China Aims for Food Security as Pollution Destroys Crop Land

Published on Author westermann

With growing urbanization and a still booming population, China must increasingly deal with the negative externalities of pollution. To combat this, the Chinese government will spend tens of billions of yuan to mitigate the heavy metal and soot contamination of certain farmlands. Arguably, the Chinese government could benefit from economic policy to lessen the effects of these negative externalities of steel production and coal combustion. One example of this is imposing a tax on firms that produce the pollution to curb the damage done to arable land. Also, future investment in modernizing agricultural production (such as through GMO crops) could both increase food production and avert the effects of pollution.

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4 Responses to China Aims for Food Security as Pollution Destroys Crop Land

  1. Soot and heavy metals are both issues; coal releases both. One other aspect is acid rain, from the SOx and NOx from high-sulfur coal [abetted by the lack of scrubbers] and incomplete combustion. The root systems of most plants don’t tolerate acid, and in addition acidic conditions leach nutrients from the soil. If you look at World Bank and other studies you can find a lot of information on that latter component of pollution and its effects on agriculture (high single digit harvest losses, maybe worse now). Fortunately the impact of acid rain is reversable, and of soot. Heavy metals – Hg and Pb – are another matter.

  2. The main source of pollution is coal. China has lots of coal that they use it for resources and economic growth. Although the government wants to reduce the amount of pollution,
    economic growth is more important. I heard one of their arguments against reducing pollution was that “Why are you telling us [China] to stop? You, developed countries, are the ones who already destroyed the environment!” (something like this).
    As the pace of the growth began to slow down in China, I do not think China will try its best to fight against pollution and slow down their growth rate.

  3. G. Jeong: eventually the pollution itself will act to slow down economic growth, both in China and globally–and perhaps not as distantly in the future as some imagine. As Westermann is elucidating above, this effect is already being felt in the agricultural sector, but in truth its negative pervade every sector of the economy. The impact of unaddressed externalities on economic growth is real, and it is less and less a tradeoff between “growth now vs. growth later,” as we are reaching the “later” stage of global pollution’s effects. This comes back to the point I made in an earlier post about China’s growth rate being unsustainable: either growth slows because the true costs are finally internalized, or worse, because they are not. I think we are seeing a little bit of both, but without further internalization, the costs of environmental degradation will become paramount and self-propagating (i.e. a vicious cycle). Just take a look at the increasing numbers of “climate refugees.”

  4. Look for a stories on China’s agricultural trade: it is a net importer of soybeans and corn. Now given China’s resource endowments, isn’t this in accord with the Law of Comparative Advantage? So as a devil’s advocate stance, seeking “independence” in food (or more narrowly, grain) is not good policy.