behind the limitation of auto sales in the major cities. But clearly more needs to be done, including the closure of the most polluting factories. In turn, of course, this will have a major impact on economic growth.

But doing nothing, and allowing people to die unnecessarily, is simply no longer acceptable to the general population. As co-author John Richardson summarised the situation last month:

“Just imagine bringing up your kids in a world where you worry every day that they might be breathing in noxious air and eating contaminated food. OK, your apartment might have tripled in value since the early 2000s, but what’s the point of money when you cannot guarantee the safety of your children? As countries get richer it always happens that the quality of life becomes as important as material wealth.”

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