Tuesday, January 25, 2011



China is no longer a slumbering giant. Its appetite for resources and energy is enormous and growing. The largest construction boom in world history is currently underway in China, and the country’s need for resources to fuel that development is increasingly felt in world markets.
As China rapidly develops a modern industrial and technological economy, it joins the United States and other industrialized nations as amajor consumer of resources and energy, as well as a major polluter of local and global ecosystems. The magnitude of growth in China is such that the global impact of its transformation is now unfolding across all nations of the world.
China has become the second largest consumer of energy in the world behind the United States. It is already the world’s largest consumer of concrete, coal, and iron ore. In addition, China is the world’s second largest consumer of oil, and approximately half of the oil is imported. China’s demand for electricity is also growing rapidly. One report estimates that the demand will increase by 2600 gigawatts by 2050. This increase is equal to adding four 300 megawatt power plants every week for the next forty-five years, or adding more than 9000 300 megawatt power plants by the middle of this century. The vast majority of these power plants are likely to be powered by coal. Like the United States, nearly all of China’s energy is produced by fossil fuels. China is the world’s second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, after the United States. Those emissions are expected to grow to nearly equal the entire industrialized world’s increase in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 to 2030.12 The events in China and the United States during the first half of this century may govern the issues of peak oil, global warming, and climate change for the world.
China’s growth continues to be transformative in scale. In nearly every way and from almost any perspective, China’s growth seems unprecedented and unending. China’s economic growth during the past twenty-five years, for example, is the largest and most sustained economic expansion in modern history. Economic expansion and relocation to China’s cities are radically altering China’s urban infrastructure and built environment, in addition to fueling China’s increase in demand for resources and energy.
Over 300 million Chinese peasants moved from the countryside to cities during the past twenty-five years. This constitutes the largest migration in world history. Moreover, growth in China is far from over. China’s urban areas will have to be developed to accommodate perhaps as many as 500 million more peasants (nearly twice the population of the United States) by mid-century. During the next fifteen years, China is expected to construct new buildings totaling more than thirty billion square meters in floor space. There is simply no historical precedent anywhere in the world for an urban transformation of this magnitude.

Shanghai, China, photo by troismarteaux

Songjiang University Metro Station, photo by beelaineo

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