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02.15.2011 - 04:05PM
By Keith Schneider, Circle of Blue
Exploring an escalating confrontation over resources with global implications.
Water scarcity, rapid economic growth and soaring energy demand are forming a tightening noose that could choke off China's modernization.
Underlying China's new standing in the world, like a tectonic fault line, is an increasingly fierce competition between energy and water that threatens to upend China's progress. Simply put, say Chinese authorities and government reports, China's demand for energy, particularly for coal, is outpacing its freshwater supply.
In a dozen chapters - starting this week with updates posted weekly through April - Choke Point: China reports in text, photographs and interactive graphics the powerful evidence of the fierce contest between growth, water and fuel that is virtually certain to grow more dire over the next decade.
Tight supplies of fresh water are nothing new in a nation where 80 percent of the rainfall and snowmelt occurs in the south, while just 20 percent of the moisture occurs in the mostly desert regions of the north and west. What's new is China's surging economic growth is prompting the expanding industrial sector, which consumes 70 percent of the nation's energy, to call on the government to tap new energy supplies, particularly the enormous reserves of coal in the dry north.
The problem, scholars and government officials told us, is there is not enough water to mine, process and consume those reserves and still develop the modern cities and manufacturing centers China envisions for the region. "Water shortage is the most important challenge to China right now, the biggest problem for future growth," said Wang Yahua, deputy director of the Center for China Study at Tsinghua University in Beijing. "It's a puzzle that the country has to solve."
The consequences of diminishing water reserves and rising energy demand have been a special focus of our attention for more than a year. In 2010, in our Choke Point: U.S. series, Circle of Blue found rising energy demand and diminishing freshwater reserves are two trends moving in opposing directions across America. Moreover, the speed and force of the confrontation is occurring in the places where growth is highest and water resources are under the most stress - California, the Southwest, Rocky Mountain West, and Southeast.
Stripped to its essence, China's globally significant choke point is caused by three converging trends:
Choke Point: China, though, is not necessarily a story of doom.
We found a powerful narrative in China in two parts, and never before told: first is how effectively national and provincial governments enacted and enforced a range of water conservation and efficiency measures that enabled China to progress as far as it has.
About Keith Schneider
As Senior Editor, Keith manages the Circle of Blue news desk and participates in multimedia story development reporting, editing and production. He is a nationally-known journalist, online communications specialist and environmental policy expert. Keith was a New York Times national correspondent for over a decade, where he continues to report as a special writer on energy, real estate, business and technology. Before joining Circle of Blue, Keith was media and communications director at the US Climate Action Network and communications director at the Apollo Alliance. Keith developed one of the first independent online news desks as the founder and executive director of the Michigan Land Use Institute. A sought-after public speaker on the role of original reporting and online communications in the public interest, Keith is a regular contributor to the Times, Yale Environment 360, Grist Magazine and other prominent news organizations. You can read his personal website at Modeshift.org.
This commentary is written by a valued member of the CSRwire contributing writers' community and expresses this author's views alone.
Readers: As energy demand and freshwater reserves continue to move to opposite directions, what steps can China take to minimize its environmental impact? Tell us on Talkback!
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